Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior

Do you know what your dog is trying to tell you? There are many different signs and behaviors that your dog will exhibit on a daily basis to alert you to their current feelings and needs. But if you don’t know how to read those signs, you might not be caring for your dog as it needs you to in those moments.

Dogs have long been beloved family pets, so making them part of the family means you must fully understand their behavior to help you build a better relationship with them and support them as they grow. While they don’t communicate the way we do, although the new trend of the talking buttons can help you get one step closer to this, they are still communicating in the best ways they know how to. As a human, it is your responsibility to make sure you interpret their behavior and cues correctly.

Throughout its lifetime, your dog will experience various situations and circumstances that can lead to them changing its behavior; this post looks at ways you can get to know your pet’s designs and signals so you can react accordingly and get pet help when needed.

Tail Wagging

Contrary to popular belief, a wagging tail isn’t always a friendly sign. A dog will wag its tail for different reasons, including benign happiness, but it is how the tail moves that you need to be looking at.

A happy tail wag is super enthusiastic and will be lower down and move quickly from side to side moving their body sometimes too. Your pet will usually look relaxed and happy and show other signs they are happy, such as getting closer to the person or dog that sparks this reaction and generally becoming excited. While a tail that is wagging slowly to the right in a high position means they are on guard and concerned about something. Low and tucked tails indicate a fearful dog, while a tail straight out behind them can demonstrate they are tense. 

Never mistake a wagging tail for being friendly all the time. Look at the position of the tail, the speed of the wag, and if it is going right or left; right for positive, left for negative to get a good indication of how they feel at that moment. Make a note of your dog’s natural, relaxed neutral tail position to help you identify changes and movements easier.

Hackles

Hackles on a dog are basically like goosebumps for people. It means they are aroused but not always in a negative way, although this is usually the cause. Seeing raised hackles on a dog is when the hairs on their back stand on edge. It is an involuntary reaction to something that has piqued their interest and may show that they are nervous, scared, or excited about what will happen. You can judge this better based on the scenario playing out in front of you to determine if your dog feels it is in danger or worried about anything.

Facial Expressions

Your dog’s face can be highly expressive, and if you are paying attention, you can pinpoint how they feel by simply looking at them. For example, dogs often yawn to release stress, not just when tired. They will yawn to calm themselves down and those around them. If your dog is excessively yawning, this can indicate high-stress levels that you need to figure out and address going forward. You can also yawn to your dog to calm down in stressful situations too, such as when visiting the vet or going to new, unfamiliar places.

Another commonly misconstrued facial expression is a dog licking its lips. If they have eaten something tasty, this will usually be a sign they have enjoyed what they have just eaten. However, if it isn’t paired with food, then this is a sign of anxiety, and they are trying to control themselves and show their discomfort to you. Again, the context of the lick-lipping and other behaviors must be taken into context alongside the action to help you determine that exact nature and feeling. 

Lastly, another facial expression you must learn to recognize is when your dog bares its teeth. Sometimes this can be because they are happy and are showing a relaxed facial position exposing their teeth. Other times, the lips will be drawn back, and the teeth will be displayed as a warning or show of aggression if the dog feels under threat, and this can be a precursor to a bite if the signs aren’t obeyed.

It can take some time to get to know your dog; shelter dogs especially may show more of these behaviors as they settle into a new home, and dogs who are reactive with people, objects, and other dogs will display a high number of signals, such as lick licking as they go through their emotions in any given situation.

Eyes

While your dog can show any number of different behaviors to show their feelings at any given time, one expressive area you need to pay attention to is the eyes. Your dog’s eyes should be soft, almost almond-shaped, happy, and relaxed. If they are staring at you with relaxed eyes, this is a sign they love you and they are simply looking at you to show their love for you. In the same way, two people can get a dopamine hit from looking into the eyes of someone they love; dogs can experience the same.

However, if your dog is looking at you with hard eyes or wide-open whale eyes showing the whites of their eyes, then this isn’t love. The hard eye staring at you will be your dog warning they aren’t happy. These types of eyes are often shown in response to a threat. This can be another dog, someone they are fearful of, or as a guardian mechanism, so you don’t take what they are guarding. A hard stare from a dog is a confrontation while looking away is a sign of an anxious dog. If a dog is staring at you with hard eyes or whale eyes, then look away and give the dog space to calm down before they respond to further unwanted behaviors.

Shaking

Our Mollyanna just had surgery on August 3 to remove three tumors she had on various areas of her body. She came through the surgery like a champ at 15 years old and they sent her home the same day with three different medications – one for pain, one for her blood pressure, and an antibiotic.

The following Monday, one of the incision sites looked as though it was becoming infected. A mad dash to the veterinarian showed that it was in the beginning stages, so her antibiotic was swapped out for a much stronger one. She rallied and started acting like her old self: begging for treats, following hubby everywhere in the house begging for treats, sleeping upside down. I skipped her pain medicine in the morning on Wednesday because she was so active and happy looking. When we got home 9 hours later, she was shaking like a leaf all over, her eyes were sad, and she would not move. A frantic call to the vet informed us that some dogs who are in pain exhibit this behavior. I felt horrible! I quickly gave her the pain medication and within an hour she was happy and content again!

None of these behaviors will be exhibited alone, and your dog will likely have displayed many signs of happiness, appeasement, or stress before it reaches the breaking point. 

Paying attention to your dog and how it acts around certain people and different situations helps you identify their behavior so you can get a better grip on their feelings and help them when they need it.

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