They’re man’s best friend, but unfortunately dogs can’t speak human. As many dog owners can attest, that doesn’t really interfere with their ability to have loving relationship with their canines. Despite their inability to speak, dogs are experts at communicating with their body language. But do we know what they are trying to say? If a dog is smiling, is she happy? When she wags her tail, what does she want? Let’s review some of the most common signals dogs send their owners and determine whether you really understand what they mean .
The Tail Wag
Ah, the dog wagging their tail. Nothing seems more optimistic to humans than a dog waving its tail. However, the wag is not a simple sign meaning “happy.” The tail wag is an interactive sign that either means a dog is being friendly or aggressive. How do you tell the difference? Study the body language your dog uses when he is wagging his tail. If his ears are pinned back, body still, or body leaning away from you, then the tail wag is a more aggressive stance. When a dog stands away from you and wags his tail, he is not sure about something. On the other hand, if the dog approaches you with a wagging tail, he is greeting you. This is especially true if he presents his head or back for some pets.
When a human sees an animal roll onto its back, the desire to give the pet a tummy rub is overwhelming. However, as many of us have found out, that’s not always a sign the dog wants to be touched. Although some dogs have been conditioned to do this to get some pets, others are not so sure. A dog’s natural instinct to roll over is actually based in the desire to show submission, as in not wanting a conflict with another animal. This is why some dogs actually snap at you when you make a move to touch them. A dog may be saying “give me space” when he rolls over. If you aren’t sure, ask the dog to sit up before touching him.
Sometimes a dog with be panting with a relaxed “smile.” What does it mean? Not what you think. Dogs can express their emotions in many ways, so don’t assume that like people, they actually smile to offer a greeting. If a dog is snarling, it may seem like a smile. If he is snarling, then the lips will be lifted up vertically, with a wrinkled nose to show you his canine teeth. If it’s closer to a smile, the dog’s lips are pulled more toward the rear of the jaw, exposing both incisors and canines. In that case, the dog may be looking to signal his readiness for attention or a treat. Remember that in every other mammal other than humans, baring the teeth is NOT a friendly sign.
Study your dog’s behaviors and start keeping a journal of what he really means when he is baring his teeth, wagging his tail or exposing his stomach. You’ll be surprised how much information dogs pack into the simplest moves.