Body Language

Dogs are very social animals.  The ancestors of today's domestic dogs lived in packs, and members of a pack must have good communication and cooperation in order to hunt for food, raise the young and get along with each other.  Even today we can see pack behavior when watching two or more dogs together.


For the most part, dogs communicate through body language- that is, they use their bodies to explain their moods and thoughts.  Dogs communicate easily with each other.  People can also learn to read the messages that dogs give by their posture of actions.


Basically, a dog uses five part of its bosy to communicate.  There are the tail, ears, mouth, eyes, and the fur along the dog's back (called the hackles).  A dog's posture whether it is standing, crouching or lying down is also very important.  The folowing messages are used and understood by dogs of every breed and description.


Submission.  This is the way a dog explains that it is not the boss, that it is less dominant than those around it.  It is often used when a dog is afraid or wants to be forgiven for something it has done.  The dog lowers itself to the ground and may roll over onto its back.  The tail is tucked between the legs or just hangs down.  The ears are flattened against the head, and the dog looks away from the animal or person it is showing submission to.  The fur along the back is down and smooth.

                               If you want to reassure the submissive dog, talk quietly and reach out to pet it gently.


Play.  The way a dog tells others that it wants to play is in some ways similar to the submissive message described above.  First, it may jump up and bark excitedly.  It may also roll over or lower its front end, "bowing" up and down.  The tail is usually held high and it wags, the ears may be down, and the fur is smooth.  Often the dog will "grin" with a slightly open mouth.  It avoids eye contact.

            If your dog is in this play position, gently reach out and start to pet it.  Make sure that play doesn't get too rough.


Aggression.  This is the way a dog explains that it is the boss, dominant over those around it.  The dog tries to make itself look big and frightening by standing up straight with the tail up or out, the hackles raised, and the ears up and forward.  The head is held high and the dog growls and shows its teeth in a threatening snarl.  The dog may stare directly into the eyes of the person or animal it is challenging.  If two aggressive dogs meet, often one will back down and begin to show signs of submission.  Sometimes they will fight.

                       If you're ever approached by a dog showing these signs of aggression, it is very important that you keep your hands by your sides.  (Do not appear stiff or abnormal, remain relaxed and avoid eye contact).  Wait till the dog either walks away or calms down before you slowly begin to move again.


Fear.  A frightened dog may very easily become an aggressive dog, and many people have been bitten by dogs showing signs of fear.  The dog crouches down, hackles raised at least slightly.  The tail may be hanging down or tucked between the back legs.  The ears are back but might not be all the way down.  The head is down and the dog snarls, often with a low growl.  The dog may try to stare into the eyes of the person or animal it is afraid of.  If you areever approached by a dog showing signs of fear, look away keeping your hands at your sides.


Interest.  A dog often shows friendly interest on meeting another animal or person for the first time.  It has notyet decided if it needs to communicate submission, play, aggression, or fear.  The dog stands up straight with its tail (relaxed) and maybe slightly wagging.  The ears are up, the mouth is either closed or open with a slight "grin."  The dog looks at the other person or animal but not directly into the eyes.  The fur is smooth and the hackles are down.

                 If you meet a dog that is on a leash and it shows friendly interest, you may ask the owner i fyou may approach the dog.  Walk slowly and gently give the dog the back of your fist to smell.  It will probably begin to show signs of play or submission.  Its ears will fall and the tail will wag.  That is the time to pet it gently.  (If it shows aggression or fear, recoil your hand cautiously but hurridly).  Remember no matter how friendly it might look, never approach an unleashed dog that you do not know.

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