Even though a dog cannot speak and has no hands and fingers for gesturing, you can watch some key parts of his body to determine how he is feeling and reacting to the situation around him.
Although the dog’s facial muscles are not as refined as ours, it can still tell us something if we observe carefully. For example, the dog can wrinkle his forehead to show confusion. If he straightens his forehead, it shows determination. If your dog wants you to give him further direction, he may raise his eyelids quizzically and tilt his head to one side.
A dog’s eyes brighten when he looks at a creature he considers friendly and when he wants to play.
However, if he is afraid, his pupils dilate and he shows the whites of his eyes. He will also avert his eyes to avoid confrontation.
If the dog is angry or ready to defend himself, his eyes narrow and follow your every move. In such situation, it is particularly important not to look the dog in the eye because he sees that as a challenge to defend his position.
The dog’s sense of hearing is much more acute than ours and they have the ability to move and turn them to follow sounds. If a dog’s ears are raised, it tells that he is relaxed, listening or showing acceptance.
If they are flipped backward, he may be signaling submission and deference or may be frankly fearful.
Lips, teeth and tongue
A relaxed dog in normal posture may let his tongue roll out of his mouth. If he wants something from you or if he is happy or wants to play, he may pull his lips back in what appears to be a smile and show his teeth (an expression that dogs show only to humans and not to other dogs).
Beware of the dog that bares his clenched teeth and wrinkles his nose. He may be ready to attack.
A dog wags his tail when he is happy or wants to play. It is really an energy indicator.
When he is submissive, he tucks it between his legs.
But a taut tail, held down rigidly behind him, may show that he is prepared to spring since he uses his tail for balance when jumping.
Dogs are vocal animals. They yip, bark, whimper, howl and growl. The pitch or volume of their sounds can increase with their level of emotion. A bark may be playful or aggressive. Unlike body signals, dog noises can mean different things from different dogs. Hence, it is not easy to interpret the signals.
Posture Speaks Volumes
a) Normal posture
The dog appears alert with head held high. His tail moves freely. His jaw is relaxed.
b) Invitation to play
The dog happily signals his desire to play by wagging his tail and dipping down into a “play bow.” His front legs are in a crouch and his backbone swoops up, leaving his rear haunches high. His head is held up expectantly to capture your attention. He may raise a front leg or lean to one side with his head.
The dog crouches down further and still appears relaxed. He may lift a front foot as in a play invitation, but his ears are back and his tail is down. He may yawn, scratch or sneeze, which is meant to calm him and the dogs or people confronting him.
d) Fearful aggression
A dog that is afraid tenses his body and holds his tail rigid, though it may be wagging. His rear legs are ready to run or spring. He bares his teeth, draws back his ears and the hair on his back stands on end. He growls or snarls constantly to warn off the subject of his fear.
Under-confident dogs are often more. aggressive to people who fear them. They sense from a person’s actions that he or she is uncomfortable around them and capitalize on their perceived weakness. One approach to help fearful dogs deal with their problem is to have everyone in the house behaves in a happy manner toward each other. Overtime, the dog, sensing their level of relaxation, will figure out that nothing bad is going to happen and slowly learns to relax himself as well. It may sound silly and unproven but dogs can sense somehow human emotions. For example, you will observe that dogs will tend to slink away and hide or sulk when their human “parents” argue, even though voices are not raised. At times, frequent quarrels and fights also take its toll on the dog’s health. It seems to indicate that dogs understand discord and do not want to be around it.
e) Dominance aggression
Teeth bared, this dog stares you down and advances confidently with his tail wagging slowly and his ears in the forward (alert) position.
f) Total submission
The dog drops his tail and curls it between his legs. He drops his head to avoid eye contact. He rolls over on his side and bares his belly, with one hind leg raised and urinates. If he isn’t afraid, he’ll tilt his head up a bit and raise his ears to show trust.
g) Dog to dog interaction
When two dogs meet (freely), they carry out a series of actions that looks like a choreographed dance. With their bodies tense and tails taut, they circle and sniff each other, silently gathering and exchanging information, ready to defend themselves at any moment if necessary.
They hold their ears back and the hair on their back may stand on end. They often avoid direct eye contact at first, sizing each other up to determine if the stranger is strong or weak, male or female, hostile or non-hostile.
One dog may place his head on the nape of the other’s neck or nip at his nose. It seems they are getting ready to fight and then, one lies down. Soon, they may separate and urinate. At this point they have agreed on which dog is dominant.