Dogs are social creatures and have complex and multifaceted communication systems. Recognizing and correctly interpreting dog body language is an incredibly important piece of building a strong bond, communicating clearly, and avoiding conflicts with your dog.
- If you can spot early signs of stress, you can quickly intervene and may be able to avoid a conflict.
- Body language can help us know if our dog is distracted, frustrated, overwhelmed, scared, angry, or needs support.
- Spotting signs of warning or threat behavior can reduce risk and keep us safe.
- Being able to back-up your assumption that your dog loves something with body language makes you a better training and pet parent.
- Improved communication means a better relationship, more trust, and less frustration for everyone.
Signs of Stress:
There are a number of subtle body signals dogs use very commonly that even experienced dog owners often overlook. Below is a list and some examples of common stress signals. It is important to note that stress is simply a physiologic response to stimuli. In other words, you can experience stress about something unpleasant (a fender bender, missing the bus, being sick, etc.), but enjoyable things can also come with stress (winning the lottery, finding out you are pregnant, reuniting with a loved one after an absence, etc).
Here is a list of common signs of stress. Context is important, as all of these examples could also occur for a other reasons. A dog can yawn because he is tired. But a wide awake dog yawning at the vet’s office is probably a stressed dog, rather than a tired dog.
How many different signals can you spot in this photo sequence?
(Blinking, turn away/avoidance, paw raising, facial tension, closed mouth, lip licking)
- The Family Dog – Body Language Video: A great short and fun video that is perfect to share even with younger children. https://youtu.be/bstvG_SUzMo
- 6 Signs of Stress Blog post (with video clips): A nice overview on 6 signs of stress. 3lostdogs.com/do-you-recognize-these-6-signs-of-a-stressed-out-dog/
- Reactivity and Aggression Ladder Diagrams: The name is misleading – these diagrams are not just about aggression, but about understanding the spectrum of signaling that can occur as a dog becomes more stressed. www.prettygooddog.com/aggression-ladders/
- Tolerating vs Enjoyment: A great little piece on spotting subtle differences that can have a huge impact on your training. www.dogcharming.com.au/blog/the-saga-of-measuring-a-dog-for-a-muzzle-tolerating-vs-enjoying-handling
- Parker and the Baby: A short video documenting signs of stress around a young child. youtu.be/mWI0GXToxyM
- Canine Body Language in the Shelter: Longer seminar by Dr Sara Bennett on canine body language. Though geared towards those doing shelter/rescue work, the presentation has lots of great material for the average dog owner. youtu.be/gFFto1XVtxI
- The Language Of Dogs: Understanding Canine Body Language and Other Communication Signals DVD by Sarah Kalnajs – available for purchase on-line or through Tawzer