Decode Dog Body Language

Dog-and-kid interactions can go south quickly. Know how to read dog emotions and the subtle signals your pooch is sending.
By Monica Michael Willis
Oct 07, 2014

Ages

3-13

Decode Dog Body Language

Oct 07, 2014

Unlike cats, which tend to hide when company comes over, canine pets are more sociable. The downside? Dog-and-kid interactions can go south quickly — especially when the child is unfamiliar with pups. To keep everyone safe, it helps to know the subtle signals the family pooch is sending. So we tapped Carlo Siracusa, D.V.M., the director of animal behavior service at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sharon Wirant, M.A., an animal behaviorist with the ASPCA, to help us decode doggy emotions, from head to tail.


Mouth
playful dogs will open their mouth slightly, as if they’re super excited. A stressedout pup will pant, yawn exaggeratedly, or lick his lips or nose if he’s just tolerating (and not enjoying) all your kid’s attention. An overwhelmed pooch will bare his teeth and let out a growl.

Ears
A friendly dog pulls back her ears slightly to show that she has good intentions. Her ears will also lie in their natural position (depending on their shape and size). If your furry companion becomes uncomfortable, she’ll flatten, raise, or pin back her ears. Give her downtime, stat.

Eyes
When Fido feels sociable, he’ll look right at you, but make sure his body’s relaxed. A direct stare from a tense, motionless pet means he’s ready to fight. anxious furballs make brief, indirect eye contact or expose the whites of their eyes—vets call this “whale eye.” Tell kids to avert their gaze and slowly step away from the dog if this happens.

Paws
Some worried dogs will lift their front leg slightly, a signal that they need a time-out.

Body
Is the dog wiggly? She’s ready to play nice with everyone she sees, big and small! Meanwhile, a threatened pet may crouch or appear frozen. The hair on her back may also rise. Calmly remove the kids, as the dog could attack out of fear.

Tail
A happy woofer moves his entire body as he wags. The same is true if his tail swings broadly from side to side. An aggressive dog holds his tail higher than normal and wags it rigidly. If he tucks it between his legs, he’s terrified. Give the pooch a wide berth in case he lashes out.

Prevent Bites
Each year, roughly 400,000 kids get treated for dog bites, half from a pet they know. Teach your child not to run away if Fido growls or lunges but to stand sideways with her arms crossed (to protect her hands) and head tilted downward so she’s not staring at the pooch (an aggressive cue in doggy lingo).

Plus:
How to Cure Your Pet at Home
How to Slash Your Vet Bills

Photo Credit: Martin Barraud/Media Bakery

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