Category Archives: body language

Can Dogs Sense if Someone is Untrustworthy?

By Linda Cole

One reason people pick a specific dog breed is for home protection. Dogs bred as livestock guardians, like the German Shepherd or Anatolian Shepherd, have a natural instinct to protect their flock and family. Guardian dogs and breeds used as guard dogs tend to have a natural distrust of strangers. But being able to sense if someone is untrustworthy is something completely different. Do dogs have a sort of sixth sense about people?

My first dog was an American Eskimo named Jack. I took him with me pretty much everywhere I went and he was exposed to a lot of different people. Most of the time, Jack enjoyed being around other humans, but there were times he refused to allow someone to pet him, even though I saw nothing out of the ordinary from the people he pulled away from. However, his reaction to someone was something I noted because it was unusual behavior for him.

We know dogs can sense danger when it comes to certain health conditions. Trained medical dogs can smell changes in blood sugar levels. Dogs are trained to detect high blood pressure, a potential heart attack or an impending seizure, and they can smell different types of cancer. Even untrained dogs can pick up changes in our health. That has nothing to do with a sixth sense, but it does show how sensitive a dog’s sense of smell is. Scientific studies have shown that even humans can smell pheromones put out by other people which can give us signals about someone’s mood. If we can pick up someone’s pheromones, you know a dog has already processed that information.

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Understanding Your Dog’s Fears

By Langley Cornwell

My dog Frosty had a serious fear of loud noises. She was most terrified when it stormed, when there were fireworks or when guns were being shot. She would salivate, pace and hide. Once we were able to understand what she was afraid of, it made it easier to help her when she was faced with the things that scared her.

Fear can be a crippling emotion and when it comes to your dog, fear can drive his actions and lead to bad and even dangerous behavior. Understanding the fears that your dog experiences can help you, as a responsible pet owner, better help your canine companion.

Things that scare your dog may seem silly or inconsequential, but to your pooch they are monumental. What are some common fears that dogs exhibit?

Noises

The noise created by vacuum cleaners, certain appliances and even lawnmowers have been known to scare some dogs. In the house, sudden loud noises like those from a mixer, a blender or some other small appliance can startle and upset any dog.

Often, the reverberation of loud sounds off the walls of an enclosed room can frighten your dog. In the great outdoors, though, dogs can react poorly to the lawnmower. In all cases, a dog is simply unable to make sense of the movement and the noise, and it results in fear.

In the same way, some dogs may be frightened by thunder, lightning or fireworks. It is possible to rehabilitate some dogs from such fears through therapy, positive encouragement and even medications. However, avoiding the things that frighten your dog, if feasible, may be the best way to deal with their fears.

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Pet Fun Facts

By Langley Cornwell

Cats and dogs are a source of unending discovery. The more time I spend with my pets, the more questions I have about certain behaviors – like why my cat purrs or why my dog wags her tail. We all have a general idea but I wonder, specifically, why animals do what they do. I’ve read loads of books about animal behavior and I’ve just added a few more to my list of ‘must reads.’ One thing I’ve noticed is that a few common theories about basic pet behaviors are being reexamined. Some of these findings may surprise you, and some you may already know.   

Cats Purring – Most of us believe purring indicates that a cat is happy. That’s part of the story. Purring by domestic cats is not just a sign of contentment; it’s also used as a method of self-calming. Our cat Margaret was a loud, enthusiastic purrer. Once when she was injured and we took her to the vet, they had a hard time checking her heartbeat because she was purring so loudly. In general, purring is a way for cats to communicate.    

Dogs Wagging Their Tails – Like a cat’s purring, a wagging tail is believed to indicate a happy dog. When a dog wags his tail, it can actually mean a range of emotions from approachability and excitement, to anxiety and aggression. A dog’s tail is an important communication tool. To fully understand what a dog is trying to convey, the tail needs to be considered along with the rest of the dog’s body language.

Cats Rubbing Against People (and other animals) – Yes, getting a nice rub from a cat signifies affection, but it also serves another significant cat function: scent-marking. Our cat always greets our dog by rubbing his face all over hers. Cats have scent glands in various places on their bodies and they use them to ‘mark their territory.’ Leaving their scent on things they come in contact with helps cats become familiar with the smells around them, which helps them claim a particular person, animal or object as ‘theirs.’

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What Eye Contact Means to a Dog

By Linda Cole

I love to sit back and watch my dogs interacting with each other. When I watch them playing and wrestling with each other, I’m reminded of a wrestling match between humans. It’s fascinating to see how dogs jockey into position with similar moves that humans use. What’s most interesting, however, is how they use their eyes to communicate with each other, just like human wrestlers. Eye contact is important to a dog, and we need to learn how to be respectful with our gaze and not stare.

Watching a dog’s eyes gives you an idea what they are thinking and how they are feeling. It can also signal that a potential dog fight could be brewing between two dogs. A dominant dog may feel challenged by direct stare and a submissive dog can be intimidated with the eyes. But when you stop and think about it, eye contact between dogs isn’t that much different than it is between people.

People who are shy or intimidated by someone direct their eyes away from a more dominant personality. The idea of confronting someone is distasteful and something they will avoid at all costs. Unless they are challenged or forced to stand up for themselves in some way, they are happier if no one notices them. The confident and dominant person isn’t afraid to make eye contact. Their eyes are generally relaxed, open to the world and friendly looking. They aren’t looking for trouble, but they won’t back down from it if they find it. A more aggressive person has a hard stare and his eyes are narrowed. They may be angry or looking for a fight and their stare is meant to be intimidating. Someone who is fearful is wide eyed and their pupils are dilated. Dogs that are timid, fearful, dominant, friendly or aggressive view eye contact in the same way, and react to the eyes like we do.

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Why It’s Important to Be Your Dog’s Leader

By Linda Cole

A strong pack leader knows who their dog is and understands that in order to have a stable and happy dog, it’s the human who needs to take control of the pack. Even one dog makes up a pack with his family. Being the pack leader involves understanding how dogs view their world. Because we domesticated dogs, it’s our job to provide stability and a safe environment for them. Taking the lead role is what dogs expect us to do. If we don’t take the lead they will, and that’s when behavior problems begin.

It’s up to us to teach our dogs how we expect them to act around the home, both with other people and other family pets. According to local and state laws concerning dogs, it’s our role as owners to make sure we are capable of keeping them under control to keep the public safe as well as the pet. Dog owners have their pet’s best interest at heart, but too many people have problems taking the lead role. Dogs are individual creatures and some definitely have a mind of their own. Each one has their own personality, and few dogs are shy about trying to move into the lead spot if they believe their owner hasn’t filled that spot.

Like the wolf pack, dogs also have a hierarchy in their family and one member of their family must be the leader. It’s a simple concept for the dog, but dogs aren’t wolves and our interactions with our pet are different than how wolves interact in their packs. Dogs are considered to be juvenile wolves that are dependent on us for their safety and needs. If we want our pet to be calm and stable, we have to be their leader.

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The Purpose of a Dog’s Tail

By Langley Cornwell

We all know what a dog’s tail looks like. We know the tail starts at the end of a dog’s vertebral column and extends beyond his body. We know a dog wags his tail when he’s happy. Other than that, we’ve probably never thought much about it.

There are some types of dogs that are born without a prolonged tail, and there are dogs whose tails have been altered. Some herding and working dog breeds have their tails docked short when they are young; a long tail can be a disadvantage to a working dog because it can interfere with his specific responsibilities and duties. But we’re talking here about the tails of dogs that are long and unaltered, and the many purposes these tails serve.

Communication 

I can tell what my dog is feeling by the way she holds or moves her tail. Her ears speak volumes as well, but that’s a story for another day. Her tail tells me if she is happy, stressed, aggravated or scared. When she holds her tail high and wags it back and forth, she’s happy. A CANIDAE dog treat never fails to elicit that happy tail wag! When she’s both happy and excited, her tail is high and she moves it in a circular manner which always makes me smile. When something captures her attention, her tail is parallel to the ground.

When my dog is aggravated or feels challenged, she holds her tail a bit higher than her attentive position but not as high as her happy position. I know she feels especially provoked when her tail is held upright and it’s puffed up and rigid.

Too often, our shy girl tucks her tail between her legs, which lets me know she is scared or feeling submissive. And when she keeps her tail low and wags it quickly, she’s nervous or insecure.

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