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Healthy Pets

What Is Your Dog Telling You?

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By Suz Redfearn
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

How many times have you wished your dog could talk so you could know exactly what he’s thinking?

But he doesn’t need to speak to clue you in. Veterinary behaviorists say if you learn to read your dog’s actions, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going on in his head.

Debra Horwitz, veterinary behaviorist and lead editor of Decoding Your Dog, says the key is looking at your whole dog, rather than a portion of him, like just his tail. Observing what your dog does with his face, body, and tail in any given situation will let you know if he’s feeling relaxed, concerned, scared, or aggressive.

When you look at your dog, what do you see?

Is he happy?

“When a dog is happy, his whole body looks soft,” Horwitz says. “And when a happy dog wags his tail, the tail wags his whole body. He has relaxed ears, a soft pant, eyes are soft. Everything about him says, ‘I’m cool. I’m good.’”

Is he interested and stimulated?

A dog that’s doing what his genes tell him to is a happy dog, Horwitz says. When a retriever is fetching, her body language screams, “I’m totally into this!” Same thing goes for a terrier who gets a chance to sniff out a critter or whip a new toy back and forth, and a border collie that’s being directed through an obstacle course. Presented with a mere hint of these activities, the dog may run out of pure joy, wag its tail, bark, grin, and spin in circles.

Once you find out what makes your dog happy in this way, offer him this activity as often as you can.

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