Dogs are very expressive and emotional animals. As pet owners, we want to ensure our dogs are happy and comfortable in their surroundings. The best way to do this is to observe your dog’s posture and behaviour – because while they may not be able to speak to us, they can certainly communicate.
Relaxed ears and eye lids and a wagging tail are tell-tale signs that your dog is in a good mood. They may even nudge you to encourage affection or bring a toy to your feet so you play with them. Rest assured, if your dog is engaging in play or is able to relax and snooze at will, they are happy in their environment.
Some dogs will sit and stare at their owners for long periods, while others will bark or demand attention by placing themselves in between you and whatever is distracting you from your dog (such as a mobile phone). Don’t be alarmed. According to pet experts James Wellbeloved, our dogs constantly observe us because they derive joy from hearing our voices and interacting with us. In other words, a dog that watches you is showing you as much affection as if they are licking you, and they are communicating to you that they feel a close bond.
Similarly, avoiding eye contact a sign of anxiousness. If your dog is evading looking at something, has their tail tucked between their legs and is hunching their body, he or she is feeling apprehensive. It is easy to tell what is causing the anxiety because, while your dog won’t look directly at the offending cause, they will peer out of the corner of their eyes. Anxiousness is normally accompanied with a fight-or-flight response. If your dog can escape, they will likely run away. However, if they feel cornered or are on their own territory, they may bare their teeth as a warning they are about to bite.
If your dog blinks slowly, yawns more than usual and is constantly licking their lips, something is causing them stress. Usually, helping your dog feel at ease is just a question of identifying what has changed in the environment and removing it. However, if it is something you cannot remove—say you are on holiday somewhere your dog doesn’t know—spend some time with your dog, show them affection, and help them realise they can relax.
When your dogs tucks his or her tail between their legs, it doesn’t always mean they are anxious (unless you see the other symptoms, too). Often, it is a sign of submission to a more dominant dog or animal. This doesn’t mean they are scared, but are simply saying, “I recognise you are dominant, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends”. This behaviour is usually accompanied by a low-to-the-ground posture and either rolling on the back or curling up to appear small, as well as a number of other common behaviours. If your dog wags their tail or tries to lick the other dog, they want to play; if they avoid eye contact, they want to get as far away as they can.
Understanding what your dog is telling you with their postures is key to reading their emotions. By spotting the signals, you can help avoid stressful situations and keep your dog happy, all while helping them develop healthy social skills.