Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Helpful Hints to Understanding Dog Body Language

Welcome, friends, to another wonderful Woof Wednesday!  As most of our readers know, Berkeley Humane does an amazing job of finding homes for dogs and cats in need. But that’s not all that goes on, we also offer some fantastic training and classes led by our very own Behavior and Training Manager, Nancy Frensley. Nancy also offers private dog training and evaluations for dogs and owners who benefit from one-on-one attention.

I was fortunate to attend an insightful Brown Bag Primer focused on dog body language last Wednesday, where Nancy shared many tips to help attendees better approach and interact with dogs. With help from a short video, Nancy discussed the “Zoom Room Guide to Dog Body Language,” making sure to explain the different behaviors each dog exhibited.

The first topic covered was Facial Expressions. Nancy first showed us examples of relaxed dogs and pointed out certain indicators to tell when a dog is at ease such as: open mouths, ears that are relaxed/ forward, relaxed eyes, and happy expressions. Next we looked at worried dogs. Dogs that are worried will have: closed mouths, ears that are pointed backwards or sideways, wrinkles around the eyes or forehead, and often will be shrinking back from whatever it is that is scaring or worrying them.

Next, Nancy explained Stress Signals, which are behaviors dogs exhibit when they are stressed by a situation. These are also called Calming Signals, because they are used by dogs to diffuse aggression and calm interactions. Common stress signals to look out for are: a lifted paw, repeated yawing (when not tired), the “Half Moon” (wide or scared) eye, and nose licking. According to Nancy, you should look out for these signals any time your dog is encountering a new situation or meeting new dogs/ people. If you notice your dog displaying stress or calming signals, remove them from the situation or distract them until they calm down.

We then moved on to Body Language, and how to determine if a dog if relaxed, nervous, or alert. Dogs that are relaxed will have: a low, wagging tail; a friendly expression that looks alert and interested, and all four paws on the ground. Dogs that are nervous, however; will be slouching or slinking, with their tails tucked and a wary expression. They will have stiff legs and often will try to hide from what is making them nervous. As Nancy mentioned, nervous dogs are much more likely to bite so it is important to be wary of these body language displays. She then discussed the body language of alert or aroused dogs (rather than nervous). These dogs will have: closed mouths, ears forward or pricked, a forward stance, and an upright tail that may wag slowly.

Lastly, we looked at danger signs to look out for in dogs. These signs include: teeth showing, lips curled back, ears back, the “half-moon” eye, and growling and snarling. It is very important to be aware of these behaviors because dogs exhibiting them will often bite.
Throughout the discussion, Nancy gave helpful hints on how to approach dogs in each situation. For example, if a dog is very nervous or scared you can throw a treat behind them to distract them and divert their attention.

If you found these tips helpful and would like even more be sure to check out the Dog Training page of our website, There you can find information on our many behavior classes or private training available with Nancy, as well as great at-home resources and you’ll have access to our behavior advice hotline!

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