Reading Body Language




When it comes to understanding our puppies it’s really important that we learn to interpret the rich tapestry of visual signals our puppies display depending on how they’re feeling. As they can’t speak to us in human language we need to interpret the signals they are giving to be able to keep them safe and happy.

In this video you are going to see a selection of body language signals. It’s important to look at your puppy as a whole, rather than focus on one specific aspect though as no single behaviour is a perfect barometer of how they are feeling.

Signs your puppy is happy and relaxed:

Open mouth, lolling tongue, loose body language, curves and wiggly movement

Relaxed body movements, including a loose tail wag might be seen. Facial expression and muscles are relaxed and their ears are neutral.

When interacting with other dogs look for a curved approach towards others, where they meet nose to bottom. You should also see play roles reversing often, with frequent switching of who is chasing and being chased. You may see a play bow where one dog invites another to play with them.

If your puppy is stressed or worried they will will show very different body language:

You may see:

yawning, lip licking, whale eyes – where you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes as they turn their head away but keep looking at the thing that is worrying them,

They may turn their head or body away, lift their paws, start to scratch, pant, lower their body posture, tuck their tail low or even under their body, close their mouth as if holding their breath, freeze on the spot or tense their brow. You might also find that your puppy disengages or completely loses their focus.

Of course you won’t see all of these signals at once, but if your puppy is showing several signals it is time to intervene and help them feel safe again. Increase distance between them and whatever is causing them concern. Give them time to process and work through things at their own pace. If they want to approach again, support them, if they would like to move further away, go with them. You are your puppy’s advocate and you need to look out for their well being always.

If your puppy feels unsafe and is preparing to defend themselves you may see them start to make themselves look bigger. They could lean their weight forwards, tense their mouth, stare directly at the perceived threat, hold their tail high and stiffly wag it from side to side. They might also growl or show their teeth or snap at the air as a warning to back away. Never ignore their warning signals or punish them for communicating. This could result in them choosing not to issue warnings and instead go right to biting if they feel threatened.

Make sure you look at the whole dog picture as no one signal will ever give you the answer.

As always, look out for your puppy and ensure they are actively enjoying their interactions. If you notice they aren’t happy, or the other dog/person is not enjoying the interaction, make sure to intervene and create space.

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