Friday, October 1, 2004

Body Language of dogs

Moment to Paws

Christine Ferguson

By Christine Ferguson

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking? An understanding of how dogs communicate with other dogs will help an observant owner to correctly figure out the message his pet is trying to give.

Dogs can communicate with other dogs through a series of signals, including a variety of facial expressions, body postures, noises and scents. Your dog will use his mouth, eyes, ears and tail to express his emotions. By reading the combination of body signals, you should be able to work out who is top dog in any confrontation or situation.

A dog who is feeling brave or aggressive will try to give the impression of being a larger, more powerful animal. He will stand tall with his ears and tail erect, thrust his chest forward and may raise the hairs around his neck and along his back (his hackles). He may also wave his tail slowly and growl. A submissive dog, on the other hand, will try to appear small and puppy-like--adult dogs will chastise puppies, but they don't attack them. His approach to a more dominant individual is likely to be from the side, crouching near to the ground with the tail held low and wagging enthusiasti-cally. He may also try to lick the hands or paws and face of the dominant dog or person, and if this isn't appeasing enough, he might then roll onto his back to expose his stomach.

Loose, free tail wagging indicates pleasure and a general friendliness. Exaggerated tail wagging, which extends to the entire rump, is seen in subordinate dogs as well as dogs with very short tails. A tail waved slowly and stiffly, in line with the back, expresses anger. Clamped low over the dog's hindquarters, it's a sign that the dog is afraid. Anxious or nervous dogs may stiffly wag their drooping tails as a sign of appeasement.

The facial expressions of your dog will tell you a lot about his mood, whether he's anxious or excited, frightened or playful or any one of a vast range of emotions he may express. The narrowing or half-closure of the dog?s eyes indi-cates either pleasure or submission, but when his eyes are wide open, he intends to be aggressive.

Submissive dogs and those of certain breeds, notably Labradors, may appear to be ?smiling? when they open their mouth to show the teeth in a lop-sided grin of friendliness. In the snarl of aggression, however, both lips are drawn right back to expose most of the teeth, and may be accompanied by a growl. A dog will indicate his desire to play, raising a front paw, or by performing the play bow, which is often accompanied by barking to attract attention. Other gestures include offering a play object or bounding up to another dog to invite chase.

To read your dog?s mood correctly, watch his many different body signals!

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