“Can you hear me now?” or Learning to Effectively Communicate with Fido.

I have mentioned the Whole Dog Journal (WDJ)* in several posts, and I have also written a fair amount about stress signals and learning to understand when your dog is asking for your help to manage a situation. I get the WDJ’s “Tip of the Week” and this week’s was an excerpt from the book, Decoding Your Dog from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Edited by Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB and John Ciribassi DVM, DACVB, with Steve Dale.** The excerpt suggests six steps to better understand and communicate with your dog.

Here is the excerpt. The parts that I wish to emphasize are in italics. I have also added photos of mine to better illustrate the body language listed.

These six steps and the following guide will help you to “speak dog” and understand your dog’s body language.

1. Learn their language.
2. Listen with our eyes.
3. Use cues that work for dogs.
4. Avoid miscommunication traps.
5. Teach a common language.
6. Have realistic expectations.

The goal is not to learn our dogs’ language so that we can “speak dog” back to them; that just won’t work. But we can use a knowledge of canine language to better understand our dogs’ emotional states and predict what they might do next.

Remember to look at the entire dog, not just one body part or a single vocalization, and to also look at the situation to get an accurate read of the dog’s emotional state.

• Dogs understand some words, but they can’t understand a full conversation. Gestures and body language are clearer ways to communicate with dogs. Clear communication takes attention and effort, but is well worth it!

Not every dog can succeed in every situation. Watch your dog for signs of anxiety or aggression and change the circumstances so that the dog doesn’t get overwhelmed.

• If something seems like it’s about to happen, step in. Either remove the dog from the situation or change what’s happening.

Canine Body Language 

Eyes
-Unwavering, fixed stare: challenge, threat, confident
-Casual gaze: calm
-Averted gaze: deference
-Pupils dilated (big, wide): fear
-Wide-eyed (whites of the eyes are visible): fear
-Quick, darting eyes: fear

This puppy was quite fearful of new people and would stiffen and growl if you got too close. Notice his hard stare forward and stiff ears.

This puppy was quite fearful of new people and would stiffen and growl if you got too close. Notice his hard forward stare and stiff ears.

Averted eyes and furrowed brow may mean this dog is worried or at least uncomfortable.

Averted eyes and a furrowed brow may mean this dog is worried or at least uncomfortable.

 

This dog's averted gaze, stiff body, and pinched ears tell me that she is ill at ease.

This dog’s averted gaze and stiff body tell me that she is ill at ease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ears
-Relaxed, neutral position: calm
-Forward, pricked: alert, attentive, or aggressive
-Ears pinned back: fear, defensive

Roxy's ears are pinched close to her head.

Roxy’s ears are pinched close to her head.

This is Roxy more relaxed and curious about what I'm doing.

This is Roxy more relaxed and curious about what I’m doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mouth

-Panting: Hot, anxious or excited
-Lip Licking, tongue flicking: anxious
-Yawn: tired or anxious
-Snarl (lip curled, showing teeth): aggressive
-Growl: aggressive, or playful
-Bark: reactive, excited, playful, aggressive, or anxious

Liplicking, when not waiting for dinner, is another indication that the dog is uncomfortable and needs some space!

Liplicking, when not waiting for dinner, is another indication that the dog is uncomfortable and needs some space!

One dog yawning, the other has a closed mouth. Both are a bit stressed by my camera.

One dog yawning, the other has a closed mouth. Both are a bit stressed by my camera.

A happy dog ready to say hi! Relaxed mouth, ears, and soft eyes.

A happy dog ready to say hi! Relaxed mouth and ears, and soft eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tail

-Up, still: alert
-Up with fast wag: excited
-Neutral, relaxed position: calm
-Down, tucked: fear, anxious, or submissive
-Stiff-wagging or still and high: agitated, excited, and perhaps unfriendly

 

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This pup’s tail is level, relaxed and waving gently. She’s calm and happy to work with me.

This little dog's tail is low, and slightly tucked. His ears are back and he's telling me he's a bit nervous about class.

This little dog’s tail is low, and slightly tucked. His ears are back and he’s telling me he’s a bit nervous about class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Body carriage
-Soft, relaxed: calm
-Tense, stiff: alert or aggressive
-Hackles up: alert or aggressive
-Rolling over: submissive

Bingley’s raised front paw and his ready stance show he is alert and eager to play.

This guy could be a bit shy and nervous with new things and needed some special handling at times to keep him comfortable.

This guy could be a bit shy and nervous with new things. His tight body and lack of movement lets me know he needs some special handling at times to keep him comfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decoding Your Dog can be purchased at Whole Dog Journal, Dogwise, or Amazon (where it is also available in Kindle format). Learning to better communicate with your dog will not only improve the training and management of your pup, but will dramatically enhance the relationship with your canine best friend.

These dogs have loose and relaxed bodies, open mouths, soft eyes, and calm tail carriages.

These dogs have loose and relaxed bodies, open mouths, soft eyes, and calm tail carriages.

 

*To see the posts that I mention the WDJ go to: http://apositiveconnection.com/?s=whole+dog+journal

**Dr. Meghan Herron, veterinary animal behaviorist at OSU has a chapter in the book. I mention Dr. Herron in several of my blogs. To find these posts go to: http://apositiveconnection.com/?s=Herron

Behavior or "What the heck?" Care and management or living together in harmony Stress: signals, management, & warning signs2 comments

2 Comments
  1. Liked this post. Encapsulates so much info. Saved it to my research file for the novel I’m working on.

  2. Julie Smith says:

    Thanks for reading Laura. I’m glad this was helpful information and be sure to check out “Decoding Your Dog”!

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