How to understand your dog

Dogs have feelings and moods similar to ours. They can’t tell us how they are feeling in words so we need to understand what they’re saying through their body language.

Through their body language your dog will tell you whether they’re happy, upset or worried. Sometimes these signs are so subtle we miss them, especially if your dog is saying they’re not happy. If we don’t listen to these signs some dogs feel they have no alternative but to be more obvious, which is when we then feel they’re being aggressive. Other dogs may just become withdrawn, aloof or depressed if they’re never listened too.

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Signs your dog is happy

A normal, happy dog will have a relaxed body posture, semi erect ears and a relaxed tail, possibly wagging. They will make soft eye contact with you, and are happy to be approached and touched by people.

Signs your dog is unhappy

Your dog may be telling you they’re unhappy because they’re unwell, tired or stressed – or because they’re worried you’ll take something from them.

Dogs don’t want to bite us and will do all they can to avoid it. However if we continue to ignore their body language they might feel they have no option but to bite. There are many ways your dog can show you he’s unhappy – from appeasing behaviours such as lip licking, yawning and avoiding you to growling, snapping and biting.

If your dog is growling it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being aggressive – they’re communicating to you. It’s not a good idea to tell your dog off for growling as this is their most obvious form of communication with you. Punishing them for it may just mean they may stop giving you a warning.

Watch your dog and start to learn how they’re using their body language to communicate with you and other dogs. 

Your dog’s communication ladder

A great tool for understanding your dog is Kendal Shepherd’s Ladder of Communication, as explained in her book The Canine Commandments. More about the communication ladder.