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The Language Of Dogs

* * * * * 1 votes dog training dog behavior dog language dog aggression dog stress dog anxiety

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The Language of Dogs

By Sarah Kalnajs and my personal notes


* Body language, emotion, energy, and arousal are the keys to unlocking communication with dogs.
* Two key indicators of internal emotional state of your dog
1. Is he/she eating or taking treats?
2. Is she/he responding to simple  known cues? ~70% of dogs know “sit” and “shake”
*Signs of canine stress: the further down the list, the higher the stress level for the dog, typically.
1. Yawning
2. Dilated pupils (like flying saucer huge)
3. Lip licking
4. Stretching
5. Ears pinned back (could mean stress or appeasement)
6. Excessive shedding
7. Slow or little movement (could mean stress or distance increasing)
8. Not eating
9. Urogenital “check out”
10. Inability to settle (restless or pacing)
11. Low body posture, tucked tail, weight shifted back (could be stress or distance increasing)
12. Muscle ridges around eyes and mouth
13. Increased respiration rate and shallow breathing.
14. Trembling
15. Sweating paws
*Signs of Stress or Arousal:
1. Excessive salivation
2. Smiling
3. Penis crowning
4. Vocalization
5. Teeth chattering
6. Cheek puffing
7. Piloerection (hair on back stands up), not aggressive but just arousal.
*Signs of Canine Appeasement/Deference/Cut off:
1. Head turn or body turn
2. Paw raise
3. Sniffing out of context
4. Sneezing, quick and rapid is a sure sign of a happy dog
5. Scratching
6. Blinking a lot
7. Shake off
8. Arc on approach, dogs never greet each other straight on or face to face. Imagine walking in a straight line towards someone you don’t know and stopping several inches apart. How comfortable would you be?
9. Change in position (sitting, lying down, standing up)
10. Lip licking
11. Yawning
12. Stress signal sequences (many of the stress signals given in sequence can be a way for a dog to show appeasement)
*Distance Increasing Signals: the dog really wants more space between it and whatever is stressing them out. 
*Active Reflex Defense: is a confused or conflicted dog who doesn’t know whether to fight or flight which can be the most dangerous type of dog because they show mixed signals.
1. Marking territory or possessions
2. Ears or body weight forward
3. Tense body and face
4. Lowered head and neck
5. Tail raised high and wagging fast (aka Flagged)
6. Heightened posture or height seeking (standing up straight or moving to higher ground). Only confident dogs will do this and is often a sign of behavioral problems. Considered “rude” behavior to other dogs as well as humans. Can also be jumping up on people but not as an attention soliciting behavior.
7. Muzzle punching is always directed at the face and is meant to be painful (my younger brother had his two front teeth knocked out by our 5 month old Aussie puppy probably because the dog didn’t like the way my brother was playing too rough with him)
8. Distance increasing bark is very loud and sharp, not welcoming at all and is easily distinguished from playful/arousal barks.
9. Hard eyes are very aggressive, the rim of the pupil is very sharply defined from the iris which is why its called hard eyes.
10. Freeze almost always is the precursor to a bite. If an intruder doesn’t listen to previous signals to back off, the dog will freeze and a second later lunge for a bite. If you see a dog freeze, move away as fast as you can.
11. Mouth open or closed? A tightly closed mouth is an indicator of a highly stressed dog.
12. Whale eye is where the dogs head is turned and the white of their eye is making a crescent shape, this is also an indicator that a bite or lunge is about to happen.
13. Variety of different tooth displays.
14. Tap out is not the same thing as rolling over as an appeasement display, but it is the showing of the inguinal area of the belly. Dogs who do this are typically not confident and is essentially the same behavior as the height seeking dog and can be an indicator of a behavior problem. Sometimes will lead to a bite. **Height seeking is “rude” while a tapout is more “polite” for a dog to communicate that they want you to back off. The difference between a tapout and a rollover is that a tapout is a distance increasing signal and the rollover is an attention seeking signal, otherwise they look identical.
*Distance Decreasing Signals (attention seeking and happy dogs!):
1. Play bows
2. Easy wagging tail or crazy circle wag like a windmill. A wagging tail isn’t always the sign of a happy dog. I can easily just be arousal alone. 
3. Submissive grinning
4. Submissive licking other dogs
5. Care soliciting signals
6. Relaxed posture
7. Soft eyes
*How to properly approach a dog:
- personal space is important
-approach the dog on an arc
-don’t make direct eye contact
-do not have a ventral position over the dog, don’t tower over the dog
-get down to the dogs level without facing the dog straight on
-wait for the dog to approach you and offer your hand if they are interested to sniff
-don’t have a nervous demeanor 
-don’t smile at the dog, because they can see that as a tooth display and take wrong
-don’t pet a dog unless they show you care soliciting signals, even a dog showing appeasement signals probably doesn’t want to be pet.
-offer treats, if the dog doesn’t eat them you know it is stressed and probably doesn’t want to be touched. A lot of people think that a dog who doesn’t take a treat is just “picky” when in reality their dog is super stressed out to the point where they are not comfortable enough to eat. Lots of owners say that their dog will eat the treat at home, which tells me that they actually do like the treat when they are calm enough to eat.
*Canine behavior and signals may occur simultaneously with others or not. Usually it is a sequence depending on the animal.
*Stress can produce physiological and behavioral changes. Dogs that are under chronic stress will develop behavioral problems that usually lead to aggression. 
*Physiological changes due to stress take 5-7 days to return back to normal levels of neurotransmitters. So if a dog gets highly stressed once every 3 days the dog’s threshold will be easier to get to each time a new stress is introduced. Soon enough that dog’s threshold will take very little to elicit a response that could be aggression.
*A dog under extreme stress is more likely to trigger into fear or aggression (flight or fight)
*Ways to decrease stress for a dog:
-create balance of adequate rest and healthy activity. Dogs require about 17-20 hours of rest/sleep per day (lucky dogs!!!)
-create routine and stable environment within limits
-do not create firm or fixed schedules because  a dog who gets accustomed to a fixed schedule can be a setup for disaster if that schedule were ever to be interrupted which is inevitable with life.
-use differential reinforcement (DRI) for incompatible behaviors to outlet energy in a good way and to keep dogs from practicing bad habits
-understand and utilize your dogs sensory system to provide mind stimulation which is just as important as physical stimulation. Types of mental stimulation:
1. You can get mind stimulating games. The ones that I like are the ones made by Nina Ottosson
2. Play the “find it game” where you hide lots of treats around the house for the dog to sniff out
3. Work on training and teaching a dog new cues
-start puppy socialization as early as possible and safe. Once a dog reaches 4-5 months old the window of opportunity closes to introducing new things.
*LIMA training technique: Least invasive, minimally aversive
- Training dogs is an ongoing and constantly changing subject. I for one like this method the most, even over 100% positive reinforcement because there is no such thing as 100% positive reinforcement training. 
-Punishment is not a bad thing at all, it just has to be appropriate and as least invasive to the dog as possible. 
-Putting a dog in time out is not a good punishment because it is “invasive” and attentive to the dog. 
-Using positive punishment (adding something to the “equation”) like a spray bottle or a “no” word or sound are appropriate.
-Using negative punishment (subtracting something from the “equation”) like removing a resource or withholding praise/treats are appropriate. 
-You do NOT want your punishment (whether is negative or positive) to have ANY fallout, which is failure to be effective and NOT fail the dog. Meaning the dog doesn't have any resulting behaviors because of the punishment!
-Some dogs will do what is called an extinction burst, which is a behavior will escalate until it stops. Once the dog “extincts” the bad behavior, you reinforce the good behavior which can often times be doing nothing.
-Variable reinforcement is the best kind and is very important but can only be done when a behavior is set almost at 100% compliance. Keeps the dog on its toes because it doesn’t know exactly when its going to be reinforced and keeps the dog from becoming dependent on the handler/trainer having treats.
-A dog not listening is not a stubborn dog, they just haven't been given a good enough reason to listen

  • jdatwood, Zeddicus, GoingPostal and 1 other like this



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What a great article. As a groomer I see all these behaviours constantly. i think that every person should read this even if they do not own a dog. What a great way to set the dog up for success!!


I can't count how many times I've had customers try to walk up to my grooming dogs on the tablmyand try to pet them. They say "oh, look how happy fifi is!" As the poor dog is stress panting on my table. They think the dog is smiling. Ha!

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Excellent post!"  I recently fostered and adopted out a timid dog and while I went over a lot of the obvious signs having it written out is so much nicer.  I wish more people would educate themselves on what our animals are trying to tell us. 

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