One of the very best things you can do to assist your dog in ANY situation or working through any behavior issue is to learn how to read dog body language. The vast majority of ALL dog communication occurs visually in a host of non-verbal body positions. Humans are most familiar with the verbal expressions – barking, whining, howling, snarling, and growling. Or the physically threatening methods of expression – lunging, snapping air, biting. But in reality the majority of canine communication is missed if you do not understand dog body language.
In fact dogs are also expert at reading human body language as well. They can watch your small micro expressions and the adjustments of body language that you make subconsciously and get a wealth of communication from you without a single word passing from your lips.
This expert human body language recognition by dogs is often behind the commonly expressed, “They KNOW they are not supposed to do it. They look guilty!” They are not guilty. They are worried and trying to appease you. Because before you said a word, when you first walked in the room and saw the problem, your body language immediately changed. They ‘read’ that like champions and they react before you can even speak. Because they communicate with one another in a host of subtle quiet changes. If you want to communicate better with your dog, then you need to study dog body language.
In situations where dogs are fighting or behaving aggressively, understand that by the time they are verbally expressing themselves (which is when most people first recognize there is a problem), that a HUGE wealth of non-verbal communication has been goin on. You missed a great portion of the dog’s attempt at communication if you only figured out there was a problem because they growled or snapped. So understanding what your SEE and not just what you HEAR is vital in learning to improve your communication and handling skills with dogs.
Dogs that are ignored, escalate their communication attempts. They always start with visual body language attempts (which most people miss entirely), then tend to add verbal (growling, whining, snarling) and only finally progress to physical altercation (snapping, lunging, biting). Aggressive displays are generally the last effort to communicate for most mentally and physically healthy dogs. The canine ladder of aggression visual is always useful to understand.
Dogs can be inadvertently taught to escalate more quickly by clueless humans or clueless (not well socialized) dogs that ignore their early visual communication attempts. Dogs have a great tendency to learn to skip the actions that are ignored and instead move forward with the most effective tool in their toolbox.
If no one pays attention (or notices) their routine dog body language ‘tells’ such as standing tensely, looking whale eyed or lifting a lip quietly and subtly – then they may stop trying those and go straight to growling. If growling is ignored over and over, or worse yet, punished away, then they may begin to move directly and rapidly to more physically threatening attempts to be heard and understood. This is how dogs are often taught accidentally by their owners to lose their natural bite inhibition.
So it is always helpful for you to spend time learning more about the early stage subtle visual cues which abound in canine communication! This is an extremely helpful skill to have on board when trying to manage any dog fear/anxiety or irritation/aggravation/communication issue is. Learning to ‘read’ those subtle, most commonly used visual communication tools is vital. And learning to read your dog(s) in particular is one of the very best tools for your canine problem solving toolbox!
Earlier recognition makes a world of difference in ANY anxiety, reactionary, or aggression problem. Earlier recognition leads to earlier intervention and de-escalation. Earlier is always better and easier to deal with!
Dog Body Language Learning Resources
Be sure to check out our article on How to Properly Greet Dogs. Below we have accumulated some great initial resources for you to start your journey in learning to communicate better with your canine companion by understanding dog body language:
- 1. Zoom Room Guide to Dog Body Language – YouTube
- 2. Liam J Perk Foundation Signs of Anxiety – a great deal of good information here on different tabs
- 3. Dog Gone Safe Signs of Anxiety
- 4. AKC – Understanding Dog Body language – they have a link for a free e-book
- 5. The Family Dog – Learn the whispers so they don’t have to shout video
- 6. Sophia Yin – Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language
- 7. Sophia Yin – Body Language of Fear Poster
- 8. Eileen and Dogs – Dog Body Language Picture and Videos – A host of nicely explained videos
- 9. Purina: Understanding Canine Body Language
- 10. Kris Crestejo video: Understanding Dog Body Language
- 11. Kris Crestejo video: Understanding Dog Body Language, part 2