Updated May 26, 2017
We talk, our Labradors listen! Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is.
Understanding canine body language is important for dog owners and will improve communication between you and your dog.
Dogs cannot express themselves in words. Dogs have their own language – they get their message across in canine body language – a series of postures and body cues. The more you understand what the different signs mean, the better you’ll be able to communicate with your dog.
While dogs can learn, obey and understand “word” commands, like “Sit” and “Stay”, their only reply is to happily obey or not-so-happily refuse. This canine communication is done through their body language – they send their message body movements and postures.
A good relationship with your dog is not a one-way street. Your dog needs an owner who will “listen” to his or her side of the story and translate what’s being communicated. When you’ve accomplished this, you can look forward to a harmonious relationship with your pooch.
To better understand your dog, observe his or her five key talking points. Then spend some time “seeing” if you can “listen” with your eyes and translate the message behind your dog’s various postures.
Let your dog’s lips and mouth “speak”
When a dog’s relaxed, they part their lips. It’s the dog equivalent of a smile.
When a dog closes their mouth, this means they’re deep in thought.
Observe your dog’s mouth when he or she spots a squirrel –is it open or closed? How about when your dog greets you or when somebody knocks on your door?
A dog’s tail is the emotional barometer.
They say a dog’s tail is the Great Flag of Emotion. Whether your dog’s tail is straight, curved, smooth, fluffy, or docked, it tells a large part of the story! The tail can signal joy, fear, indifference, and more.
We all know that a happy dog wags his tail –a happy wag takes the whole body along for the ride.
A dog that feels threatened will drop the tail.
Small, twitching wags mean your dog is nervous and concerned.
When your dog feels distrustful, his tail will rise.
A trembling tail tip means momentary concentration. Beware when the movement stops – consider it the calm before the storm. Unless your dog’s attention is redirected or averted, a defensive reaction is almost sure to follow – virtually instantaneously.
You can read your dog’s mood by observing the ears too!
Dogs have an acute sense of hearing. Dogs use their ears to locate everything: from family to food to playmates. Watching the ears can tell you a lot about what’s going on in the brain.
When your dog is in play mode, the ears will point at the object of his or her attention – for example, you or the toy you’re playing waving around.
When you’re at the dog park or a busy place with many interesting sounds, watch how your dog’s ears flick around – it’s quite a battle for them to stay focused there’s so much stimulus around.
Your dog’s ears are as almost as expressive as their tail, and will often flow in the same direction. When a dog’s afraid, both the ears and tail cower down. When stressed, your dog’s tail and ears pitch forward in unison, focusing their agitation like an arrow.
Find out what caught your dog’s interest by looking at his eyes.
While sight is a man’s strongest sense, it’s also a dog’s weakest. Sure, your dog doesn’t actually see in black and white, but dogs are painfully nearsighted.
Dogs use their eyes to judge body cues, alert to motion, and focus on objects of interest. Dogs do get a lot of visual distractions: a dog or a cat somewhere in the distance, a ball that is out of reach, squirrels up on a tree branch.
If you follow the focus of the eyes, you’ll soon see what’s got your dog’s attention.
Your Labrador’s posture is key to understanding canine body language
A dog’s posture is very similar to our own. Like us, a dog will stand up when happy or excited, tense up when agitated, puff out when in defensive mode, and shrink down when overwhelmed.
Dogs are a lot like people. They are most calm after exercise or when home – where they feel safer. From head to toe, relaxation looks the same no matter the species.
To practice understanding your canine body language skills, take your dog outside and spend some time observing their reactions to various stimuli. Watch your dog’s mouth, ears, eyes, tail, and posture to judge their mood.
When you learn to listen with your eyes, understanding your dog’s language becomes a whole lot easier.