Body language is a dead giveaway.
Whether you're comfortable or nervous, confident or insecure, enjoying the conversation or dying for it to be over — 93% of your communication is non-verbal.
And if you're a dog, that number goes up to 100%. (Because, you know, dogs can't talk.)
But they do know how to communicate with you. You just have to know what to listen for.
Your dog has clear signals for when she's relaxed, happy, nervous, frustrated, angry, or about to attack a squirrel. Learning what to look for will not only strengthen the human / dog bond, it'll help you anticipate her needs in any situation.
There are two situations that require a solid understanding of canine body language:
1. When your dog starts misbehaving in some way, and you're trying to figure out what she needs.
2. When you or your dog meet a new dog for the first time, and you're not sure how it'll go.
That's why it's the little things you need to look for: head, ears, tail, and back.
Head position tells you a lot about whether the dog is open and engaged, fearful, or ready to attack. A lowered head is usually a sign of submission.
Ears up = good. Ears flattened = either afraid, or aggressive. Tail up is generally a signal of confidence and/or dominance. A tail between the legs is a signal of fear. And we all know what a wagging tail means.
Your dog's back will tell you how her weight is distributed; whether she's readying to pounce at you, or run away. When she's afraid, nervous, or angry, you'll also notice the fur around her shoulders and down her spine sticking up.
Imagine this: your dog encounters a new friend in the dog park. He seems like a good guy, and she loves a game of chase. She play-bows, butt in the air, ready to spring as soon as New Guy makes a move. BUT — her ears stay up, her tail's a-waggin, and she's practically smiling ear to ear.
Obviously she wants to play. But the same exact body position can be an indication of aggression if her ears are flattened, her hackles are up, and there's tension in her back.
When your dog is standing still, weight balanced equally on all four legs, ears up, she's feeling confident and dominant.
Note: bared teeth can either be a sign of aggression OR submission, depending on what the rest of her body is doing. If there's a lot of tension in her body, but she's alert with ears and tail straight up, slowly backing away, she's getting out of dodge. She doesn't want to fight, but she's not feeling safe either. This dog is more likely to bolt for safety.
Bared teeth with an attack pose, however, is pretty straightforward. Usually accompanied by growling and/or barking. The best thing to do is drop eye contact and slowly back away.
Your dog's eyes are quite expressive too.
Almond-shaped, relaxed eyes indicate a calm, happy dog. Rounded eyes can indicate arousal and surprise.
If you can see the sclera (whites) of a dog’s eyes, watch out. That dog is tense and upset, and could potentially bite you.
What to do with a nervous / aggressive dog
When you encounter a dog that's freaking out, the safest thing to do is avoid eye contact and approach from the side with your head lowered. If your nearness makes things work, back off.
It always helps to have some treats and toys on hand to break the ice. You can find some of our most popular toys here.
Generally speaking, your dog's pretty easy to read, right? She wants to play, or she's hungry, or she's feeling nervous about being left alone. The longer you live with her, the more you'll get to know her particular signals.
Now you can say you talk to animals. :)