As pack leader of multiple dogs, it’s our responsibility to keep our animals stable and free from aggression by other members of our pack. We can hear a bark, growl or whimper which can signal a change in a dog’s temperament. Body language will also give us a clue something is wrong that has upset or frightened a member of our pack. Just as we display happiness, anger, fear and even aggression in our face and body language, a dog will also have visible signs showing how they are feeling.
Dogs communicate and interact with each other through body language. They use this knowledge with us, as well. My pack understands when it’s time to go outside because of certain movements and actions I take. That’s the signal they are watching for and they respond with no spoken words from me.
People, especially children, can be injured when they don’t understand what the dog is trying to say to them. Children can and should be taught how to determine a dog’s state of mind by observing its body language. Watch your dogs closely when any children, including your own, are playing with or simply petting them. Not all dogs like to be petted, especially around the head and ears. Some feel intimidated with a hug, being laid on or wrestled with. Bites can be stopped before they happen when you and the child recognize and understand when the dog is saying, “I’ve had enough and it’s time to back off.”
A dog who rolls over on its back with the tail tucked between his legs is in a submissive position. Lip-licking helps reduce stress and show others they are being compliant. Crouching down with their butt in the air says “I want to play.” Eye contact, especially if it’s intense or an actual stare, can indicate this dog is ready to rumble. A dominate dog is always ready to challenge authority in the pack, but they will respect and honor commands as long as your body language indicates you are leader of the pack.
A confident dog holds his tail erect with a gentle slow wag. He stands or sits tall and erect, head held high. You can see his ears are pricked up as he listens and the eyes are relaxed looking with no “whites” showing. The body language of this dog says “Everything is cool and I feel good.”
An aggressive dog stiffens in his body and legs. His tail will be lower and held out straight. He may or may not signal his displeasure with a growl. Ears are flattened against his head and the head will be lowered. His hackles, the hair on his back, rump and around the shoulders, will be raised. Angry eyes stare intently and become narrowed. The lips may be curled into a snarl.
The fearful animal may be hard to predict. Fear in any species can make that individual unpredictable and potentially dangerous. A fearful dog has its tail tucked between their legs or it may hang straight down with a wag that is fast and uncertain. The back is arched and his head and rear are lower. The legs are slightly bent. He may turn his head away and look out of the corner of his eyes showing the whites of the eye while trying to avoid looking at what’s causing the concern or fear.
A strong pack leader understands members of the pack need to be allowed to settle small differences on their own. However, when a dog’s body language indicates a fight could be brewing, it’s time to step in and remove the offending dog for a brief cooling off period. It’s a refocusing of the mind, if you will.
Dogs are only concerned with what’s going on right now. An aggressive or fearful dog can return to a confident and feeling good pet in a matter of seconds. Dogs will respect a pack leader who stays cool under pressure and responds to the needs and safety of the group by being assertive, consistent and fair to all members of the pack. Understanding body language of dogs allows you to step in and stop problems before they arise. Maintaining a healthy, happy pack is as simple as watching what your dog is trying to tell you.
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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