Canine Body Language: What is your dog telling you?

Lisa Tenzin-Dolma is the founder and principal of The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, founder of The Dog Welfare Alliance, and co-chair of The Association of INTODogs. She is part of the team of experts we’ve enlisted to offer resources to our Positive Puppy Programme community. Here she discusses the fascinating world of Canine Body Language.

Dogs have evolved alongside humans for at least 12,000 years, perhaps far longer, and the dog snoozing at your feet is genetically programmed to try to understand you. Scientists Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods stated in their book The Genius of Dogs that dogs have contributed significantly to our own evolution, and several new research studies have found that the presence of dogs promotes increased friendliness between people. Dogs watch us closely. They understand our facial expressions and body language, and spend far more time than we may realise in trying to figure us out. Scientists have discovered that dogs are the only creatures, other than humans, who can accurately gauge our emotions simply by looking at our faces, particularly the right side of the face. This is called left gaze bias, and is used because the right side of the face is thought to reveal more information about our emotional state. So, how can we read dogs as easily as they read us?

Dogs communicate through a variety of modes, including scent, body language, vocalising and touch. By observing our dogs, we can learn to decipher their silent signals and open up a profound two-way dialogue that brings about a profound level of understanding on both sides.

The most important component in our relationships with dogs is trust. Our dogs are dependent on us to tend to all aspects of their care and welfare; not only through providing a healthy diet, appropriate exercise and opportunities for socialising, but also to keep them safe and minimise anxiety and fear. When we can ‘read’ our dogs’ facial expressions and body language this provides a constant flow of information that tells us how our dogs are feeling, and offers pointers as to any causes of discomfort. When our dogs feel that we are listening (and watching) and that we understand them and take steps to ensure they feel safe and happy, they naturally place their trust in us.

As well as barking, growling, whining, yipping and howling, dogs use a complex system of communication through body language to calm and appease us and each other, and to show that they’re anxious, or uncertain, or feel threatened, or angry, or happy.

Understanding your dog’s body language can help you to build a stronger bond with him or her. It’s well worth making the effort to learn to ‘speak dog’.

To access Lisa’s full article, sign up for our Positive Puppy Programme now.

Interested in a career working with dogs? The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour Ltd (The ISCP) have a range of professional study options, a reputation for excellence and students/graduates in over 42 countries whose work with dogs has enriched the lives of many people and their animal companions.