What’s Your Pet Trying to Tell You? Here’s How to Read Your Dog's Body Language

What’s Your Pet Trying to Tell You? Here’s How to Read Your Dog's Body Language

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How well do you really understand your pooch? Here’s how to determine if they’re feeling stressed, nervous, and more.

Alas, an accurate dog translator has yet to be invented, so we’re still struggling to interpret our animal buddies’ barks, growls, and whines, as well as wags, shakes, and licks. It can be tricky to read the signs correctly, says Carlo Siracusa, DVM, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Penn Vet, the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine: “There are a lot of misunderstandings about behaviors in animals and how they express them.” See if you can recognize the meaning of these common mutt moves.

1. Your pooch is licking her lips

She’s stressed-out. No, dogs don’t worry about their e-mail inboxes or to-do lists, but they can still experience both short-term and chronic stress, says Siracusa. “When the dog is not happy, it increases the probability of our getting bitten,” he adds, so avoid any sudden moves (like approaching from behind or petting immediately) that could cause your pup to snap.

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2. You can see the whites of your pup’s eyes

He’s afraid. The whites of the eyes appear whenever the head turns one way and the eyes go the other,” notes Liz Stelow, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist at UC Davis. “In play, this can happen when the dog is faking you out by appearing to look away but coyly looking at you. But if you’re out in public and see the whites of a dog’s eyes, that’s usually a sign he’s trying to look away out of fear, or to signal his desire for this interaction to be done.”

3. Your hound freezes up

She needs space. “Dogs will freeze and have a lack of behavior when they want a person or another animal to back off right away,” says Stelow. You may see this happen in a crowd or even at the vet’s office.

4. Your dog’s tail is wagging like crazy

It depends. You may think a wagging rear means a happy dog, but that’s not always true, says Siracusa: “It’s important to look at the rest of the body for context.” If his muscles, face, and ears are relaxed, he’s probably in a good mood, but tense body language can be a sign that your pup is actually unhappy. In fact, in both dogs and cats, a neutral tail is the best sign that they’re content. It shows that their body is at ease and there’s no tension in their muscles, explains Stelow.

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