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Nadia Crighton investigates canine communication, and how you can help your children read what dogs are really thinking.
Understanding our dog’s behavior is all linked to communication. When you consider that up to 80% of your dog’s communication is body-language, we really have to become masters of movement to fully understand our dogs and what they are feeling.
Their emotions are primarily made up of body gestures. We are all familiar with how our dogs reacted to their lead being picked up, or the tennis ball being grabbed. Dogs have an amazing ability to show their love and affection with every inch of their fur.
But what about the other, body movements or behaviors our dogs exhibit? What are our dog’s trying to tell us? Some of these signs are really important to know, particularly if you have children. Allowing your children to read any dog’s body language will ensure they are kept safe and also understand that all dogs have limits.
They are also signs that perhaps your pet is not comfortable with certain situations, like parties, fire-works or thunderstorms. Reading the signs can help you best prepare your pet if these issues are unavoidable. Plus, noting these changes in your dogs behavior is instrumental if you are trying to abolish any conditions.
The anxious dog may show a few signs of stress during certain situations. Reading these signs can help you alleviate the stress or reason for the behaivour. These include the following.
- Yawning when not tired
- Shaking when not wet
- Destructive or unusual Behaviour
- Half moon eyes – this can be common especially if the dog is being overly hugged or laid on by a child. If you ever notice a half moon eye…you need to intervene immediately as the dog is not happy. Let your children know that this is a sign that your beloved pooch no longer wants that attention and needs some space.
An anxious dog can easily be understood and helped. Once you have noticed the behaviour pop along to your vet to rule out any other underlying issues and take the correct steps to reduce your pets stress. This can include additional exercise, avoiding / limiting stressful situations (like car rides), training or behavioural advice.
A frightened dog may also show the above symptoms such as excessive licking and yawning. If your dog is frightened of something remove them from the situation and seek professional advice on how to desensitize your pet to the issue causing the fear. On a personal note, I once owned a dog who was simply petrified of chain fences, she would show signs of fear, and then jump and bark aggressively at the fence (not very nice if someone was standing on the other side!). After some training, she no longer exhibited the behavior, making walk time much easier (and less stressful for me). We also owned a dog, who was previously abused. She would often show signs of fear when we pick up certain objects. Some confidence boosting training was all that was needed…plus a little understanding that some scars you cannot heal so avoidance was best. The training, knowledge and education was empowering in understanding our dog.
Some dogs are overly submissive and will also show these signs when approached by a person or another dog. Signs of fear include;
- Mouth closed with lips possibly pulled back
- Over exaggerated yawn
- Squinting eyes
- Submissive grin
- Lowered head
- Trying to look as small as possible. Body may be crunched/hunched over with tail tucked in.
If you are concerned about your dog fear issues, chat with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. You’ll be surprised how quickly you dog’s behavior can change with the right advice and help. It’s all about raising your dog’s confidence and with the right training anything is possible.
We are all familiar with the happy dog. Some of us have dogs that are clearly more energetic about life than others, while some show their signs of happiness in boundless leaps. These signs are very good to teach your children. In general a happy dog will look happy, and they will have a relaxed body.
Point out to your children when your dog is really happy. Like when they are chasing a ball and retrieving it for you. Notice the dog’s expression. Ear position, what is the fur doing? Having these conversations with your children is paramount in them understanding a dog’s body-langue. Don’t rely on the wagging tail = happy dog theory. Some dogs wag their tails when they are also agitated. But if the tail is soft and the whole body is wagging with it…then it’s a good sign the dog is happy.
- Panting with a happy expression.
- Floppy relaxed body. Some dogs will ‘whole body’ flop- wag into the side of you. This is a clear sign they are content with the world.
- Relaxed ears
- Soft soft soft, everything from his gaze to his body is soft and oozing with happiness.
An dog who is feeling aggressive, agitated or is not pleased with what is going on around him will show signs of the displeasure. If you notice any of these signs avoid eye contact and leave the dog alone.
- Raised hackles (the fur along the top of the neck and sometimes at the base of the tail)
- Stiffness. A dog who is not happy will be stiff not ‘floppy’ like when they are happy.
- Front legs splayed.
- Head is extended
- Direct stare
- Showing teeth
- Ears up and forward
- Tail could be stiff with a slight wag
If you see any concerning signs of aggression in your dog, seek professional advice. Training, understanding and behavioral programs can help your dog and help you gain the confidence to ensure you can control and prevent every situation.
TIPS FOR KIDS
I’m constantly teaching my brood the importance of understanding dog body language to keep them safe around all dogs. The fact is, the huge percentage of dog attacks are from family dogs. So making sure they know how the dog is feeling is paramount in ensuring their safety, no matter how safe you think your dog is, you have to teach your children how to correctly interact with your dog. I also teach my children:
- ALWAYS ask the dogs owner if you can pat their dog before running up to a dog on leash and stroking them.
- Let the dog sniff your hand before stroking them.
- Never sneak up on a dog that is sleeping
- Do NOT lie on the dog or ride him, he is not a horse or a toy.
- Look, listen and learn from your dog’s behaviour.
- Never pat a dog through a fence.
- Do not have staring competitions with a dog.
- Never run from a dog. You will not out-run them. Become a statute and put your hands under your chin. This is the most difficult thing to teach a child and if your child could actually stay still when an aggressive dog was running for them in another thing entirely. However it has been proven that if you stay still, and do not run, you have a much better chance of stopping the dog from a full on attack. Also yelling commands such as “NO”, “LIE DOWN”, “SIT” can switch you from prey to human.
- If you see a dog roaming on the street do NOT approach it.
- Do NOT pat strange dogs.