Do dogs use body language?

Can we learn what these behaviours mean in order to better understand our dogs?

Do dogs use body language?

Dogs are very expressive animals; they will use body postures and expressions to communicate when they’re feeling happy, sad, nervous, fearful and angry. Fortunately this is a language we can share and communicate in the same way. Although this language system is elaborate and practiced, it is one we can easily understand and interpret. By understanding what our dogs want from us, we will have the knowledge and foresight to know what our dog’s next action will be. Dogs are never unpredictable and will always show some sort of body posture, we fail to read these signals and our pets are forced to react in a way they might not normally. Every dog is an individual, so they will all react differently in a given situation and show different body postures. Some show more subtle signs, some skip a few steps and others follow the book. Know about the different postures and know your dog!

Dogs will use their entire bodies to send messages about how they’re feeling in that situation. They will use facial expression, ears, lips, tail placement and overall attitude. Learning each component is important, but it is just as important to take the whole individual into consideration as well as the situation in which they find themselves. Without taking all these aspects into regard, you may misjudge how your dog is feeling.

Studying these behaviours can become quite intense as they are very elaborate. Knowing the basics and knowing your dog are key points. Dogs will also show displacement behaviours or calming signals when they are placed in a situation they find uncomfortable. When a dog is engaging in these behaviours, they are trying to calm themselves and reassure their safety in the given situation. There are five strategies we as humans employ in dangerous situations, these are also tactics that we cannot plan or rehearse. Our bodies go into autopilot when adrenaline courses through our veins. These strategies are often referred to as the 5-Fs; fight, flight, fidget, freeze and faint. Depending on how are bodies are wired, we will all react in an individual way. Dogs only really make use of fight and flight and most dogs (breed and personality dependant) will remove themselves from the situation rather than fight it. But if they’re pushed too far, they will fight and once a dog learns how successful a bite is, they will always use this tactic to defend themselves.

Below are two posters illustrating the basic and most common dog behaviours, they are great tools to use, and is something I use on a regular basis – it is easier to see a behaviour than to read about it. This poster will help you to understand your dog better and what you can do to make them happier. Dogs have already learnt and understood our body language and know how to interpret whether we are happy, sad or angry. They didn’t even need a poster! It’s that easy to learn and understand!


© Melissa van der Merwe 2013

Leave a Reply