Dog Body Language: putting it all together

In the last weeks we’ve gone, in detail, over the major aspects of body language: tail, spine, and facial expression. Today we’re going to look at a few photos in detail and examine all three, putting them together to figure out what that dog is saying in detail.

Note that if you’re on the street and have to make a quick judgement, I look for the following:

1. Is the tail high and stiff? If so, that’s aggression and I need to act accordingly. If not, it doesn’t matter.

2. Is the dog hard staring? Nose down, ears forward, wrinkles in forehead, no panting. Dog looks “locked onto target.” If so, that’s aggression, and I need to act accordingly.

Anything else I can take my time and decide what the dog is doing, and whether or not I should approach.

Got it? Okay! Here are the photos. Make your own guesses, then hover over them to see what I said!

Tail: low. Dog does not want to engage. Spine: In this photo, it's hard to tell. But she's definitely not up and down bouncy (which would indicate play), and it looks like her tail is probably pinched against her butt at the base, which is definite tension and always indicates anxiety. Facial expression: whites of the eyes are visible, ears are pinched against head. This dog's tail indicates she doesn't want to engage, and both spine and facial expression indicate anxiety. Even though she doesn't have the final sign of anxiety -- back molars showing -- I would say she's very stressed, likely fearful of something going on, because there are so many hallmarks of anxiety throughout her body. I'd also say that with that many markers, the fact that she's not panting probably means she's ready to bite.

Like the last dog, this is a small, floppy eared dog on the move. But look at the difference in body language! Tail: High, ready to engage. Spine: I can't say it's relaxed, but there is up and down movement: his butt is slightly higher than his shoulders, even on the run. Up and down movement indicates playfulness. Facial expression: while his ears are back, like the other dog, they're back and relaxed, not pinched. No whites of the eyes showing. His mouth is open (maybe barking?) but no back molars are present. Overall? Tail indicates readiness to engage, spine indicates good emotional state, face is relaxed and happy. This dog is ready to play!

Husky: Tail up, ready to engage. Stance is also squared off, which tells me she's not retreating. Spine: There's no wiggle in that tail; I'd guess that spine is stiff (bad emotional state). She's certainly not in motion, bouncy or otherwise. Facial expression: ears pinched. I can't see her eyes from this angle. Mouth closed (either calm, or ready to snap), nose down (I don't want to be friends). Combine all three? Ready to act but in a bad mood. Ears are pinched and nose is down to say, "I'm nervous and I'm not friendly." This dog is stressed out, and she's ready to deal with her problems. Give this girl a wide berth. Dogs in this mood aren't likely to approach, but she's willing to stand her ground. The terrier: Tail high, so he's ready to enegage. His head is hiding most of his spine, but I can at least see that there isn't a nice C-curve, so at best he's only in an okay mood. Facial expression: ears pitched foward (focused on target, owner and other dogs tuned out), no signs of anxiety. Nose is low: not wanting to be friends. He's panting, so he's not about to bite (but that doesn't mean that'll be true in another second). One paw up: he's either in motion, or would like to be in motion. Combine them: not a great mood, ready to deal with it, ears up and nose down is aggressive "locked onto target" expression. He's not about to attack because he's panting... but I wouldn't trust him, either. These two dogs are in a stare down.

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Right about now you’re probably thinking, “Holy moly! This is subtle stuff!” Yup, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg of body language. Study the photos, study your own dogs, look at videos and see if you can spot it, check out the dogs in the dog park. We want to become experts at learning body language, so that you know what it is your dog is communicating!

This finishes up our series. I’ll keep posting dog body language things as I can (and have time; these are time intensive!), along with anything else I feel like posting! We’re back to our normal schedule next week!

Jenna

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