Interpreting Dog Body Language


If you pay attentiondog-body-language to your dog’s body language, you soon find out how to read her needs and even predict her next moves. Your Chihuahua communicates through her facial expressions, using her ears, eyes, brows, lips, nose, and mouth. She also talks through her tail, coat (hackles), and body position, and she emits a variety of sounds.

Communicating with dogs comes naturally to many youngsters, but adults need to concentrate on it because they seldom take time to sit back and use their powers of observation. In fact, the older people get, the more they rely on verbal communication and lose their nonverbal skills.

To give your Chi the best care, you need to know her intimately. Sit back and study the differences in her body language and facial expressions when she’s happy, curious, anxious, proud of herself, and sleepy.  Soon you’ll be able to read your dog.

To start you off, here are some descriptions of general dog body language:

  • A relaxed dog wags her tail in a methodical, neutral position-her tail isn’t high, tucked under, or stiff. Her mouth may be slightly open, and her ears look relaxed ( rather than fully alert ). Her eyes appear soft, without a trace of threat or tension, and her weight is evenly distributed on all four legs.
  • A dominant or aggressive dog tries to appear larger. She stands absolutely erect, hold her tail either straight out or up, and raises her hackles ( the fur on top of her back ). Her mouth usually is closed, and she makes eye contact with her adversary.
  • A submissive, shy, or frightened dog makes herself smaller by contracting her body. She tucks her tail, flattens her ears, averts her eyes, and appears to shrink slightly.
  • When a dog greets you with her rear end up, front end low, a wagging tail, and lively eyes, she’s play-bowing. This dog body language stands for “Let’s play.”
  • If she flicks her tongue up to lick her nose over and over, a dog is uneasy about something. Maybe she’s checking out your new friend or concentrating hard to learn a new trick. In some cases, tongue flicking precedes snapping.
  • Mounting has more to do with dominance than sex. Does your Chi ever mount another dog or stand on her hind legs with her paws on another dog’s back? This is her way of saying, ” I’m top dog here, and don’t you forget it.”

Understanding the “jitters”

A jittery dog acts frightened. You can recognize this behavior by her tightly tucked tail, contracted body ( to appear smaller ), and flattened ears. However, sometimes you won’t see her body because she’ll be hiding behind your legs or the sofa. Chihuahuas often shake all over when they’re scared, but shaking alone isn’t good indicator of fear. Chis also may shake from cold or even from extreme happiness or excitement.

Some dogs are born nervous because of poor breeding, but most scaredy-pups act jittery because they weren’t socialized at the right time. If a dog isn’t socialized during its puppyhood, it never becomes as confident a companion as it can be. You can understand an unsocialized dog’s jitters by looking at the following scenario with a human child.

Imagine how a child (let’s call him Bobby) would react on his first day of school if he had been so overprotected by his parents that it was also his first experience away from home. Bobby’s anxiety increases during the walk or drive to school. Traffic sounds startle him, and the sight of so many strange buildings, vehicles, and people confuses him.  When he arrives , the big school building intimidates him-especially if he doesn’t know how to navigate stairs.

In the classroom, Bobby’s fear of the strange adult called Teacher keeps him from focusing on the lesson. On the playground, he doesn’t know how to respond to his high-spirited classmates. Feeling vulnerable and uncertain, he may back into a corner or become defensive and try to fight off the first child who approaches.

Here’s another bad scenario: What if Bobby went on two outings before starting school? Both times, he visited his pediatrician for vaccinations. In his mind, leaving home, entering a strange building, and meeting a stranger all correlate to pain. Now Bobby can’t relax or trust his teacher and consequently doesn’t learn. A classroom observer who doesn’t know Bobby’s history probably labels him as shy or stupid-perhaps even stubborn.

Luckily for children, scenarios like that seldom occur because most parents take their kids out often. But puppies-especially Toy breed puppies-don’t always have it so good. Some are raised like poor Bobby.

Good breeders socialize their puppies before selling them; the best refuse to sell a puppy before it’s 3 months old. And don’t worry. Even though the puppy loves its breeder, it transfers that love to you in no time. Besides, socialization is ongoing, and plenty of fun stuff is left for you and your puppy to do.

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