Tag Archives: body language

Wagging

In my last post I wrote about the benefits of having a tail. Some humans pointed out to me that I forgot to write about something that is typical for dogs and tails: wagging. Dogs wagging their tails are happy, those humans tell me.

I am sorry to spoil their idea, an idea that is shared by a lot of humans. It is a misconception. We are not always happy when we wag our tail. To be precise: tail wagging has nothing to do with happiness! When we wag our tails, it means we are agitated. Sometimes we are agitated because we sense something nice is going to happen (yummy food! squeaky ball!) and in a way you can say that we are happy then. But when we wag our tail it can also mean we are insecure, angry or even scared.

Is that confusing? Not to canines. We sense each others energy, we know what the other dog means. To humans it can be confusing, because they have not learned how to read our body language. I will give them a clue. Look at the position of our tail when we are wagging. Is the tail up high in the air and wagging fast, it means a dog is over exited. He is not happy, he can even become aggressive. One sees this often when dogs meet. His tail will be high, wagging fast and he will make his body look bigger, standing tense. Usually he will be very close to the other dog. Too close to my liking – when a dog approaches me like this I snap, because they do not respect my personal space. Usually snapping helps, especially with intrusive males.

If the tail is very low, wagging fast, it means a dog is over exited too. It is exited and a little scared, with a look on its face that means ‘ooooh I do love you and I know we will go and do something awesome but will you please tell me what it is because I am really insecure right now!’ Something like that. This dog is not truly happy and his  wagging tail is showing exitement and insecurity.

Then there is the third position: a medium raised tail, wagging slowly. This means the dog is relaxed and yes, most of the time you can say she is happy. Usually you can see this with dogs that are walking leisurely, sniffing her and there, doing some quiet explorations.

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Body language (3)

I feel like writing another dogtorial. So this is body language part 3. In the first two parts I described what the position of our ears tell about our state of mind. This time I will focus on the tail. We canines have all kinds of tails: short, long, furry, fluffy or slick like a whip. I personally prefer my own tail, which is in between furry and sleek. Just right!

Blog Bubbles 4

The way we hold our tail tells a lot about our mood. There are three basic positions:

1. Alert and tense: our tail is high into the air. It can move (which means we are excited) or be very still (which means we are focussed). Some humans call this dominant, but I already wrote that dominance is a misconception. It is not dominant.

Dogs who feel very sure of themselves usually hold their tail high up in the air. When two dogs of this kind meet, their tails are going even higher. There is a reason for this: when we hold our tails high, we smell stronger. From behind. And a dog that is smelling strongly tells the world HERE I AM SHOW SOME RESPECT MAN. Something like that.

Tail high

When two dogs meet with their tails high up in the air, they usually end up measuring forces. Which is fine. It is not fighting, that is something entirely different.

2. Fear: dogs who are unsure or scared hold their tail tightly between their legs, pushing it towards their belly. This is about scent, too: when you do this, you limit the way you smell from behind. That is exactly what you want when you are scared. A strong smell will tell everybody that you are there. It makes you look bold. When you want to be shy, you hide your smell. It may seem simple, but for us dogs it works perfectly.

3. Relaxed. This looks like:

Header 4

There are a lot of positions in between these three. I for instance have a position in between relaxed and alert:

Little fish!

There are dogs that have very odd tails. Some have no tail at all, only a short stub. Something horrible must have happened to them to have a tail like that! Anyway, even then you can read their mood. They press the stub downwards when they feel scared and stick it high up in the air when they are alert.

Some dogs are bred with tails in an odd position. Some have their tails in a curl high up their back, which makes them look alert when in fact they are relaxed. You have to take this into consideration when you want to read our tails. Although even dogs who are bred with tails in curls on their back can very well push their tails between their legs. I know from experience: in our puppy class there was a cocksure maltese. He was only three months old and thinking he was the pack leader. Of course I could not let that happen, as the senior dog in the group (I was five months old at that time). So I disciplined him. His tail went right between his legs. After that we became friends.

Body language (2)

In my last post I explained to you how to read canine moods by looking at our ears. Someone asked me what to do with this knowledge. Well, I think it is good just to know, you do not necessarily have to do something with it (what is it with humans, that everything has got to have a purpose?). But if it makes my human readers happy, I will explain some more.

When you know what kind of mood a dog is in, you can make a decision what to do (or not do). For instance: you are walking with your dog and suddenly your dog stops and pulls her ears flat to her head. This means she saw or smelled something that scared her. In that case you, as her human, should be beware too. So don’t drag her along, but investigate. Maybe your dog was scared by something that is not really dangerous, like a big and dark bag of garbage lying in your way. Then you can walk along, acting as if nothing is the matter. But maybe there is something dangerous in your path, like a bad tempered cat or a mean dog hiding in the bushes. In that case you should be grateful to your dog, because she warned you against this danger. Of course in this situation you do not go on, but you take another path and walk happily on.

Grassy walk

I notice a lot of humans are worried about bad mannered dogs. Some humans are very scared of all dogs, which is a bit silly because most dogs are friendly. But bad mannered, aggressive dogs: yes, it is sensible to be scared of them. Although there is a big difference, which you will understand when you look at their ears. An aggressive dog that has his ears flat to its head, is unsure or scared. An aggressive dog that has his ears pointing forward, is very sure of himself. Mind you: both dogs are dangerous, they will attack when they have to. The difference is that an aggressive dog with his ears flat is unsure and therefore will only attack when he sees no other way. He reacts out of fear. The aggressive dog with his ears turned forward reacts out of habit, training and character. These are the ferocious guarding dogs and police dogs.

All right, I can hear some human readers ask the question (again) what to do with this knowledge. When you are a human with an aggressive dog, it is good to know the difference. Because when your dog is aggressive out of fear, you can help him getting more sure of himself. In the end, he won’t need to be aggressive anymore and he will become a happy, well balanced dog. When your dog is aggressive out of character, congratulations! You and him can go to the police dog school and do some thorough training. In the end you will have a very obedient, very strong dog that will make sure you are safe, whatever the circumstances. You will be able to leave your car unlocked or your bag outside the supermarket when you go in, because no one will dare to touch it with your dog near it.

If the aggressive dog is not your dog, but you meet him on the street, there is only one thing to do: go away. It doesn’t matter if the dog is behaving out of fear or character, you do not want to interact with an aggressive dog. Do as I do (and as every dog does): ignore him and go the other way. Do not look at him, certainly do not look him in the eye because this is very rude and will only challenge him. Do not try to walk past him. Cross the street, take another path, turn around and walk along in a leisurely way. If the dog is in a courtyard, do not go in – why would you do that, anyway? It would be very unwise and you know, the dog has a point, guarding his territory.

Some humans say you are a coward when you cross the street to avoid a confrontation. I think this is very silly, something only humans can come up with. Humans seem to make a lot of things way too difficult. Why on earth would you want to confront an aggressive dog? Do you think you will change him, make him behave better by confronting him? You won’t. You will only end up at the doctor and it will hurt. It will cost you a lot of time, time you could have spend walking on the beach or sleeping on the sofa in the sun. I don’t have to think long what I would prefer.

Body language (1)

Readers of this blog will know that I sometimes write about canine behavior, because there are a lot of things humans do not seem to understand about us. I believe that by writing about these misunderstandings, I will make life better for humans and dogs. That is one of my Ambitions. This time I would like to write about body language, to be precise ear language.

If you want to understand dogs, it helps if you know what to look for. You can start by reading our ears. We dogs can move our ears in a lot of different ways, no matter what shape they have. It is easier to read this by dog breeds with big ears, like German shepherds. But when you know where to look, you can also read the flappy ears of breeds like labradors. Look at the root of the ears, where they are attached to the head.

Basically, there are three major positions. The first one is when we are alert and interested in our surroundings:

Body language alert

You can see both dogs (the German shepherd is my friend Boss) have their ears turned forward. When we look like this, we are ready for action: playing, running, guarding, anything.

The second position is for situations when we do not feel too sure. For instance when we are impressed by another dog, cautious or scared of something. Then we turn our ears backward and stick them to our head, as flat as possible.

Body language submissive

The dog on the left is lying on the ground and moving her ears in a position that tells the black dog: okay, you are the boss (for now). The black dog is not feeling too sure either, her ears are flat as well, although she is dominating the one lying on the beach (notice she is almost stepping on her, another sign of body language I will write about later). This probably is because the picture was taken by Nicoline, my personal trainer, and Nicoline told the black dog to behave. The black dog was busy dominating the other one, but while doing so thought ‘uh-oh this might not have been a good idea with Nicoline so close’. This happens a lot to dogs, especially the not so smart ones: they act first and think later.

Notice that the lab next to the black dog is totally relaxed, ears in a neutral position. But hey, he is a very dumb lab. He probably did not get what was going on, thinking about balls.

Then there is the third position, I will call it neutral. It is when we are relaxed:

Body language apprehensive

Mind you: this can change very fast. We dogs react to our surroundings almost immediately (that is, the smarter ones), so we can go from neutral to alert to submissive in a split second. When you want to understand us, you have to be a good observer. But that is the fun of it, right? Never a dull moment.

Of course, these are just the three basic ear positions. There are a lot of other ones, for special occasions. I for instance have a wide array of positions, which I use as I please. This one is for when I feel hungry and P is eating something that smells lovely. It is something in between alert and neutral. Of course in this situation I am very alert (food is my top priority), but I do not want to give the impression of being too pushy. That is why I wear my ears like this:

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This is for when I want something really, really bad:

Being very sweet

And then there are dogs that have a body language that is beyond any description. Like this one. What does it mean? Your guess is as good as mine:

Body language your guess is as good as mine