Reading Dog Body Language: Positive Dog Body Language and “Normal” Behavioral Cues


Happy Dog

Positive Dog Body LanguageIn the first installment of this series on reading dog body language, I posted about the importance of understanding the behavioral cues that our dogs use to communicate with us. I then covered some of the stress related behavioral cues that are more commonly seen in our canine friends.

In the following installment in the series, I covered aggression related cues and how to recognize them.

Today, in a slightly shorter installment of this series on canine body language, I want to look at positive behavioral cues and “normal” body language in dogs.

Positive Dog Body Language and Behavioral Cues

Happy dogs are what we love to see and a happy dog is generally quite easy to recognize. Here are some of the more common “happy dog” signs that you should be able to recognize in your dog!

Happiness

Happy Dog

Body Posture

  • Relaxed or “loose”
  • Bright, soft eyes
  • A “soft” tail
  • Ears forward or neutral

Behavior

  • Calm and relaxed
  • Tail wagging IN COMBINATION with other positive cues
  • Possible play bowing
  • Panting IN COMBINATION with other positive cues
  • Excitement may also cause “prancing” with the front feet

Most Often Seen When…

  • A dog’s owner returns to them or when the dog is excited for play/walks

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Interact! This is a dog that is happy to see you and who wants to engage with you. If this isn’t your dog, however, make sure that you ask permission to interact with the dog first!

 

Let’s Play

Playful Dog

Body Posture

  • Bowing down with the bottom in the air and weight shifted forward on the front legs which are stretched out in front.
  • A soft body posture despite being “energetic”
  • Ears relaxed or forward
  • Tongue may be hanging out of the mouth accompanied with panting

Behavior

  • Bouncing or hopping
  • Smacking motions with the front paws
  • Exuberant tail wagging
  • Nudging of the potential playmate to engage them in play
  • Possible panting IN COMBINATION with these other behaviors
  • The “zoomies”

Most Often Seen When…

  • Dogs are interacting with other dogs

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Let your dog play! Just be sure to keep an eye on the playmate to ensure that your dog’s playful behavior is welcome. A dog that is not willing to play will put your dog in their place, but depending on the temperament of the other dog, you may want to intervene before this point.

 

Welcoming / Friendly Dog

Welcoming Dog

Body Posture

  • Energetic but soft
  • Relaxed muscle tone
  • Bright soft eyes
  • Soft ears
  • A relaxed or wagging tail IN COMBINATION with these other cues

Behavior

  • Possible jumping
  • Running towards the target of their affection
  • Licking the target of their affection
  • Possible yipping or excited vocalizations
  • Rubbing against the target of their affection or attempting to “sit” on them (usually seen with dogs that experience anxiety)

Most Often Seen When…

  • A dog’s owner comes home from work!

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Play, interact, and give your dog the love they are showing you! Just do your best to discourage undesirable behaviors like jumping!

 

Normal Dog Cues

“Normal” dog cues are cues to normal moods and behaviors that your dog experiences as a result of stimuli around him. Some of the differences between these cues can be quite subtle and when misread they can result in frustration for both you and your dog. Learn to look for these cues and understand what they mean.

 

Interest

Dog Showing Interest

Body Posture

  • The body can be hard or soft depending on the intensity of focus and the object of attention
  • A cocked head
  • Focused but generally soft gaze
  • Perked, attentive ears

Behavior

  • Head tilting
  • Pawing at an object of attention
  • Pulling towards the object of attention
  • Whining or yipping

Most Often Seen When…

  • Seen when a dog experiences something they find interesting or puzzling

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Pay attention to what your dog is interested in. For example, your dog may be intrigued by a new noise you have made, this is nothing to be concerned over. However, your dog may also be interested and locked in on a squirrel at the park – something that may be of serious concern if your dog has a high prey drive!

    If the target of your dog’s attention is undesirable, redirect their attention or move away from the target. If the target is of no consequence, allow your dog to investigate and discover for themselves – it’s a great way to promote intellectual stimulation!

 

Feeling Comfortable

Belly Rub

Body Posture

  • Soft and relaxed body
  • Possibly rolling over to expose the belly but WITHOUT signs of submission or fear
  • A soft and relaxed tail which may or may not wag
  • Soft eyes or even closed eyes!

Behavior

  • Begging for belly rubs!
  • Sleeping
  • Walking away or turning away from you
  • Turning the back to you

Most Often Seen When…

  • A dog is comfortable or at home, for example, when having “couch time” with their owner!

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Be secure in the fact that your dog trusts you. If they’re begging for belly rubs, give them a rub!

 

Feeling Relaxed

Relaxation and being comfortable are two very similar scenarios. Generally what differs in these situations is the environment. Comfortable behavior is often assessed in a home or relationship scenario. Relaxation is often used to assess a dog’s response to an overall environment such as their mood or reaction to being at the dog park or being surrounded by new dogs.

Relaxed Dog

Body Posture

  • Soft and relaxed
  • Soft eyes or partially closed eyes
  • Lying down or walking at a “normal” pace while investigating their environment
  • A soft neutral tail

Behavior

  • Relaxed observation of their environment
  • No panting, repeated checking for their owner, shirking of other dogs or people, etc.

Most Often Seen When…

  • An older dog that is content with their life, their environment, and their companions. Imagine the old dog sitting on the porch watching the world go by and you have a relaxed dog.

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Let your dog enjoy the experience!

 

 

Hunger or Desire for Food

Identifying hunger versus begging can be tricky. Some dogs will do anything for food even when they have just eaten a meal! As your dog’s owner, the best way to distinguish these two situations from each other is to be aware of when your dog is fed and whether they are eating and to know that they are parasite free!
A Hungry Dog Will Lick

Body Posture

  • Attentive
  • Soft, but potentially excited
  • Eyes soft but locked on food if visible
  • A relaxed and wagging tail
  • Ears in neutral position

Behavior

  • Licking the air, nose or lips. Unlike anxiety, this is not done in rapid succession nor is it done without food stimulus
  • Salivation
  • “Prancing” with the front feet when excitement kicks in!
  • Panting IN COMBINATION with other behavioral cues
  • Nudging

Most Often Seen When…

  • A dog’s owner has food and their dog wants to share!

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Remember the importance of your dog’s obedience training! Don’t give in and feed table scraps or people food. Instead, get into the habit of telling your dog “no!” Require them to lie down or go to their “place” until you have finished eating.

 

Submission

Keep in mind that submissive does not equate to safe. Submissive dogs may also bite, however, this bite is out of fear and self-preservation rather than an attempt to be dominant or exhibiting aggression.
Dominance in Dogs

Body Posture

  • Soft
  • Vital organs exposed
  • “Slinking” pose before the dog submits
  • Tail tucked
  • Ears pulled back and pinned to the head
  • Paws tucked to the body upon rolling over

Behavior

  • Rolling on to the back
  • Lying down on the side
  • Exposing the belly and neck
  • Licking the more dominant figure
  • Licking the lips or nose (an anxious behavior)
  • Turning and walking or running away from the more dominant figure
  • Urination

Most Often Seen When…

  • Two dogs meet and one is extremely dominant over the other

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • Submission is not an unnatural behavior for dogs. Assuming that your dog is safe in this situation, allow them to play out their role and defer to the more dominant dog.
  • As mentioned previously, do not assume that a submissive dog will not bite. This usually happens when a submissive dog is overly anxious or afraid or if they are being tested (such as a child repeatedly jumping on them!) Be aware of the situation that your dog is in and you shouldn’t have any trouble understanding how they are feeling at that time. This will allow you to step in when necessary and remove your dog from the situation at hand.

 

Dominance

Dominant Behavior in Dogs

Body Posture

  • A strong posture which may potentially be aggressive
  • A steady gaze
  • Alert ears or ears leaning back without being pinned to the head
  • Leaning forward towards the target of their attention
  • Tail held high or away from the body and waving like a flag

Behavior

  • “Humping” or mounting behavior
  • Barking or growling
  • Placing the paws over or draping themselves over another dog
  • Standing over a submissive dog
  • Nipping the throat (not biting) of a submissive dog

Most Often Seen When…

  • Two dogs are interacting and once is significantly more dominant than the other

When You Observe This, You Should…

  • As with submission, give your dog the chance to play the scenario out so long as there is no danger of injury. If dominant behavior turns into competitive behavior or looks like the beginning of a fight, it’s time to get out of there! If you can safely leave with your dog, do so. If you can distract the dogs safely, do so. Just NEVER get in the middle of a dog fight!

 

So There We Have It!

In the past three blog posts, I have tackled some of the most frequently seen behavior in dogs. While this is certainly not a definitive guide or a universal science, these behavioral cues and postures have been observed for centuries. Your ability to recognize these basic behavioral profiles will help you to understand your dog as well as to anticipate the behavior of the dogs of strangers.

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