Your dog doesn't speak English, but he can still tell you how he is feeling. His language is his facial expressions, his body posture and his tail position. Many of his body movements are subtle and barely noticeable to us, but others of his species will recognize them. With practice, you too can learn to work out what he is trying to communicate to you.
Your Dog's Head
The first thing you should do when you are trying to understand what your dog is thinking and feeling is to look at his head. Erect ears held forward indicate that he's interested in what's going on around him. That's easy to see in prick eared dogs, but if your four legged family member has floppy ears, look at the position of the base of his ears. A confident alert dog will also have a direct stare and he will often hold his mouth closed.
If he holds his ears low and back, he is feeling anxious and a little bit frightened. Wide eyes, perhaps with a little of white showing, are also a sign of nervousness in dogs.
It's easy to decipher your dog's intent when his lips are curled and his teeth are bared. Watch out! Loose lips with a gently lolling tongue indicate he is relaxed and comfortable, while tension at the corners of his mouth suggest he is keeping an eye on things.
Your Dog's Body
A confident dog that watchful and alert is will hold his body stiffly, while a nervous pet will stay close to the ground and may even roll onto his back.
The hair along your dog's back is worth watching, as when he is excited, it will stand on end. This is known as having his "hackles raised"
Your Dog's Tail
A wagging tail is purely an indication that a dog wants to interact with you in some way. That interaction could be fun, or it could be unpleasant. A tail held high is an indication of a confident assertive dog. On the other hand, if his tail is held tightly between his legs, he is showing submissive behavior.
It's important that you become skilled at recognizing dogs' body language. It may save you from injury, as a dog will rarely bite without giving plenty of warning. If you can't identify those warning signals, then you are at greater risk of being bitten.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a friendly dog that wants to meet you will have a wagging tail, his mouth will be open and his tongue will often be lolling out of the side of his mouth. He may look almost like he is smiling. His ears will be held forward, and his body will be relaxed.
Don't forget the play bow - when your dog lowers himself onto his elbows and holds his rump in the air, with his tail wagging, he is inviting you to start a game with him.
Take some time regularly to watch your dog's posture and work out what he is feeling. It's a great way of improving your communication and therefore your relationship.
Susan Wright, DMV has dedicated her professional life to caring for domestic animals as a veterinarian, author and dog training collar expert.