The dog language phrasebook.
Just as all cultures have a set of rules for behaviour, so do members of the dog family. Ignorance of these rules can cause us to create a lot of fear in them, which can lead to defensive or aggressive behaviour.
Here to the previous part: Language of the dogs.
Dog Language Phrasebook
Outdoor walks can be a social minefield for your dog. In the first few days, before he gets used to the route and the other dogs he may encounter, knowing dog etiquette will help you enormously.
If left to its own devices, a well-behaved and self-confident animal will often run in a curve when approaching another dog. This is why many dogs react problematically when forced to walk straight towards another.
Allowing the preferred approach in a turn helps the dog to remain calm and confident.
Since the width of the turn depends on the individual dog, leave the leash loose, so he can decide what feels right and safe for him.
It is considered particularly intrusive when a strange dog puts its head or paws on another dog’s back, as these two signals can be seen as either overbearing (left picture) or threatening (right picture). Some dogs are more tolerant than others in this regard.
A polite dog negotiates with the other dog before approaching. This is done in ritual behaviour. First, possible hostility, aggression or friendliness is already assessed from a few hundred yards away.
At this point, the dogs decide whether or not to approach further, long before they are able to meet nose to nose. When they are close enough to make contact with each other, they usually try to sniff each other’s rear ends.
Dogs perform this sniffing behaviour because it allows them to gain additional information about each other, especially sexual status.
If the dogs are already friends, they can skip the butt sniffing and start playing immediately.
One’s own dog should never be forced into a meeting with another. It probably knows better and can pick up signals of a threatening situation that its owner may not be aware of at all.
It must also be remembered that the leash can have an influence on the dog’s behaviour. As a result, he is likely to behave more defensively, as it is impossible for him to run away in case of a threatening situation.
The sign language of dogs
When we meet a human with whom we cannot converse in a common language, we have to resort to the simplest gestures to communicate.
In contrast, our dog can communicate with any other dog, even with a representative from the remotest corner of the world.
Many people are not even aware that dogs are also trying to communicate with us. If our dogs are making this effort themselves, then we should at least try to meet them halfway and be prepared to interpret what they are trying to communicate.
Below is a ‘phrase book’ for ‘dog language’ to help understand dogs properly. Understanding your dog and being able to respond to their behaviour in this way will help to take away some of their insecurity about their environment.
Dogs naturally communicate with each other without words. Instead, they use different body parts, postures and facial expressions, which can be emphasized by different vocal sounds.
Most dogs have similar and repetitive signals that are easy for us to recognize. However, there are also dogs that can exhibit idiosyncratic behaviour.
Smell also plays a role in dog recognition and interaction, although it is not necessary for us to deal with this aspect of communication !
Before looking at the following list of signals, it is important to remember that it is important to look at the dog’s whole body and interpret its behaviour according to the situation. Indeed, the same gesture can have different meanings in different contexts.
The whole body may be lowered, and the dog clamps the tail between its legs to hide its scent. He may even freeze.
The ears are usually laid back and close to his head, and the hair may stand erect along the back and shoulders, caused by adrenaline hormones.
He may also lick his nose, look to the side and show the whites of his eyes (scelera). He may also show submissive behaviour, such as rolling onto his back.
This situation needs to be handled carefully, possibly by removing the source of the fear or himself from it. A fearful dog may show potentially aggressive and defensive behaviours.
The tail is often stiff and held straight up and the dog may freeze. The ears appear alert, and he may stare directly into the eyes or those of another dog. The hair along the spine and around the shoulders may be erect.
Head and body may be lowered or raised by posture, which may vary from dog to dog.
The posture may look square with the paws pointing forward and the hind legs ready to pounce. His attention is also highly focused.
The dog may show its teeth or growl. A large percentage of aggressive behaviours are due to fear, so fearful dogs should be handled with great care.
If the owner has concerns about aggressive behaviour of his dog, the veterinarian or a behaviour expert should be consulted, as such behaviour must be taken very seriously. For example, dogs suffering from epilepsy are prone to such behaviour out of self-protection.
The tail is held high, the ears are erect and pointing forward. The attentive dog is interested in what it is looking at. Therefore, during training it is desirable to encourage the dog to be attentive to its master.
Dogs use many signals to appease a potentially aggressive opponent. These signals include walking in circles, licking the lips, clicking the tongue, yawning, sniffing the ground, looking away, moving very slowly and deliberately and shaking the body as if the dog has just come out of the water.
If the dog shows any of these behaviours, it may be stressed or worried, so you should try to find out why.
Dogs can also yawn when they want to be left alone or even because they are tired, which underlines the importance of interpreting them in the right context.
Understanding these signals can help avoid misunderstandings. For example, if a person looks away when we are talking to them, we interpret this as disinterest or rudeness, and most of the time we are right.
However, if we try to communicate with our dog, and he looks away or yawns, he is not being defiant, but is showing that he is very aware of your mood and that it worries him.
Dogs can also sit with their backs to their humans if they sound too angry. So you shouldn’t upset him even more by shouting even louder now.
This also clearly shows the dangers of anthropomorphism or ‘humanisation’: one should never interpret a dog’s body language the same as a human’s !
It is also suggested that instead you use these calming body signals yourself to calm your own dog.
For example, if you notice appeasement signals from the dog while walking or playing, you can slow down and look away. This should help the dog to relax.
In other stressful situations, such as a vet visit or a busy crowd, you can try yawning or licking your lips.
Dogs only lick their nose once quickly when they are trying to calm down. Therefore, it is not necessary to try this yourself.
Dogs lick other dogs’ faces and mouths when they greet each other to signal friendliness.
Briefly licking a human’s hand after sniffing it is also a form of greeting.
The tail wag is large and quick. The ears are relaxed and the hair is smooth on the spine and shoulders.
The dog can pant with relaxed lips, its movements are loose and flowing, and eye contact is soft without staring or glaring.
When the dog is out for prey, it is under the control of strong neurochemicals and is difficult to distract. To avoid hurting the neighbour’s cat or even reducing the field mouse population, it is useful to recognise the behaviour that indicates ‘predator mode’.
When a dog begins a hunting sequence, he will scan his surroundings as he may have heard something that indicates ‘prey’. When he has located it, he looks intently in its direction. He may move very slowly towards it, but then suddenly lunges at the prey.
This behavioural sequence may also be directed at another dog and be the prelude to a game or possibly conflict.
If the dog becomes very calm but focused, one should always be aware that this is the key behaviour in prey hunting. If this occurs at an inappropriate time, you must try to distract the dog before he can complete the sequence.
Above a dog’s eyes is a ridge that serves the same purpose in communication as our eyebrows. When these ‘eyebrows’ are raised or the eyes are slit, the dog is showing interest.
He may also stamp his front paws while his hind legs stand still. Interest is also shown by holding the head up and stretching the neck forward – although this could also mean he is looking for a challenge, so context is important.
When your dog wants to play, he indicates the so-called ‘play bow’. This involves him bending down and leaning on his chest and front elbows, with his bottom happily swinging in the air.
After a short time he may bark, run in circles, roll around quickly and return to the ‘play bow’. This means ‘I will chase you and you can chase me’ and usually follows this sequence.