Understanding dog body language is essential for smooth dog training and behavior problem solving.
Knowing the meaning of their canine language not only helps you understand how they are feeling and what their intentions are in general, it also allows you to listen in and understand the communication between two or more dogs.
Furthermore, pay attention enough to their communication and culture, and you will find yourself having a two way conversation in their language!
Here are some basics of important dog body language:
Tail up – assertive, wants to lead, not backing down
Tail low – relaxed, submissive
Tail wagging – desire to engage
No tail wag – no desire to engage
Hackles up – feels threatened
Combine these for different possibilities:
Tail down and wagging – a submissive desire to engage (such as greeting someone with respect)
Tail high and wagging – an assertive desire to engage (such as while hunting prey)
Hackles up, tail up, no wagging – Feels threatened, will not back down to threat, but no desire to engage if threat passes
Hackles up, tail up, wagging tail – feels threatened, has desire to engage with threat in an assertive way
Tail down, hackles up – feels threatened, may retreat if possible, no desire to engage
Tail down, wagging, hackles up – feels threatened or intimidated but has desire to engage and be submissive.
Here are some other important things to know about their language:
Growling - A warning, does not want to, but will bite if the target does not respond to the threat.
Humping - Often misunderstood as something sexual. When it is not done for the actual purpose of mating it is generally a demand for attention. We see this most often when another dog (or person) is ignoring that demand. The demand could be for play, affection, or other type of acknowledgement.
Here is a video we made that gives a few examples:
Take a look at the dog in the video below. Pay attention to her wagging tail and position. The average person thinks of a wagging tail and thinks of friendliness and a playful encounter. Obviously, there is more to the wagging tail than that. It is all about, plain and simple, a desire or willingness to engage. The rest of the dog's body language tells the rest of the story:
Armed with some knowledge of dog culture and body language, the next step is to understand a little more about the instinct that most likely will cause dogs to get into trouble... click here to learn about aggression.