Canine Body language- Keeping Families Safe
Signs of Anxiety
These signs indicate that your dog is uncomfortable with the current situation and there is a need for intervention to prevent pushing the dog to the point of biting, and to make sure your canine friend is happy and not feeling anxious.
One Paw Raised
This is very cute but the dog is not happy and does not want to be petted or bothered. She is worried.
Half Moon Eye
The dog just wants to be left alone. Watch for this one when kids are mauling the dog. This is a common expression in dogs that being hugged. If you see the half moon eye when the kids approach the dog or are interacting with the dog, it's time to intervene and give them all something else to do.
Displacement behaviors are normal behaviors displayed out of context. They indicate conflict and anxiety. The dog wants to do something, but he is suppressing the urge to do it. He displaces the suppressed behavior with something else such as a lick or a yawn. For example, you are getting ready to go out and the dog hopes to go too. He is not sure what will happen next. He wants to jump on you or run out the door, but instead he yawns. The uncertainty of the situation causes conflict for the dog and the displacement behaviors are a manifestation of that conflict. The dog may want to bite a child who takes his bone, but instead he bites furiously at his own foot.
Some examples of displacement behaviors include:
- yawning when not tired
- licking chops without the presence of food - Watch the video below to see why this is important
- sudden scratching when not itchy
- sudden biting at paws or other body part
- sudden sniffing the ground or other object
- wet dog shake when not wet or dirty
These are all things that dogs do anyway. It is important to look at the context to determine whether the dog is feeling anxious. For example: if it is bedtime and the dog gets up, stretches, yawns and goes to her bed, then that yawn was not a displacement behavior. If the kids are hugging the dog or lying on him and he yawns or starts licking at them over and over then this is displacement. He wants to get up and leave or even to bite, but he displaces that with yawning or licking them or himself. In this context the licking or yawning behavior tells you that the dog is uncomfortable with whatever the kids are doing and it is time for you to intervene. You must then either prevent the kids from doing this in the future or use positive training techniques to teach the dog to enjoy (not just tolerate) these actions from the kids.
Sometimes dogs are more overt when they feel anxious and want to remove themselves from a situation. Please don't force a dog to stay in situation in which he feels anxious, especially if children are the source of his anxiety. Here are some examples:
- the dog gets up and leaves an uncomfortable situation (he may bite rather than leaving one of these days)
- turning head away
- hiding behind person or object
- barking and retreating
- the dog rolls over on back in submissive way (please don't hurt me!)
- Other Body Language Signs of Anxiety
- tail between legs
- tail low and only the end is wagging
- tail between legs and wagging
- tail down or straight for curly-tailed dog (husky, malamute, pug, chow chow, spitz-type dogs etc.)
- ears sideways for erect eared dog
- ears back and very rapid panting
- dog goes into another room away from you and urinates or defecates (Please find a professional behavior consultant for help with this - search our directory)
All dogs should have a safe place, such as a crate or mat that they can go to when they want to be left alone. All family members and guests should be taught not to bother the dog when he is in his safe place. We have recently heard of a mat product which gives the dog a shock if he tries to leave it, thus teaching him to stay on the mat. This is not what we would consider a safe place for the dog. This is a dangerous product and you should not have one of these.
Watch this video and see if you can spot the warning sign (hint - it happens at about 2 sec into the video). You will likely need to watch it twice. Warning - graphic video. May not be suitable for children.
Signs of Arousal
These signs indicate that your dog is interested in something, or trying to decide on a course of action and is not receptive to attention (such as petting from a child) and include:
- ears forward
- mouth closed
- eyes intense
- body rolled forward
- body tense
- tail high (may or may not be wagging)
- slow deliberate tail wag
This is the type of posture we see in a dog who wants to chase a squirrel, confront an intruder or is getting ready to chase a ball. He is intensely focused and ready for action. He does not want to be hugged or petted at this time. Teach children to leave a dog along who is tense and focused like this.
Signs of a Happy Dog
Signs that indicate that the dog is receptive to attention or wants to play:
- panting, relaxed, happy expression
- body position relaxed
- lying with one paw tucked under
- enthusiastic tail wag
- tail thumping on floor
- play bow (front end down; rear end up; tail wagging)
Signs of Imminent Bite
If these signs occur, cease all interaction with dog, look away and give dog the opportunity to leave, do not approach, do not make eye contact, do not talk to the dog. If you are touching the dog, stop and move your hands slowly away. If you are taking something from the dog, let go of it. It is better for him to keep it than for you or a child to get bitten. If you are bending over the dog, slowly straighten up and look away.
- dog freezes - becomes suddenly stiff
- dog stands with front legs splayed, head low, looking at you
- dog curls lip to show teeth
A good guide for children is that if the dog is all soft and wiggly, then he is not likely to bite. If a dog is stiff like a statue then he is dangerous.
Teach children never to take from a dog and if a dog steals from them to let the dog have it. They should ask an adult to get the item back. Trade the dog for a treat to get the item back, or just let him keep it. Hire a professional to help you teach the dog that it is good to give things back.
Signs of Aggression
If your dog shows signs of aggression then you should get help from a behavior consultant right away. Signs directed toward you or another person that indicate the need for professional help include the following:
- guarding (dog's own possessions or resting area; favorite human's possessions) against family members or guests - this is a very dangerous situation - children are in immediate danger since they could inadvertently come between dog and a guarded area or object (dog may be continually expanding his guarded area or repertoire of guarded objects unbeknownst to you)
- snap and miss (the miss was intentional and the dog may not miss the next time)
- aggressive barking which is not stopped by your request for quiet
- lunging on or off the leash, with barking or growling
- bite (other than playful puppy nipping by a puppy, or accident during rough play)
- dog raises tail when you or child approach (may not apply to breeds with naturally raised or curled tails - e.g. pug, husky, spitz-type breeds etc.)
- dog urinates intentionally in the house or on your possessions in your presence or in the presence of children or guests and shows other signs of pushy or aggressive behavior
Maybe the dog just doesn't understand where to go to the washroom or maybe the has a medical condition. There can be many reasons for a dog to urinate in the house - a visit to the veterinarian will allow you to determine if there is a medical problem. Read an article by Dr. Suzanne Hetts about potential reasons for house soiling and some possible solutions.
In some rare cases, an adult dog that is house trained (male or female) may intentionally urinate in your house in your presence (or in the presence of guests or children) or on your belongings (in your presence), or on a person or another animal. This dog may have a serious behavior problem. If the dog also shows signs of pushy or aggressive behavior towards family members or visitors then the dog could be very dangerous and there is a risk that this dog could bite anyone who provokes it. Guests, and children (even your own children) could be at risk. Professional help is needed immediately to determine whether there is a bite risk and if possible solve the problem. This may not be a house soiling problem, this may be an aggression problem.
Resource guarding is very dangerous. If you have a puppy you can take steps to prevent this, or stop it if is already starting. Teach your puppy that it is a good thing when people approach his food bowl or his possessions. If you have an adult dog that is guarding people, possessions or territory then you need to hire professional help. This is a dangerous situation that can rabidly escalate.
If your dog has ever shown the signs listed above, or you have that feeling in the back of your mind that your dog is likely to bite someone, then you should get help from a professional.You may think it is expensive to pay a consultant, but it will be even more expensive (in more than just financial ways) if the dog bites someone.
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