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darwins royal dog on throne

Every dog owner wishes their dog could talk. We want to know what is going on in their minds, and we often wonder what they would tell us if they could.

Since their version of talking is generally barking, we are limited to watching their behavior. Interestingly, this can tell us everything we need to know about our faithful friends.

Figure Out Her Baseline

chocolate lab darwins duchess

When you first brought home your prince or princess, you studied them for hours to find a name that suited their personality. Similarly, you can watch them now to figure out their trademarks.

All dogs, like humans, will default to certain behaviors when they are relaxed or happy. You may notice that they tend to lie a certain way or place themselves in the same spot every night when they settle in. A relaxed dog is fluid in their movement, their features are soft, and they are happy just existing. Their tail may wag and their ears will lie in their normal position.

Figuring out their baseline is key to understanding when your queen is on edge or uncomfortable. If you know when she’s at ease, you’ll better be able to tell when she isn’t.

Look for Subtle Changes

Where the mistake in reading a dog’s body language often occurs is missing very small, subtle behaviors.

Obviously if your dog has just eaten, they will lick their lips, or if he’s been running around the yard, he’ll likely be panting. But it’s noticing these behaviors in the absence of their normal association that will clue you into your dog’s mood. Lip licking, yawning, excessive panting or drooling are all signs of stress in a dog, and you may want to identify what’s making him uncomfortable. Removing the dog from a distressing situation at this stage can easily prevent any further stress and potential altercations with other dogs or people.

But He’s Smiling, Isn’t He?

darwins dog corgi with crown

This one is a huge bug bear of anyone who works with dogs.

Your prince may look cute when he “smiles,” teeth bared with his lips pushed up. But unless you have a Staffy or Pit (who do seem to smile when they pant), this behavior isn’t typically a happy one. Instead, this can often mean your dog is in distress.

Pet owners often encourage and photograph this “smile.” Instead, it’s best advised to stop what you’re doing or remove the dog from whatever is causing them stress. Save the photo op for when your pup is relaxed and at ease.

Look at the Whole Body

If your dog is unhappy, they will tell you with every part of their body, not just their face. A stressed dog (due to anxiety or fear, for example) will widen their eyes; this is to gain as much information as possible about their environment.

Their ears will lie differently to normal. If usually up, they will lie flat, or if usually flat, they may sit back.

You may notice their whole demeanor changes; they may walk tentatively or slowly.

Equally, they may become super-aroused and try to lunge. You may notice their hair will stand on end around their shoulders and along their spine. Any deviation from the norm can be indicative that your dog isn’t happy about something!

In Summary:

Dog’s will tell us everything we need to know; we just need to know what to look for.

Noticing subtle behaviors could help prevent any escalation of behavior.

Notice any changes when visitors come to the home or there is a change in routine.

It’s your job as an owner to change the situation if your dog is struggling. Your little prince or princess will thank you for it. 


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John Woods is a dog parent, trainer and senior author at All Things Dogs. You can find more of his work here: http://www.allthingsdogs.com