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Dog Behavior: How to Read Body Language & Respond Correctly

Dr. Dolittle could "talk to the animals" - why can't I?

Well, you can!

Don’t you wish you knew what your dog was saying? Especially when they are feeling anxious, scared, ill or just having a bad day. You could then talk back to them and enjoy a better relationship and help the best you can or even be able to improve bad dog behavior - how great that would be!

To fix dog behavior issues, or to make your dog feel better and healthier, target the problem. Dog communication is the answer!

This blog teaches you:

To know what normal dog behavior is likehow to observe and analyze canine behaviorhow to react to that dog behavior and deal with dog’s needs

Learning about dog behavior will help you to spot aggressive dog behavior or dominant dog behavior or submissive dog behavior and can help you learn how to stop aggressive behavior in dogs.

Read on to learn those dog warning signs and useful dog behavior tips for improving strange dog behavior. Once you understand dog language and common dog behaviors you will notice behavior changes and can then communicate with your dog.

About Us - Our Experiences With Dog Behavior in Dog Grooming

We love dogs. We have been sharing our lives with our family's dogs from when we could not even walk or talk ourselves! Let us start by explaining a little about ourselves, the owners of The Doggie Spa, Chris and Monica:

“We have been working with dogs for a number of years now, so are aware of dogs actions and their meanings. I trained as a veterinary technician and have worked with all kinds of animals from horses to dogs and cats to rescued racoons.” - Monica

“We now own and work in our own mobile dog grooming company. It is essential to be aware of dog body language when you take on a new client, as not all dogs are friendly at first, until the dog gets to know and trust us.” - Chris


To better communicate with your dog, we have broken it down into 3 steps for interacting with your dog appropriately. It all starts by understanding your dog normally...

  1. Know what normal dog behavior is like for your dog.

  2. Look and listen for changes in your dog.

  3. Talk back to your dog

1. Know what normal dog behavior is like for your dog

Each part of your dog talks to you, so if you can learn how to understand dog behavior and read them from the tip of their furry ears to the end of their wagging tail, as well as their eyes, mouth and whole body posture you'll be a master.

It can be the sound of their bark or whine that tells you how the dog is feeling - happy and well or hurt and in pain? It could be the way the dog is standing - low down and timid or standing tall and ready to attack?

All dogs are different! Look at your particular pampered puppy, faithful old hound or super cute teenage Schnoodle (Poodle-Schnauzer cross - adorable!), observe carefully and note what is normal for them. Knowing what normal dog body language is helps you to see abnormal dog body language and you are on your way to analyzing, then on to resolution of the cause of the abnormality.

Dogs at different ages do act differently - for example, it’s not unusual for a young dog to run around crazy with excitement but if an old dog does that, it could mean that he’s hurt - maybe stung by a bee!

Dog behavior Information - observe dogs body language in eyes, ears, mouth and tail

You think you know what normal looks like? Normal dog behavior explained below under headings related to overall dog body posture as well as eyes, ears, mouth and dog tail that give clear indications of all being ok with your pet.

Clear indications of all being ok with your pet

Dog body language posture - A balanced posture where weight is evenly distributed across all feet shows normal emotion. The dog body language tends to be relaxed under normal circumstances.

Eyes language - Your dog's eyes will tell you a lot about how they are feeling. Usually the whites of their eyes will not be visible. The black centre (pupils) will be an average size, not too big and not too small.

Dog Ears - As dog ears vary in shape size and position depending on the breed, some point upwards, others flop down, so if ears are in their usual place that would be considered normal.

Mouth language - Look for loose lips, with a slightly open mouth and light breathing, possibly a slight pant, shows a relaxed dog. Some dogs do look as if they are smiling! All dogs bark or growl for various different reasons. It is one of the ways that they communicate with other dogs and with their human companions. Try to get to know their usual sounds vs. aggressive sounds.

Tail language - Tails are tricky to read as they are quite different in different breeds, with some curled up over their back like a little Lhasa Apso tail and others hang down relaxed near their hind legs like Collies’ tails. Generally if the tail is in its usual position for the particular breed, then all is well.

2. Look and listen for changes in your dog

Observe overall body and all it's parts together for most accurate understanding of your dogs emotional state and what he/she is trying to tell you. Look out for strange dog behavior. 

Dog behavior changes to watch for:

Body Posture - Fear can be shown by rocking backwards as if trying to lean away from the scary thing that they have just seen. They may simply turn their head away acting as if the scary thing is not there or so they no longer see it - after all, if its not there, it can't hurt him/her - right! Or they may lean forward, shifting their weight to their front paws when threatened as on the offensive to make themselves ready to defend themselves and spring forward to make the first move. limping would signal pain and a health concern to be checked out.

Dog Body Language Eyes - The pupils (black middle part) of your dogs eyes can dilate (enlarge) and /or look glassy when they are excited or afraid. Fear can also cause the eyes to open widely so you can see the white part all around the coloured part (iris). Furrowed eyebrows can signal a nervous dog.

Ears Language - Twitching ears can show that your dog is listening carefully and can hear something - maybe a sound that makes him/her scared or alarmed. Some dogs get upset when they hear loud or unfamiliar noises like fireworks or thunder and will appreciate some gentle reassurance from you like a cuddle or some kind words. Fear can cause a dog to hold their ears back and to the side. A dog that is on high alert and feels threatened may have their ears facing forward.

Mouth Language - Signs of a fearful or nervous, tense and upset dog are a tight mouth, heavy pant, and drooling. A very raised lip, showing teeth and gums tell us that your dog feels threatened. Whimpering sounds can mean your pet is frightened, stressed or anxious.

Barking can be your dog's way of welcoming you home or because she is excited or wants  to play or needs exercise. It can also be a danger warning that there is an intruder in their space or home. 

Growling can be an early warning that something's really wrong, but it does not always show that the dog is being aggressive and is going to attack. It is your dog trying to tell you that something is upsetting him/her and you are being given the chance to help him/her out of the situation that is causing the fear or anxiety.Growling can be a way to show dominance over another dog, for example where both dogs want the same bone and don't want to share that delicious food!Please don't be tempted to teach your dog not to growl as you will be taking away that communication channel that warns of an emotional state.

Dog Tail Signs - A slow, low wag could mean that a dog is feeling threatened. Normally a loose tail that is standing up straight is a sign that your dog is ready to go on the offensive. An anxious or fearful dog can have their tail tucked in between and under their back legs showing submissive dog behavior. Fast wagging tends to mean that your dog is happy and excited to see you!

3. Talk back to your dog for good and bad behavior

When you notice unusual or abnormal canine behavior, try to read the signs and your confidence will grow on how best to respond and talk back to your own dog or someone else's dog.

You now know what normal looks like. You can spot changes or odd behavior as well as analyze any strange signs and that will guide you on how to interact and respond to your dog in the most appropriate way.

Reasons to respond to your dog's behavior

  • to help them if they are ill or in pain to restrain them if they are aggressive or over excited

  • to praise them when they are being well behaved and excited/ pleased

  • to see you to reassure them when they are afraid

  • to reward them when they are good

  • to reprimand them if they are naughty

Bad dog or cry for help? What, at first, appears to be bad dog behavior like growling and loud barking, may be more of “a cry for help”, so try not to jump too quickly to conclusions or they could be the wrong issue, leading you to take the wrong reaction. Of course, there will be times when dog behavior training will be needed, when you’ve seen aggressive dog behavior signs and to correct the dog before someone gets hurt.

You may choose to move your dog to a quiet room to give him time to calm down, for his own safety, if he has become over-excited and charging around madly banging into furniture and people!

Dog body language of I love you - It will be obvious when you have observed, analyzed and responded correctly to a dog behavior or health issue as your dog will show his appreciation and love, making you both feel good about life! Your dog knows you care and will show you loving body language like sitting on your lap, foot, and being close to you as well as licking, light moans, etc.


Be Kind

A little reassurance can often go a long way to addressing the concern. Sometimes distracting your dog from the thing that is causing them to be upset, with a favorite toy or biscuit, can solve the problem. Or all that may be needed is for you to pat his head or give him food and a drink of water. At other times, such as when your dog is limping and in pain from joint inflammation for example, common in older dogs with arthritis, then products designed by our new company Relievet may be able to help. Address the dogs basic needs - a safe, warm and clean place to stay, clear boundaries, nourishment and medical care, exercise, love, companionship and affection. A dog could be having a seizure or fit, caused by epilepsy perhaps - natural hemp derived products like these may have a calming effect. Or a visit to the vet may be required for stronger prescription drugs.

Reward Based Training Works Best

Aggressive behavior should not be tolerated and is best dealt with when the dog is still young so the lesson is learned at the start. Clear commands (verbal or hand signals) are often all that is required. It should not be necessary to raise your voice and speak angrily when you are close to the dog. Patience is essential - repeat the commands calmly in a short session one time per day, then do the same again the next day. Try not to make the training session too long as the dog will get tired and you will not get his best attention. Shouting aggressively at your dog to recall him when he has run away will not work - it is better to call with encouragement and affection to show that he will not be punished on returning and he should be rewarded with a treat and a cuddle or a game with his favorite toy. Socialization classes where dogs are encouraged to play with other dogs in a safe environment can be beneficial. When a dog is misbehaving, often ignoring the dog can discourage and stop the bad behavior. An anxious or distressed dog can also respond well to our new products, making a happier dog and happier owner.

If you are interested in how Relievet may be able to help, click here.

Follow these 3 simple steps, listen to your dog, understand his/her emotions, talk to your dog, and make the most of your relationship with your beloved dog, giving your dog a long, healthy and happy life.

I hope sharing my views has been helpful to you. Enjoy life with your dog!

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