Category Archives: body language of dogs

Understanding Your Dog’s Growl

By Langley Cornwell

When we first introduced our most recent dog into the family (consisting of two humans, one resident dog and one cat), we noticed that he growled a good bit. At the time, he was trying to get his bearings and learning how to assimilate into our routines so we weren’t necessarily worried about the growling. Even so, it was disconcerting. Because I wanted to reach a state of harmony as quickly as possible, my first instinct was to correct his behavior. That would have been the wrong thing to do. It’s important to understand why your dog is growling rather than immediately try to hush him.

Why do dog’s growl?

Dogs are expressive animals, which is one of the things we love about them. They communicate when they are happy or sad; they communicate when they are nervous, fearful or angry. We mostly understand what a dog is communicating by observing his face, ears and body posture. When a dog growls, however, the reason can be ambiguous to us. Why is he growling? Is he going to attack someone or something?

A dog growls in order to communicate, and as responsible pet owners it’s important for us to try and understand what prompted the growling. Generally, a growl indicates that your dog is unhappy, uncomfortable or afraid. He may be reacting to a perceived threat, or he may simply be playing. In fact, growling is divided into three escalating categories: play-based growls, fear-based growls and growls of warning before aggressive or defensive action is taken.

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What Can a Dog’s Eyebrows and Ears Tell Us?

By Linda Cole

Everyone should be able to read the body language that dogs use to communicate how they feel and what’s on their mind. Unfortunately, not enough people can tell if a dog is angry, friendly, timid, scared or indifferent. On the other hand, pet owners who know their dog well can tell by looking at them if they are sad, happy, confused, frightened, surprised, pouting or not feeling well. How? By watching their body language and facial expressions. Dogs also have a more subtle language they use to communicate with us, which includes their eyebrows and ears.


For the most part, dogs don’t have well defined eyebrows like we do. However, some breeds – German Shepherds and Rottweilers for instance – do have markings above their eye where we perceive eyebrows should be. But dogs don’t have actual eyebrows; instead, they have a ridge above their eyes that can be manipulated in much the same way we use our eyebrows to express certain emotions.

When your dog raises his brows, he’s indicating he sees something of interest. Lowered eyebrows means he’s confused by a sound, or trying to figure out what you want. It can also suggest your dog is a bit angry. One eyebrow raised says your dog is questioning or puzzled. A pouting dog will lower his eyebrows, which says his feelings are hurt. An angry or suspicious dog will have his eyes partly closed, with his eyebrows pulled down.

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Why Do Dogs Love Some Dogs and Hate Others?

By Langley Cornwell

Dogs are amazing creatures. The amount of information they can discern in a short amount of time is really something. I have a friend whose dog, Sally, is like a cartoon character; everything the dog does is exaggerated. Seriously, this dog should have her own reality show! She’s like the Joan Rivers of canines. She knows in an instant if she likes or dislikes another dog, and she lets you – and the other dog – know it.

To give you the entire picture, I’ll start with the dog. Sally is a seven year-old mixed breed from a shelter. My friend has had her since she was 10 months old. The dog lives in a single-dog household with two cats. She gets along wonderfully with the cats, but my friend has been reluctant to adopt another dog because she can never anticipate how Sally will react to other dogs.

When she’s out walking Sally and another dog approaches, Sally can immediately tell if she likes the other dog or not. My friend works hard on breathing calmly and not communicating anything from the other end of the leash. It doesn’t matter what my friend does, though. Sally will make a snap judgment. She’ll bow up with her hackles raised and begin to bark threateningly, or she’ll drag my friend over to the other dog with her head lowered and her tail wagging in a friendly manner.

Her decision is immediate and unwavering. What’s more, Sally can make her assessment from great distances and it seems to have nothing to do with how the other dog is responding to her. In fact, sometimes she’s sized up the other dog before the other dog even notices Sally and my friend approaching.

When I pitched this article idea, Diane at CANIDAE responded by saying that her dog, Breezie, also instantly decides if she likes or hates another dog, and Diane has no idea why. Other friends have shared similar experiences, so I was curious about what the experts would say.

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Five Reasons Why Your Dog Ignores You

By Linda Cole

There’s no getting around it, some dogs are quite good at ignoring their owner! It’s frustrating when you try to get your dog’s attention and he keeps on doing whatever it is he’s doing. Here are five reasons why your dog might not be paying attention to you:

Lack of Proper Training

How we train a dog matters, and can make a difference in how they respond to us. If you don’t take the time to teach your dog how you want him to behave, you can’t expect him to know what you want. Yelling, kicking, hitting or any unfair punishment won’t teach a dog how you want him to behave. As responsible pet owners, it’s also our job to make sure we put valuable or important things up out of a dog’s reach, and provide a safe and secure area in the home where he can wait when we’re away from home.

Poor Timing During Training

Most dogs respond to treat training and praise during training sessions. Poor timing (when the reward is late) can mean the difference between a dog learning a command or not getting it. My dogs love CANIDAE TidNips™ treats, especially Keikei. As soon as she sees the treats, she’s ready for her lessons. To be effective when giving a treat reward or praise, it has to be given immediately after compliance by the dog. You only have a window of about 3 seconds where your dog can associate the treat with the command. If the dog misses the connection between the two, he won’t understand what you want him to learn. If you are teaching your dog to sit, the second his behind hits the floor, give him his reward. When you call him to come, as soon as he’s in front of you, give him his reward.

Not Understanding Body Language 

Dogs learn not only from our verbal words, but also from watching our face and body language for cues. A dog’s knowledge of body language is so refined, they understand what we want by signals we give with our body and tone of voice. If you have an understanding of the body language of dogs and are aware of the signals you are giving your dog, it can help get your point across. It’s possible you are being ignored because your pet doesn’t understand what you are asking him to do.

For example, if your dog continues to jump up on you and isn’t listening to your down command, turn your side to him. Fold your arms so he can’t touch your hands, don’t look at him and don’t speak to him. If he follows you as you move away from him, turn your back to him. If he continues, calmly walk away from him. He knows what that means. Your body language tells him everything he needs to know. Work on his training, but don’t neglect your body language to help him learn.

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Is a Smiling Dog Showing Aggression?

By Linda Cole

One of my dogs, a Terrier mix named Sophie, was a smiler. She would curl up one side of her lip and wiggle all over, grinning if we asked her to do something she didn’t really want to do or when we talked to her in our “You’re such a good girl” voice. I called it her “Elvis” smile because that’s what it reminded me of. It was so cute and always made me laugh. If she was in trouble, which was rare, I quickly forgave her transgression. As it turned out, Sophie knew exactly what she was doing, and it worked. A smiling dog might be showing aggression, but not always. Sometimes, a smile is just a smile; it’s a way some dogs convey they are not a threat.

When it comes to understanding a dog’s body language, everyone recognizes that a snarl with teeth bared means to back off and leave that dog alone. When Sophie smiled, she was showing deference to us with a submissive grin. The difference between a snarl and a submissive grin is broadcast loud and clear in a dog’s body language.

When a dog submits, he lowers his body closer to the ground, and may cower. His tail is tucked to one side, but never between his legs like with a fearful dog. His ears are held out, resembling airplane wings. He holds his front paws up, avoids eye contact, might roll over on his back, and may urinate to signal his compliance to you or another dog. When a submissive grin is added, you see excited body movements and squinting eyes. An aggressive dog isn’t going to roll over and expose his belly to someone or another dog he views as a rival. Everything about his body language says he’s on alert and ready to fight, if necessary. A growl usually accompanies his snarl, but not always.

There’s a difference between a dog submitting and one showing fear. A submitting dog isn’t a threat, but a scared dog could attack out of fear. One clue is the position of his tail and ears. The submitting dog pulls his tail to the side, and holds his ears out to the side. The fearful dog tucks his tail between his legs and he has “whale eyes,” meaning you can see the whites of his eyes, and his ears will be pulled back against his head. His overall body language says he’s scared. All he wants is to be left alone. Never turn your back on a fearful or aggressive dog. Watch them without making direct eye contact.

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Why Do Dogs Like to Lean on Us?

By Linda Cole

One of my dogs, Max, is a big guy. When we’re outside in the dog pen, he likes to come over and sit beside me. However, he doesn’t just sit, he leans and if I’m standing up and not paying attention, he knocks me sideways because his lean is more of a flop against my legs. All of my dogs like to lean on me at times, but why do they snuggle up next to our legs or beside us on the couch?

Kelly, the matriarch of my dog family, will either sit beside me on the couch or climb onto my lap and lean against me. Then she lays her head on my arm or chest and melts my heart with her eyes as she gazes into mine. Some of the time, I know she’s trying to butter me up for some CANIDAE Tidnips treats, but usually it’s because she likes to cuddle whenever she gets the chance. Keikei and Riley are fond of sitting on my feet when I’m standing or sitting, which keeps my feet warm on a cold night.

Cuddling is one reason dogs lean against us, but think about how dogs, especially small dogs, see our world. It can be a pretty intimidating place for some canines. A dog that feels unsure of himself or is shy will press up next to your legs for security. A scared dog may move behind you and seek comfort knowing you are there to protect him. It’s his way of saying you make him feel safe.

Dogs communicate with us on all levels and there’s a reason for what they do. We are the ones that have trouble understanding what they are trying to tell us. But when you think about how we communicate with someone we care about, we respond in similar ways as dogs. How many times have you seen a small child hugging his mom’s leg or leaning against her while she’s chatting with someone. A shy child might peek out from behind his mom as he leans against her for safety. What parent hasn’t had their child sit next to them on the couch or in their lap and lean up against them? Whether it’s for security or just to cuddle, it’s the same reason why dogs lean on us – because we make them feel secure, and because they love us.

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