Who says dogs can't talk?Dogs talk to you all the time with their emotions. Dogs like humans do have emotions and express them in various ways. The dog feelings and behavior are widely researched in animal psychology. Being a responsible dog owner you must understand your dog’s emotions and treat them right. Here is an insight into dog emotions and behavioral problems due to mismanaged emotions.
Wide array of emotions in dogsThere are large numbers of feelings and emotive responses in dogs. The behavior is largely instinctual and same for all kinds of dogs with slight variations. The different types of emotions of a dog are as follows :
Eye contactJust like humans dogs also get confused and wary with direct eye contact. It is a threat stance for them and they feel threatened. A dog which looks away is trying to be polite, submissive and avoid confrontation.
Dog postures mean somethingThe way a dog stands and holds oneself tells a lot about its feelings and emotions. The movements are subtle and takes some observation and knowledge to fully grasp the meanings. Here are some common postures :
Confident stanceThe dog would be standing straight with tail upright and wagging slightly. The dog would appear relaxed and the pupils would also be smaller than usual.
Play bow postureWhen the dog is bowing with its legs splayed out and hind portion and tail up, it means dog wants to play. This bowing posture can be mistaken as an attacking one but it only denotes a playful mood.
Hip swings mean playAnother sign of a playful mood is swinging of backside by dogs. The dog would bump into another dog using his hind portion. It also denotes trust or wanting a scratch from you. When a dog wiggles its rear end it can also mean excitement and friendliness.
When a dog rolls over it means a sign of passive resistance. A belly rub is a good reinforcement for this kind of behavior. It can also mean a passive resistance to some minor thing for instance, nail clipping.
Rolling means slight resistance
The dogs pace here and there if they are excited, nervous, bored or needing exercise.
Pacing behavior denotes excitement
This is a raised strip of fur running down a dog’s back. It means that the dog is threatened, aggressive and in a fighting mood.
Raised hackles means beware
The dog would crouch or cower down denoting nervousness and fright. Another posture can be arched back, slightly bent legs and the tail down.
This means the dog is not sure or is preparing for attack. Now the dog must be left alone and this happens usually when hes holding a bone.
Sudden freeze means attack or unsure
In this posture the dog would lean forward with a rigid appearance. The tail would be down and wagging vigorously. Also the whites of eyes would be visible when the dog looks away.
Threatened or aggressive
Dog gestures denote emotionsJust like humans, the various gestures of dogs can be easily understood and interpreted. Some of the common ones are listed here :
A dog is puzzled when he raises one paw or keep his body away from the object puzzling him. He can also express this by tilting his head to one side in search of more clarity or information on something.
A dog mounts on other dog or owner to show dominance and doesn't have any sexual connotations. It can be used by a low confidence animal to show allegiance to a high confidence animal. It can be rectified with proper training.
Mounting shows dominance
The instinctual kneading for mother’s milk becomes a pacifying gesture in dogs. They keep their paw on owner’s leg or any body part to ask or request for something. Small puppies raise their paw when they want to play. It is also a connecting and friendly gesture like shaking hands.
The end to any activity like sleep, play is denoted like this. It can also denote relief from tension like after being alert for sometime.
Head and shoulders shake
Tails also expressYou must note that tails do not always mean happiness. They mean a lot of things which if watched astutely, can easily tell what the dog is feeling.
The dog which stands with its tail straight and upright is confident and assertive. It can also be highly excited.
Upright tail means a confident dog
When a dog is feeling friendly, secure and relaxed then it keep the tail neutral or slightly lower than the body.
Tail level with body is relaxed
When the dog has its tail between its legs or low it means fear, anxiety. Wagging can occur which leads to misunderstanding that the dog is happy. It means the dog is looking for reassurance or wants to be protected.
Tail low means fear
When the dog is wagging its tail hard it means it is in a mischievous and troublesome mood. It means it wants to bother somebody or squat another animal away.
Fierce wag with tail up shows mischief
Dog ears : incredibly expressiveMany kinds of emotions of dogs are expressed via their ears. It is important to know what different signs mean. Here some main ones are listed :
When a dog is highly engaged in something, concentrating hard its ears are pricked forward. It can denote curiosity and intent to catch sounds before chasing.
Pricked forward shows attention
A dog is afraid when the ears are flat against the head. When the ears are in front and close to head it means an aggressive gesture.
Flat ears mean fear or aggression
The dog is unhappy or uncertain when the ears are way back but not flat with the head.
Ears way back denotes sadness
Dogs' Eyes: Mirrors to the soulThe dogs also display a lot of emotions through their eyes. In-fact, one of the best mode to know their emotions is via eye signals. Let us see how they express :
When your dog if feeling very playful and ready its eyes are fully open.
Eyes wide open are alert
A dog is expressing dominance or challenging someone with stare.
Staring eyes challenge
Your dog would not look into your eyes if hes being polite or submissive.
Eye contact avoided in submission
Your dog is playful when he blinks or winks his eyes at you.
Winking is naughty
When a dog is angry and preparing to attack, it narrows the eyes. This can be followed by staring.
Narrow eyes denote aggression
You can know a lot about the emotions of your dog by observing the facial expressions. Even dogs, like humans, have express through their faces. Here's how :
Dogs' Face denotes emotions
You can easily confuse a snarl with a smile. To be sure you must note the entire body language. If the dog is relaxed then that means he is happy and smiling.
Smile is happiness
Yawn has many meaningsThe whole context must be noted in case of a yawn. It is contagious to dogs also and he can yawn seeing a person doing the same. It can also mean that the dog is easing tension, is confused. Also, a dog yawns when tired or in some new situation.
A dog whose mouth is stretched back and slightly open means it is ill or in pain. It can be accompanied by heavy panting
Mouth stretched and open means pain
A dog can do licking as apart of sexual behavior as it gives chemical signals. Also, if lip licking is with a yawn it means the dog is stresses or threatened. When a dog licks another dog it can also mean submissive behavior.
Lip licking is for many things
When a dog is aggressive it bares the teeth but it doesn't mean it would attack. When the muzzle is not wrinkled it shows the dog is showing anger and warning. And when the teeth are bare, lips pushed back and muzzle is wrinkled then the dog is likely to attack.
Bared teeth show anger
Thus, the insight into dog emotions is an eye opener for better understanding these wonderful creatures. You must take care to observe closely for the subtle signs and rightly understand your dog. This would help in forging a deeper bond with your true best friend. Your dog is talking to you, are you listening?
8,00,000 dogs are sad - Make them smile !
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About the author
Maneka Gandhi is an environmentalist & animal rights leader in India and belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi political clan.She was a magazine editor & columnist before authoring several books on law, etymology & animal welfare like Sanjay Gandhi, Brahma’s Hair and Heads & Tails.Her articles regularly feature in newspapers and magazines.
She started PFA (People for Animals) which is now the largest animal rights organization in India.It’s shelters are known world wide for the immense work in animal welfare. For more information please visit PFA’s website www.peopleforanimalsindia.org