Do you know how to interpret what your dog is trying to tell you? Dogs have an extensive and elegant non-verbal language that allows us to understand exactly what they are feeling. By watching dogs interact with other dogs and people we have been able to decipher their moods. They communicate with their body and their posture therefor allowing us to understand how they are feeling. It is best not just to rely on one signal from your dog but to assess all of their body's non-verbal signs before you decide exactly what emotional state your dog is in and how to approach them.
Although ear shape and size varies between all the hundreds of dog breeds. How a dog communicates with their ears remains exactly the same. Whether your dog has big floppy ears or small erect ears, the base of the ear's position tells us exactly how they are feeling. By moving their ears backwards and forwards they show us a glimpse of their current emotions.
Relaxed dogs have relaxed ears... their ears are usually slightly backwards and/or falling to the sides of their head. If your dog is getting more aroused either with fear or anger the ear position changes. The ears begin to face forward and generally face the direction of whatever has taken their interest.
If they are really concentrating hard they may even get some forehead wrinkles. If your dog is uncomfortable or angry or fearful their ears will lay backwards, flat against their head.
Dogs eyes are a window to their soul. The intensity and focus of their gaze and the amount of Sclera (white part of the eye) visible gives us an indication of their state of mind.
Dogs that are feeling tense or aroused have wide open eyes, much rounder than the almond eye shape when they are relaxed. They may exibit something called 'whale eye' which is where they show a lot of the white around their eye.
The pupil size is also an indication of their emotional state. Wide dilated pupils can make the eyes look almost "glassy" and this is a clear indication that the dog is feeling threatened, stressed or that it is very scared.
A dogs mouth and facial expression will give you a clear indication on what your dog is trying to tell you. A dog that has his mouth open and relaxed, possibly panting but with no facial or mouth tension is a dog that is truly happy with life. The corners of their mouth may even be turned upwards.
When a dog is starting to feel uneasy with it's surroundings they tend to close their mouth. The corners of the lips may be pulled backwards creating a "long lip' expression. They may close their mouth quickly when their attention is drawn to something that is making them feel a bit uneasy. As a dog becomes more aroused they begin to pant rapidly and they may even start to drool. If a dog is drooling and there is no food around this is usually an indication your dogs is extremely agitated.
Dogs will also provide you with warnings through their general facial expressions. A physical warning to stay away will make the top of their nose and muzzle wrinkle up , thus exposing their teeth. This is a very clear warning and is usually joined with wide open eyes and dilated pupils. Vocalisation adds to their way of way of saying please stop what you are doing and/or dont come any closer.
Dogs that are feeling a bit under pressure may start yawning and lip smacking (Licking). This is a very important sign that is often overlooked when assessing a dogs emotional state. The yawns and lip licking may be accompanied by high pitched vocalisation or grumbles and growls.
Some dogs however are able to create the "submissive grin" or 'smile'. And it is just that ... a smile! Your dog is not showing its teeth because it is agitated, it is happy and it's body language will collaborate with that. They will have a wagging tail, a lowered head and a soft body posture. So don't think a dog that is showing its teeth is necessarily showing aggression - you must take into account its entire body posture to ascertain if he is feeling stressed or unhappy.
Dogs tails are fascinating and such an important communication tool. You need to take a closer look at how your dog is holding its tail to be able to assess its emotional state. The movement of the tail can also give you a very quick idea as to how they are feeling. Dogs that are relaxed and happy have their tail in a neutral position. The tail is usually extending outwards in line with their spine or below the spine level.
As your dogs emotional state becomes more charged the tail will begin to rise. We all know that the more excited a dog becomes the quicker his tail moves, sometimes like a helicopter propellor and other dogs have rapid side to side movements. But be careful, a dog that is holding their tail high and that has a slow stiff waggy tail may be upset and doesn't really want you to get too close. Take a closer look at other signals from their body to assess whether they are happy or stressed.
If your dog is in a very stressful situation or very scared, the dog will tuck it's tail quickly in-between their hind legs. They can also be hold the tail rigid, tight against their belly and have a very stiff side to side wag.
Often if you are a bit uneasy you get prickles or "Goosebumps". Dogs have exactly the same reaction. When they become a bit emotionally charged the hair on the back begins to rise. Also known as 'Pilo-Erection' or "hackles", the hair along the dogs entire back may become raised and bushy. When a dog has raised hackles it does not always mean the dog is going to attack, but it is a very clear indication that your dog is uneasy about his surroundings.
Long term stress may cause your dog to start shedding more than usual
Almost everybody knows that a dog pants to cool down. This is because they do not have sweat glands all over their body, like we do. They do however have sweat glands on their feet and in-between their toes. For a dog to lower their body temperature it is essential that they are able to pant. But ... a panting dog is not always a hot dog. When a dog is stressed or unhappy they will begin to pant more and often will sweat through their paws, leaving sweaty pawprints on the floor.
A dogs body posture is different for each of their their moods. Dogs that are relaxed and happy and wanting to play will have a very loose and wiggly body movement. They will often try to initiate play with exaggerated facial and body movements for example: play bows and wiggling. Their tail will be up and wagging with lots of movement.
Once they begin to tire of play and no longer wish to be social, their body will move slower and become more stiff. A dog who no longer wants to play will then begin looking away. They will lay down, scratch or sniff in an area away from their play mate.
If a dog is fearful and/or stressed, they will begin to tremble. Often they will lean away from what is causing them upset, they may lean backwards and even begin to crouch. Their head will lower and if submissive they will roll onto their back and display their belly, quite often urinating a small amount in the process. Their eyes become wide open and pupils dilate and their ears will be tucked down flat against their head.
In cases of extreme fear a dog will completely lose control of themselves and defaecate and urinate while staying completely frozen.
Dogs that are not submissive and respond to stress and fear with aggression will stand tall with a raised head. The dogs body will be tense and they tend to lean forward. Their facial expression is often hard with steely eyes and a wrinkled muzzle.