It is a beautiful day and you are strolling along a quiet country road with your dog when all of a sudden a strange dog appears from out of nowhere. His hackles are up and his ears are erect and tilted forward. You are not sure, but you think you heard a growl. Do you know what this dog is trying to tell you?
If you don’t, you and your dog could be in big trouble because this is one of the signs that a dog is on the alert and ready to attack if necessary. He’s telling you that you and your dog are not welcome. The two of you are trespassing on his territory and he does not like it. Get ready for a possible confrontation or slowly retreat to avoid a possible dogfight.
One of the best ways to tell the mood of a dog is to analyze the position of the canine’s ears. Since dogs cannot talk, they use their bodies to communicate with other dogs and with their human friends and enemies. Just as their tails and the rest of their bodies tell a story, so do their ears.
Ear positions can tell you a lot about a dog’s level of attention and reaction to an outside stimulus such as another animal or a particular situation. They can tell you if the dog is feeling playful or friendly, stressed or aggressive.
Be sure to look at the whole picture, not just the position of the ears or tail when approaching a strange dog. While the ear positions may not always be a 100 percent guarantee of a dog’s mood, reading them in addition to the rest of a dog’s body language is a fairly good indication of how a dog is feeling. Ear position in conjunction with facial tension, the way a dog carries its tail and the way a dog distributes his or her body weight all tell a story about the dog’s current frame of mind.
However, it is important to note that one should never assume that a strange dog is safe to approach, no matter what its body language is saying. Always use caution when approaching animals that you do not know. Do not assume the animal is friendly until you have had time to assess the situation and dog’s body language. In many cases, it is better to allow the animal to approach you. This keeps the dog from feeling threatened by you.
When a dog is naturally relaxed, his or her ears are up and the head is held erect. This usually happens in conjunction with a wagging tail and the fact that the dog is standing with equal weight on all four feet.
When aroused by something pleasant in the environment, a dog’s ears are usually positioned in a way that they are up and forward. This usually will happen in conjunction with a loosely wagging tail and a relaxed muzzle. The dog’s tongue may stick out. Sometimes canines will use this position to show that they are subordinate to others in a pack.
When a dog is considering an aggressive attack, he or she will hold their head erect and the ears will be tilted forward. In addition, the dog’s hackles will usually be standing up and the tail will be raised and stiff. The dog’s weight is usually forward because the canine is preparing to charge. This position can be used defensively as well as threateningly.
When a dog acknowledges another dog or a human that he or she believes has a higher social rank, a dog will strike a pacifying position. The ears will be back and lying close to the head. The tail will hang low and wag slowly and the dog will probably have one paw raised.
When a dog wants to indicate total surrender, the ears will be back while the dog lies on his or her back to show acceptance of the more dominant ones. The tail will be tucked between the dog’s rear legs and it is not unusual for the dog to release a few drops of urine.
Take caution when you see a dog with ears back, pupils dilated, hackles up and a snarling muzzle. This means the dog is fearful and does not want you to approach. Failure to respect the dog’s wishes can get you bit!
Dogs that want to play with you will have their ears up and their eyes will be soft. Usually the mouth is open and relaxed and the tongue is exposed. The dog’s tail will usually be in an upward position and wagging. The dog will lower his or her front end and look as though they are ready to leap. This position also serves as an invitation to courtship.
When greeting another dog or an adult that is superior, a dog will often take a submissive posture. The ears are back and the eyes are partially closed. The tail is down and the front paw is usually raised.
When two dogs greet each other, the more dominant one will usually have its ears up and tail forward. The more submissive dog will have his or her ears back, telling the other dog that he or she is aware of their dominance.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has its headquarters in New York City, offers some good illustrations on dog stances in relation to their moods.
Visit the site at: http://www.aspca.org
The illustrations on this website are well done and easy to understand. In fact, share the site with friends, neighbors and family members. Show the illustrations to your children to make them aware of the fact that dogs do communicate their moods through their body language. Respecting a dog’s body language can go a long way in keeping a person from being bitten.