Without a sound, two properly socialized dogs meeting for the first time can size each other up in just a few moments. An exchange of glances can tell each canine if they're going to be friends or enemies.
How can dogs do this without a sophisticated verbal language? The answer: facial expressions, body language and posturing. Although dogs signal intent by barks andgrowls, the message is not complete without the telegraphy of body and facial language.
Various parts of the dog's body are involved in this form of communication. Here is a quick primer in canine body language.
A combination of facial expressions communicate a dog's mood and intentions that can be understood by other species, including humans. Here are a few examples offacial communication:
Relaxed mood: Soft eyes, lit up, looking – but not staring. Ears forward or flopped, with tips bent over (if anatomically possible).
Mouth open, lips slightly back, giving the impression of smiling. Tongue hanging limply from the side of the mouth
Anxiety: Eyes glancing sideways or away. Ears to the side of the head or flopped. Teeth clenched, lips firmlyretracted. Tongue either not evident or lip licking
Intimidating: Eyes staring like searchlights. Ears forward. Teeth bared
Fearfulness: Eyes looking forward or away, pupils dilated. Ears pressed back close to the head. Panting/breathing hard through clenched or slightly open mouth. Jaw tense so that sinews show in the cheeks
Stress: Yawning plus other signs of anxiety or fearfulness (asabove)
Head down ("hang dog"): Submission or depression
Head in normal mid-way position: Everything is all right
Head/neck turned to side: Deference
Head held high/neck craning forward: Interest or, depending on other signs, a challenge
Head resting on other dog's back: Demonstrating dominance
Tensing of muscles and theraising of hackles: Threat/imminent fight
Play bow – head low, rump elevated: The universal sign of canine happiness and an invitation to play
Paws on top of another dog's back: Dominance
Looming over: Dominance
Rolling over: Submission/deference
Urinating by squatting: Deference
Urinating by leg lifting: Dominance/defiance
Tail up: Alert, confident, dominant
Tail wagging: Dog's energy level is elevated (excited or agitated)
Tail held low or tucked: Fearful, submissive
Tail held horizontal and wagging slowly: Caution
Tail held relaxed and stationary: Contented dog
There is no one sign that gives away a dog's feelings but if you consider all the bodylanguage signs, you can get a pretty good idea of what's going on in the dog's head. A dog that is staring at another dog, his ears pricked and his tail stiff, is probably conveying dominance, or at least a wish for it.
A dog that averts his gaze from another dog and hunkers down nervously as if waiting for an explosion is likely fearful and is trying to defuse the situation by actingsubmissive.
Sometimes body language signs can be ambivalent, however. For example, it is not uncommon to observe a dog growling at another dog while occasionally glancing to the side, backing up, and with his tail wagging. Such a dog is invariably fearful. Whenever fear signs are present, fear is in the equation. These dogs are unpredictable with other dogs and will alter their body language andbehavior according to circumstances. If the opposing dog retires, they may jump around and "look happy." If the opposing dog approaches too close the fearful one may snap or bite. Owners, if present, can help defuse their dog's ambivalence and uncertainty by taking a strong leadership role. It's amazing how rapidly a fearful dog's disposition will change when an authoritative owner steps in and...
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