Understanding Dog Behaviours

Dogs are always telling us how they’re feeling by giving us clues and signals. Dogs have personalities just like humans and it’s important to get to know them. A lot of dog communication consists of barks, whines, and growls, so it’s important to know what dog sounds mean and taking some time to understand your dog’s body language and learn about the physical insights your dog is giving you. Learning to understand the communication signals your dog is giving you is time well spent in building a strong relationship with them.


Tail wagging is one of the most common ways to notice if your dog is happy or excited (usually when you come through the door - cue excessive tail wagging). However, tail wagging does not always mean your dog is happy. Excessive tail wagging means that your dog is emotionally aroused - this could be excitement or stress. For example if a stranger entered the room and your dog was unfamiliar with this person, their stress may be mistaken for excitement. A pooch’s tail may also indicate fear, if their tail is pointing to the ground or tucked between their legs, this usually reflects a negative emotion. Relaxed dogs tend to hold their tails in a neutral position however this is dependent on the breed. Keep checking how your dog’s tail reacts in certain situations to gain a better understanding of their behaviours.


You can tell a lot about how a dog is feeling by looking at their eyes. If a dog’s eyes are soft and relaxed, almost as if they are squinting - this indicates that the dog is calm, relaxed or happy. However if a dog’s eyes look hard and cold it is indicative of a negative state of mind and attitude. They may feel fearful in the company of an unfamiliar person or protective over their food and thus their eyes look cold. Eye contact is an important indicator for dogs. Have you ever noticed if a dog has done something naughty such as chewing something they shouldn’t have and they won’t quite look you in the eye. This is because they understand they have done wrong and they are expressing discomfort at your reaction. Whale eye is also a common indicator of stress in dogs. Whale eye is where you can see more than a normal area of white in your dog’s eyes. When your dog is fearful or uncomfortable you may notice whale eye in your dog. Understanding each of these things can help you better understand your dog’s emotional state and why they may be acting a certain way.


Mouth’s are particularly important when understanding a puppy’s behaviour. Puppy’s will use their mouth to explore everything and process all the new information around them. Chewing and using their mouth to explore is considered self-soothing so don’t be alarmed as they are still learning. Young dogs will often communicate with their mouths as a way of interacting. The mouth however is an equally important signal of how any dog is feeling. If your dog is panting excessively along with a hanging tongue it could mean they need some water or they are too hot. This is really important to look out for in the Summer months when it gets hotter! However some health problems are linked to excessive panting so if you are concerned, contact your vet. 

No one dog is the same as another and these signals and behaviours certainly do not act alone. Decipher for yourself what your dog is trying to tell you. While it’s always good to be concerned about your dog’s welfare, context is important too. If you learn what your dog is saying, or trying to communicate with you, a deeper bond of trust and respect will be developed. Plus, your newfound understanding of your dog’s behaviours will help you prevent problems before they occur.
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