Translating Canine Body Language | PAWS Chicago

Translating Canine Body Language

Learning how to interpret your dog’s cues.

While dogs cannot speak our language, they do communicate through body language and signals.

Understanding these physical signals can tell you if your dog is feeling tense and stressed or calm and relaxed. It is equally important to be aware of the environment around your dog to get more information about his frame of mind.

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Displacement Behaviors

Displacement behaviors are normal behaviors that indicate conflict or anxiety when they appear out of context. These behaviors are the first indication that your dog is uncomfortable or uncertain. Examples of displacement behaviors include:

  • Licking lips when food is not present
  • Sniffing the ground or a certain object
  • Scratching when not itchy
  • Looking or turning away
  • Shaking from excitement, stimulation or adrenaline
  • Moving slowly
  • Yawning when not waking or when tired

Remember that displacement behaviors are behaviors that dogs do anyway so it is important to look at the context. Recognizing these signals gives us time to intervene and help the dog out of the stressful situation.

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Stress Reactions

When a dog’s efforts to communicate conflict are not recognized or are misinterpreted, stress increases. At this point a dog may lose his ability communicate. The following physical stress reactions may occur:

  • Freezing with a closed mouth
  • Hackling (Piloerection)
  • Panting
  • Pupil dilation
  • Whale or half-moon eye (white rim is visible around the eye)
  • Trembling
  • Sweating paws

Under extreme stress, a dog may feel the need to take action. He may growl, snarl, show his teeth and finally, lunge or bite.

It is important to recognize the signals or language of dogs so you can understand and respond correctly. Safe management involves helping your dog out of a stressful situation before an unwanted act occurs.

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