When your dog was a puppy, he learned a language from his mother and littermates during a period of their life when what they learn stays with them for the rest of their life.
This language is very different from what we learn when we are growing up. Unlike the language of people, the unwritten dog language is typically understood by every dog, no matter the size or breed.
Dogs seem to think that we understand their language and know exactly what they are trying to communicate. Because dogs can’t learn every word in the English language, it’s our job as good pet owners to learn their universal body language.
A lot can be gathered from a dog just by reading the dog’s body posture. Although it isn’t the first step in reading your dog, it is critical to understand.
Relaxed Body Posture
A dog that is standing with a relaxed body posture will not be leaning slightly backward or forward. She will have relaxed corners of her mouth with her tail down and head high. The ears may be up but typically not forward.
If the dog is relaxed, she is comfortable with her environment. You will usually see this if she is in an environment that is familiar to her such as your home.
Alert Body Posture
The alert dog will be indicating interest by appearing to be standing on his toes. His ears will be forward, tail straight out and mouth closed. What happens next will depend on how the dog reacts to the stimulus that is alerting him. This posture is what the dog shows right before he is about to do something and is the prelude to another behavior.
You should be able to recognize this posture and understand that the dog may become aggressive or defensive as his next action. This is a good time to reorient the dog back to you and redirect his focus if this commonly happens with your dog.
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Offensive Threat Posture
The offensive threat posture is extremely important for you to be able to recognize and quickly react to. Your dog will have her tail up and stiff, hackles will most likely be up on her back, and she’ll have a wrinkled nose. Her ears and corners of the mouth will be showing, and the dog will be standing tall and slightly forward.
A growl or snarl will most likely accompany this posture as well as her front teeth. The slightest provocation may cause this dog to attack.
A dog that is submitting is allowing the dominant person or dog to be in control. You may see this during training if the dog is confused, receives too strong of a correction, or senses that you are tense or angry. An active submitting dog will have his tail down and ears back. His forehead will be smooth, and his body will appear to be low to the ground.
You obviously don’t want to stress your dog out. Other than obvious reasons to avoid stressing your dog, learning stops when your dog is overwhelmed, and you will not be able to successfully train your dog during this period.
The best indicator of dog stress is stress panting. You can differentiate a stress pant from a regular pant easily: If the pupils are dilated and your dog is having short, rapid breaths with panting, she is stressed. A lot of time the tongue will be long and coming out of the dog’s mouth as well. This dog will have her tail down and ears back. Her body will be lowered and her paws will be sweating.
Try to recognize some of these common body postures in your dog. Learning the body language will make your relationship grow because you will be able to understand your dog more clearly.