Dog Body Language – Test your skills (The results)
Dog’s communicate with us, and other dogs, through their bodies. A raised tail, a furrowed brow, a tongue lick – all of these are signals of something the dog is feeling or trying to reflect back to us.
Have you ever heard someone say that a dog made an unprovoked attack on a child, an adult, or another dog? Would you believe me if I told you that in almost every single case the dog was already telling the human he was afraid or nervous or uncomfortable or threatened?
It’s true. In almost every case, a bite or attack could have been prevented if only the human had known what her dog was saying and removed him before trouble could begin.
Understanding dog body language not only helps you better understand your dog, but it also helps you to better meet his/her needs.
Yesterday, I shared a few pictures with you and asked you to make some observations of the dogs in the pictures, and what they were communicating, via their bodies. Today, I will share my own observations. I hope that you will keep me honest and call out anything I miss.
So here we go.
Picture 1: Lab and St. Bernard
Both dogs are approaching one another in an arc, something Nancy Freedman-Smith called out in her blog post Socialization Tips For Adult Dogs: A Tail Of Two Collies. This is a normal way for one dog to greet one another. Leashed dogs often cannot do this which is why problems can often pop up when two leashed dogs greet one another.
Lab (my dog, Daisy)
- Lowered head (lower than her shoulders)
- Body is leaning back, while her head is stretching forward
- Eyes are looking at the other dog
- Ears are way back and close to the head
- Mouth is closed and pulled back slightly
- Tail is down and may be tucked close to her body
The combination of the lowered head, with her body leaning away from the other dog, and ears being pulled back and resting close to her head, indicates that Daisy is nervous about the other dog. She is unsure of his intentions. By lowering her head as she approaches, Daisy is telling the other dog she means no harm. You’ll also notice that her mouth is closed and drawn tight and that her tail is down closer to her body, another sign that she is nervous or unsure.
- Head is also slightly lowered (lower than his shoulders)
- Body is leaning forward and slightly leaning away from the Lab
- Eyes are looking are facing the Lab, but unable to tell if the gaze is direct
- Although it is hard to tell, it appears the ears are slightly forward and slightly erect.
- Tail is up and curved slightly over his back
The combination of the St. Bernard’s curled tail, forward leaning body and ear position, indicate he is an extremely confident dog. He appears to be keenly focused on Daisy. The slight lean away from her is somewhat at odds with the rest of his body language, so I welcome anyone else’s thoughts on that one.
Picture 2: Sheltie
The Sheltie is this picture is my foster dog, Maggie. She is former puppy mill dog and still tentative with me (and others).
- Maggie’s ears sit far back on her head and pulled close. They are pricked and alert.
- Her head is tucked close to her neck
- Her mouth is tightly closed and lips drawn tight, but if you look closely, you can see her tongue has flicked out
- Her eyes are wide and round and dilated. Her eyebrows seem to be raised high on her head and there is a slight ridge just below her eye.
- Although it is hard to tell, her body appears to be leaning away from my finger.
The position of Maggie’s ears along with her wide eyes, raised eyebrows, and drawn lips are all signs that Maggie is stressed, nervous and afraid. She clearly is uncomfortable. Her tongue is likely out because she was displaying lip-licking, which is an appeasement signal in dogs (i.e., her way of telling me she means no harm). As my friend Nancy shared with me when saw this picture, Maggie is pressure sensitive. She wants the cheese I am offering, but she would probably feel more comfortable if I could offer it to her using a stick so she could take it from me at a distance that would feel much more comfortable to her. (If you are curious about pressure sensitive dogs, you can read You’re Too Close! Dogs and Body Pressure from the blog Eileen and Dogs.)
Picture 3: Husky
This is a Husky from our local dog park.
- Ears are pricked and forward
- Mouth is open, tongue is hanging out and you can see some of her teeth
- Body appears to be balanced on all four feet, but with a very slight lean forward on the front feet
- Tail is relaxed, but in a natural curl (for a Husky)
My guess is this dog is relaxed, but ready to play. The pricked and forward position of her ears indicate she is alert and watching what is going on across the field . The slightly forward lean could indicate that she is ready to jump into the mix, if the opportunity arises. The relaxed mouth indicates the dog is happy and relaxed.
Picture 4: Lab Mix and Shepherd Mix
The black Lab mix in the photo is Millie, a dog friend of ours from the dog park. Millie loves a good game of chase. She has never played with this dog before the day this picture was taken.
- Ears are back far on her head and pulled close (her ears are pulled back so far that the distance between them on her head is very small)
- Eyes are wide and round and show whites along the top (also known as “whale eye”)
- Her tongue is hanging out and the corners of her mouth are pulled back
- She the front paw is slightly raised
- Her body does not appear to be relaxed, but that may be because she is about to spring up from her prone position.
Millie’s ears, eyes and body seem to indicate that she is nervous and unsure. She is likely feeling anxious about the dog standing above her. The raised front paw may be just an indication of her trying to get up, but it also could be an appeasement signal to the dog standing above her.
- Head appears lowered, but the its position is even with her body (maybe even slightly raised above her shoulders)
- Eyes appear to be hard and focused and you can see the ridges of her eyebrows
- Ears are pricked and up high on her head
- Ridges are evident between her eyes and even between her ears
- Mouth is open and tongue is visible, you can see ridges just back and above her mouth
- Her body looks to be balanced (I cannot tell if she is leaning forward or back)
The wrinkles between the ears and the eyes on this dog are quite pronounced. These wrinkles, combined with the position of her ears, indicate she is annoyed. Her stare is also a form of intimidation and a warning that Millie should tread lightly.
- What is My Dog Trying to Tell Me? by Sue Alexander in Modern Dog Magazine
- Socialization Tips For Adult Dogs: A Tail Of Two Collies by Nancy Freedman-Smith of Petcha
- Dog Park Bullies: How to recognize bullying at the dog park and what to do if your dog is targeted by Steve Duno
These next five are all by Ann Bernrose of Woof Work Blog:
- Reading dogs 1: Tail position
- Reading dogs 2: Tail wagging
- Reading dogs 3: Ear position
- Reading dogs 4: Eyes
- Reading dogs 5: Mouths