“Understanding Canine Body Language is critical to helping modify fearful and aggressive behavior,” states, Harvard Animal Behaviorist and Director of Dog Training Phoenix. Here are bullet points and a crash course in understanding what calming and stress signals are.
Canine Body Language Signs of stress or arousal – taken in context and happen together or in groups. None of these happen in a vacuum.
- Penis crowning – often around food or resources (can be toy, place or person), Stress is an arousal level. Sequence that leads to aggression. No female equivalent.
- Teeth chattering – sign of arousal, sign of frustration or aggression. Can happen when excited to play.
- Sweaty paws
- Lip licking – happens in succession, sign of stress which is different than when hungry or after a meal. Repeated multiple times.
- Stress vocalization – whining, dry shallow cough or part of high pitched, trill sound, dry pant
- Tails – mean nothing, except when curled under body which is sign of stress. Must look at breed to know what normal tail looks like in order to tell if a sign
- Chuffing – usually see in boxers. Cheek puffing or a blowing sound coming from mouth.
- Dilated pupils – must be taken in contest of lighting in the room. Look for soft eyes with dilated pupils. “Whale eye” eye is dilated, hard can see a sliver of white in eye, usually followed by a bite. Whole body goes stiff and still, then Whale eye then bite.
- Not eating – first signal that dog is in stress and should be alerted. If try to give a treat they don’t take it.
- Urination – submissive urination, or marking of territory. They urinate on all things, including people, resources to feel comfortable.
- Ears pinned back – again subject to breed of dog. “Bunny ears”.
- Freezes – watch mouth. Body goes stiff, hard eyes, ears can go back/down along head, very still, mouth starts to close very slowly. Bite usually follows. This happens with a bunch of other stress. Lots of energy coming from animal.
- Pacing – different than being interested in something. They quickly walk back and forth. Lots of energy being expelled by animal. Doesn’t have to be in a pattern, can be all over the place. Other stress signals accompany this like stiff body, vocalization, dilated pupils, pulling on lead.
- Slow of little movement – looks like a lump. Non stressed dogs move around.
- Stiff posture – excessive shedding. Example of this happening is when dog goes to vet.
- Stretching – not normal I’ve just gotten up and need to stretch my bones/muscles, but happens in a sequence with other stress.
- Muscle ridge – hard to see but can watch it happen around top of orbital eye bone and at top of mouth.
- Urogenital check out – during or just after a time of stress, dog will make sure all of the private parts are still there.
- Excessive salivation – depending on breed or what is happening. Can happen in arousal state like waiting for food so must be taken in context. Part of other stressors.
- Shallow or fast breathing – looks like holding breath and must be taken in context with environment
Canine Body Language Calming signals/appeasement signals/non-aggressive intent – Offer and acceptance signals
- Look away – an active turn of head. Chin up and turn your head. Can be used for having dog not jump.
- Paw raises – can be done either standing or sitting. I mean you no harm.
- Sniffing – an area after a prolonged period in that area
- Sneezing – really likes what you are doing, like training and they get so excited then sneeze in succession
- Scratching – must be taken in context
- Blinking – to calm themselves or others. We can use to show them we mean no harm
- Shake off – most common calming signal. Can start at backside and goes all the way off. Very animated when it happens.
Canine Body Language Both calming and stress signals
- Lip/nose licking
- Sitting or lying down
- Pacing in an arc
Canine Body Language Distance increasing signals – back off, social distance, sub threshold that means you must intervene, read these signals before aggression begins.
- Marking territory
- Hard eyes – sharp line between pupil and iris
- Showing teeth – C shape, molars not showing, antagonistic pucker, full frontal lip curl
- Ears alert and forward – depends on breed
- Tense body or face
- Height posture height seeking – very significant, muzzle punch
- Lowered head and neck
- Excessive barking – low and fast. Not like the “you’re home” high pitched fast yipping bark or the alarm barking.
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