Reading a dog’s body language is paramount for securing a confident relationship between owner and animal. Dogs don’t lie or hide their emotions and they depend primarily upon visual signals – they are constantly telling humans exactly what they mean by their posture, movements and gaze.

Unfortunately, these signals can be misread if you do not have the knowledge to decipher them. Here are some ways to listen to your dog to better understand and train them.

When Your Dog Is Relaxed and Happy

As a dog owner, there’s no better feeling than seeing your companion relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings. This state is easily recognisable as your dog will have a totally relaxed position; open mouth and neutral tail – possibly moving side to side or in a round motion. In this state, it is likely the dog will turn over and invite a belly rub or wiggle their backside.

The Signs of Stress, Discomfort and Fear in Your Dog

It’s important to take note of your dog’s distress signals in order to prevent heightened aggression. Dogs will exhibit many signs that help them relieve stress or attempt to appease a perceived threat.

Yawning and lip licking/tongue flicking are common behaviours but they can also clearly signal discomfort in certain situations. A dog will briefly freeze before they react or turn their head away while still looking at the perceived threat, showing the whites of their eyes. A sudden release of adrenalin causes a dog to shake or attempt to gain comfort from their owner. Well-trained dogs are less likely to lose focus and behave fearfully in potentially threatening situations.

Defensive, Offensive and Aggressive Dog Behaviour

When a stressful situation reaches the point where a dog has to defend themselves from a perceived or real threat, they will encourage the threat to keep a distance with defensive behaviour. This behaviour will quickly become offensive if not subdued.

In this state, your dog will lean their body forward and tense and vibrate their mouth as they growl. They may snap at the air or at skin contact as a warning. A dog that bites and holds their target intends to harm; if they begin to shake their prey this could potentially mean intent to kill. If your dog is prone to aggression, take the steps to understand and correct this through a professional dog obedience course.

Often Misunderstood Dog Body Language

Humans frequently misinterpret dog signals, such as tail wagging. A wagging tail definitely can mean a dog is happy, but some dogs also wag their tails when they’re aroused, over stimulated, frustrated or angry. The easiest way to tell the difference is by assessing the rest of their body.

When dogs are corrected for bad behaviour, they will often sulk and leave the room. Humans interpret this as the dog being upset; we will often feel guilty, as though they should “make it up” to our dog. Giving space and turning away are actually submissive behaviours, meaning the dog is giving in and accepting the human as leader. Apologising to the dog afterwards sends mixed signals. Pet-owner relationships benefit from humans trying to understand their animal rather than assuming they use the same body language signals as we do.

If you have any enquiries regarding communication with your dog or enrolling in a canine training course, contact the NDTF online or call 1300 66 44 66.