Dog Body Language
Overall Body Posture
Dogs also use their bodies to communicate their intentions. In general, dogs either try to look normal, smaller or larger. If your dog’s feeling happy and contented, he’ll look normal-relaxed muscles and weight evenly balanced on all four feet. Similarly, when he’s playful, he’ll look normal. He may be bouncing around or running wildly with exaggerated movements, but his facial expression and his muscles will be relaxed and nothing about his body will look unnatural.
This is quite different from the overall appearance of a scared dog. When your dog is scared, he’ll be hunched as though trying to look small. He might lower his body or even cower on the ground. His head will be held low as well. If he’s frightened by something or someone, he’ll recoil away from it. For instance, if your dog is scared on an examination table, he’ll pull away from the veterinarian and lean into you. If your dog is uncertain but curious about something, he might approach it tentatively, with his weight centered over his rear legs so that he can retreat quickly if he needs to.
A submissive dog looks very similar to a frightened dog because he makes himself look small to convey that he’s not a threat. If your dog is submissive, he’ll lower his body or even cower on the ground. His head might be raised, though, if he’s greeting a person or another animal.
An assertive (dominant), alert or aroused dog tries to make himself look large. His muscles will be tense. He’ll stand erect, sometimes even on his tiptoes, with his neck and head raised above his shoulders. His weight will either be centered over all four feet or he’ll be leaning slightly forward on his front legs.
An angry, aggressive dog also makes himself appear larger than life to be as intimidating as possible. If your dog is aggressive, he’ll look very similar to an assertive, alert or aroused dog, but his posture will be accompanied by aggressive threats. Typically, his weight will be centered over his front legs so that he can lunge or charge forward rapidly.
Putting It All Together-The Whole Dog
The messages dogs communicate with their body language can be subtle, but with careful attention, most people can learn to recognize and interpret the most important meanings. It’s crucial to know when your dog’s happy, when he’s playful, when he’s worried or scared, when he’s feeling uncertain or insecure about something or someone, and when he’s feeling upset and potentially angry. As long as you can recognize these messages, you can interact with him confidently and safely, and you can protect him when he needs protection.