Recognising a dog’s behaviour: here’s what your dog’s body language is telling you

Does a wagging tail always indicate happiness? Recognising a dog’s behaviour isn’t easy. Here are some tips to learn what your dog’s body languages is trying to tell you.

Getting to know your dog

It is important to get to know your dog well so you can interpret its behaviour correctly. Every dog is different and they will respond to things differently as a result. You’ll notice that spending a lot of time with your dog and studying its behaviour will help you recognise certain traits. A nice way to spend time with your dog is by exercising together. Another useful activity is taking a walk at the park or other places where it will find other dogs to interact with. You’ll be able to see how your dog responds to other dogs which is useful for you to know. When socialising a puppy, learning to recognise its behaviour is very important as well. Proper socialisation will prevent your dog from developing the most frequently occurring anxious or aggressive behaviour.

Signs of stress or fear

A dog can communicate a lot through its body language including signs of stress. Certain hints may have several different meanings. This is why it is important to always consider the context. The following may indicate stress:

Excessive barking: Every dog will bark sometimes, but excessive barking may be a sign of stress. For example, because of other dogs in the vicinity, unfamiliar people or when your dog is left home alone.

Shivering or trembling: Of course, your dog may shiver when cold or wet. But it may also be an indication of stress. Perhaps it got startled, in which case it will run and hide.

Salivating or excessive licking: When you dog salivates excessively, this may be a sign that it is experiencing certain situations as stressful.

Scratching: When your dog is scratching, this may be a sign of allergy. But excessive scratching is a sign of stress or boredom. It may help to offer your dog some challenging toys and give it more attention.

Signs of anger or aggression

Anger and a threatening attitude can be recognised in several ways. Once again, context is key. If you notice that a dog is angry or aggressive, do not approach it and leave it alone until it has calmed down. The ‘ladder of aggression’ is often used to determine signals. The ladder goes from early signals of discomfort, such as turning away or blinking eyes, to intimidating barking, growling and finally exposing their teeth. Rapidly licking their snout is another sign of aggression in dogs.

Signs of joy

A happy, joyful dog can be recognised in several ways. A happy, confident dog will usually have a shiny coat. Wagging can be a sign of happiness as well as an excited attitude (the front of the body pressed against the ground with the back of the body up in the air) and jumping, which means “Yay, time to play!” A happy dog will usually display stable behaviour without erratic responses.

Signs of illness

A dog cannot tell you when it isn’t feeling well. But you can still find out by looking at its body language. For example, it may hide or seem less cheerful. In addition, changes in their faeces, shortened breath and visual features may reveal some sort of illness. A sick dog may display reduced activity, reduced appetite and little or no enthusiasm. When in doubt, always consult a vet.

Different meaning

It can be very difficult to read your dog’s behaviour based on individual features. For example, rapid licking of its snout may be a sign of aggression or stress, but it may very well have no meaning at all if your dog just enjoyed a tasty meal. Wagging can be a sign of joy as well as alertness. This is why it is always important to consider the context of a situation.

Recognising and eliminating undesirable behaviour

Large dark-brown staring puppy eyes. They look so cute, but begging is undesirable behaviour. When your dog tends to finish its portion at lightning speed, it isn’t just hungry. It may be exhibiting food aggression or gobbling. Yet another example of undesirable behaviour. It is best to focus on eliminating undesirable behaviour as soon as you start noticing it.

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