Dogs don’t write poetry or speak in elegant sentences, but they can still be very eloquent. Here are some of the most common ways in which dogs express themselves, and what they are telling you by each particular behavior.
When your dog is play bowing, her rear end goes up, her front end goes down, her tail wags like crazy and her eyes light up. She’s saying, “I want to play,” whether it’s to another dog or to you. She may perform this friendly, attention – seeking maneuver when you’re serious and she wants to change your tone. Accept her invitation to play if you’re in the mood.
You’re usually right if you assume that tail wagging indicates a friendly dog, but it’s not always the case. Dogs also wag their tails when they are scared, agitate or unsure. A frightened dog may wag her tail low and between her legs as she weighs up her next move: “Should I fight, flee or go belly?” An aggressive, angry dog may wag her tail high while she chases or even attacks. Look at what’s going on – is the dog’s best buddy just getting off the school bus, or is another dog eating out of her dish? Also check how the dog has distributed her weight, before being certain that the tail wagging is welcoming. If she’s feeling aggressive, her body will be tense and the weight will be mainly on the front legs.
When your dog rolls over on her back with her belly exposed and her legs in the air, she’s being submissive. If done in front of another dog, she’s saying, “You’re the boss and I don’t want to fight.” When your dog rolls over for you, it could have more than one meaning. If done in anticipation of a scolding, it means, “I don’t know how to please you and I’m afraid you’re angry. Please accept my apology.” Or she may be trying to avoid something she doesn’t want to do. More often, rolling over is a sign that your dog is happy, trusts you and have a pleasant, submissive nature. It just means, “Please pet my belly.”
When your dog either mounts another dog or stands above another dog by putting her front paws on the other dog’s back, she’s saying, “I’m top dog and don’t you forget it.” Mounting other dogs isn’t just a male characteristic, says Judy IBY, a registered veterinary technician in Milford, Ohio, and author of the new Owner’s Guide to Cocker Spaniels and the Cocker Spaniel. Dominant females do it, too. Owners wonder why male dogs mount another males or why females mount at all, but mounting is usually a dominance thing. It rarely has sexual overtones.
There’s sexual intent in this behavior, even if the dog doing the humping is neutered. You can let them interact, as long as the subject isn’t trying to die (and, of course providing your dog is not an unneutered male and the other dog a female in season). If he does it to a person, break his focus suddenly by making a loud noise to stop him in his tracks.
Tail Tucked and Ears Back:
If your dog tucks her tail, lays her ears back, takes a few steps backwards or hides behind your leg, you can be sure she’s feeling apprehensive. It could be a person or an object that she’s not sure of, and you’ll need to gently lessen her fear by introducing her slowly and unthreateningly to what she’s apprehensive about.
If your dog repeatedly flicks her tongue up to lick her nose, she’s uneasy, says IBY. She may be assessing a new situation or wondering if she should approach a guest. Or maybe she is concentrating hard to master a new obedience maneuver. While a dog may flick her tongue over and over and be friendly, don’t approach a strange tongue flicker – the dog is obviously tense. Tongue flicking sometimes precedes biting.
If her lifted paw is accompanied by a relaxed, happy expression and a neutral position, your dog just wants attention. May be she’s even been taught how to shake hands and she knows she can get positive attention that way. While paw lifting is most likely an invitation to play, your dog might be telling you something else. Maybe she has a burr between her toes or ice clumped around her pads that she’d like some help with.
Ears Back and to the Side:
If a dog’s ears are flat back, her head low and her eyes averted, she is afraid. If her ears are to the side and her brow is furrowed, she may be nervous. But if there are no wrinkles in her brow and her eyes don’t seem worried, she may simply be a dog who holds her ears to the side when she’s happy and relaxed.
Ears Pricked Up:
Your dog is alert. She may be listening intently for your next command or the meow of the neighbor’s cat. Pricked ears are also a sign of a well-adjusted, confident dog. But when combined dog with raised hackles, a stiffly erect stance and a penetrating stare, your dog is demonstrating dominance.