What is my dog saying to me?
For many dog owners, their dog is considered a valued member of the family. However, dogs communicate very differently to people, so it is important that everyone who has contact with your dog is aware of the signs they may show, ensuring that all interactions are positive for your pet. Knowing what your dog is trying to say will allow you to recognise when your pet is happy to be given attention and when they should be left alone, so that you can build a happy relationship together.
How does my dog communicate with me?
Dogs are social animals that communicate with us using a variety of different body language signs and behaviours. Some of these signs are only very subtle and require an understanding from you to interpret them and to stop them from progressing into an unwanted behaviour, such as growling or even biting.
Dogs will usually only bite as a last resort, after being unable to resolve the situation through using a number of passive behaviours. When they feel anxious or stressed, they will first try to remove themselves from the situation. This is a dog’s preferred way of dealing with stressful situations, but if they are not able to resolve the situation in this way then dogs will start using a series of behaviours to signal that they are not happy. These behaviour signs start off being very subtle and can be hard to notice, but if each sign is ignored then the signs will increase in intensity, until it results in the dog biting.
A dog will usually not bite for no reason, so this means that most bites can be avoided by understanding what your dog is trying to say. We will discuss the behaviour signs of an anxious dog that you should be looking out for in more detail later on in the article.
Signs of a happy dog
Recognising the signs of a dog that is happy to interact with you is important, as even the friendliest of dogs will have times when they want to avoid a situation or be left alone. This means that you can determine when it is appropriate to approach a dog and when you should be leaving them alone.
The signs of a dog that is happy to be interacted with are;
● The dog approaches you for attention.
● The dog may be wagging their tail. However, anxious or stressed dogs may also wag their tails, so this sign alone is not always a signal that the dog is happy to be interacted with.
● A relaxed dog – they may have a playful posture, tongue out and be relaxed with their features.
When interacting with any dog, make sure that they are able to leave whenever they feel they need to. Make sure that they are not restrained and have a safe place that they can retreat to, such as their bed. A happy dog can become a stressed dog if they are unable to remove themselves from a situation that they are not comfortable with.
Signs of an anxious or stressed dog
Any dog can become anxious or stressed when in a situation that they are uncomfortable with, but for most dogs this will be infrequent and they will be able to resolve it quickly. However, some dogs may show common episodes of stress, resulting in it being difficult for owners to manage their dog in certain situations. If you feel that your dog shows some of these signs and has certain situations that they find difficult, then one of our team will be happy to discuss this with you further.
Signs of an anxious or stressed dog;
● Looking away
● Lip licking
● Chattering with teeth
● Holding a paw up/pawing ground
● Tail between legs
● Ears back
● Crouched posture
The signs at the top of the list are the first subtle signs that are seen in an anxious and stressed dog. If these signs are ignored then the dog will start to show other more obvious signs, working their way down the list. If the situation is still not resolved, the dog may progress to growling and, finally, biting.
The anxious dog
Dogs should never be punished for showing signs of anxious behaviour, even though the signs are usually undesirable. Punishment can make the dogs behaviour worse and damage the bond between you and your pet as well as making it more likely that the dog will bite in the future.
If you think your dog is showing any of the signs of an anxious or stressed dog then we would recommend coming in to our practice so that one of our vets can assess your pet and discuss any concerns with you.
Children and dogs
Children that are brought up with dogs can benefit from having increased social skills as well as a greater understanding of responsibility, showing the positive effects that a relationship between a child and a dog can have. However, it is important that children always interact safely with any dogs that they meet. This is to prevent putting the dog in a situation they are not comfortable with, which will also help prevent any dog bites.
How to safely allow your child to interact with a dog;
● All interaction should be supervised 100% of the time
● The dog should be able to leave at any time, so they can remove themselves from the room and interaction at any time
● The child should not enter the dog’s safe place
● The child should wait for the dog to choose to interact with them
● The dog should not be forced to interact with the child at any time
● Make sure the child is calm and quiet in the room when the dog is around
● If out and about, it is important that children ask permission before interacting with an unknown dog
If suitable precautions are taken then there is no reason why your dog cannot continue to live happily and safely with your children. However, if you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour around your children, one of our vets would be happy to discuss this with you.
How can I help my anxious or stressed dog?
If your dog is showing signs of anxiety or stress, there are steps you can take to help your dog in the short term. These include:
● As soon as you notice signs of your dog not being happy, remove them from the current situation and make sure that your dog has access to their safe place.
● If you are seeing a regular pattern of your dog becoming anxious in a certain situation, try to avoid your dog being in that particular situation.
Sometimes you may need further help with an anxious dog; to prevent the behaviour from becoming worse, we would advise that you bring your pet in to see one of our vets when the signs are first noticed.
Firstly, we would be assessing your dog to make sure that there are no underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to the behaviour that you are seeing and then we would discuss treatment plans with you depending on your dogs needs. If your dog is showing severe or frequent signs of anxiety, then we may advise a behaviour referral to a behaviourist accredited with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.
If you have any concerns about your dogs behaviour, one of our team will be happy to answer any questions you may have and our vets are always on hand to assess your pet and discuss treatment options with you.