Understanding an Animal’s Body Language

In this week’s blog, I’ll be talking about dogs and cats. Of course other species will have their own set of body language to be mindful of and to acknowledge.

Most people feel that when they see a dog with a wagging tail that it’s perfectly okay to approach them and say hello. Or an owner will drop their dog off at a doggie daycare or dog park and the dog doesn’t engage, they sit there and either pant or lick their lips with their ears back. Not all body movements or body language is the same or carries the same meaning.

Let’s take tail wagging in dogs. If the dog is giving a long, full tail swing wag – that is a definite indicator of being happy and excited (which is different from being irritated and excited). If a dog has their tail straight up and just the top portion (1/3rd or ½) is doing a small wag from side to side, that’s usually a sign of being on guard or cautious.

Raised hackles: Again, in dogs – raised hackles are a sign of being excited or on guard – not necessarily that they are angry or irritated. The same goes for cats.

Showing of teeth: Not all showing of teeth are the same. There are some dogs who “smile” and the raise of their lip is different than when they are baring their teeth as a warning.

Each animal is different when it comes to their cues and their body language. Ears back and lip licking is usually a sign of discomfort for a dog. Some dogs will make a vocalization that indicates they are very happy, but it can sound like they are irritated. By paying attention and being mindful of an animal’s body language, we can avoid an encounter that results in a bite or scratch.

Does your animal companion have unique body language cues? I’d love to hear from you!