Do You Know What Your Dog is Saying?
Here is a short quiz to test your skills as a doggie interpreter:
1. Which of the following behaviors might mean “I am stressed”?
b. Licking of the lips
d. All of the above
e. None of the above
2. Is a wagging tail a reliable indicator of a friendly dog?
3. Growling should be punished in order to prevent aggression.
4. Lying on the floor belly up means
a. “Rub my belly”
d. “ I am tired”
c. “I am not a threat; please don’t hurt me”
1. All of the above. These are subtle signs that may indicate discomfort or uncertainty. Of course a dog
that is hot will pant, a dog that is hungry or eating might lick his lips, and a sleepy dog will yawn. But if
you notice these behaviors occurring out of context, it might mean that your dog needs your help to feel
2. No. A dog can wag his tail when he is happy, aroused, or angry. Tail wagging is an indicator of
arousal, good and bad. Some dogs, like Golden Retrievers, have easily recognizable wagging styles: low and rapid (appeasement), soft and sweeping (friendly), or high and stiff (threatening). Other dogs will
wag their tails in the same way whether they are being friendly or aggressive. Dogs that have docked
tails like the GSP may be harder to interpret by just looking at the wagging stub. And dogs like Chows
that have tails that naturally curve over their backs can be even harder to interpret by tail wag alone. In
general, a happy wag involves butt wiggling (I love when my GSP does that)!
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3. No. This was mentioned in my last post about bite prevention, but it is worth repeating. A growl is a
dog’s verbal way of saying “Go away” or “I’m mad”. Even though we do not like to hear dogs growl, we
need to thank them for giving us this non-violent warning rather than biting. This warning allows you to
make the situation better for your dog by meeting his needs, but only if growling has not been punished
out of the his repertoire of communication. If a dog feels he will be reprimanded for growling, or if his
need for space is not honored, he may resort to snapping to get his point across.
4. It depends. Okay, that answer was not listed as an option. But it really does. People seem to think a
dog exposing his belly wants a belly rub, but what this natural behavior means in the dog world is “I am
not a threat”, “I surrender” or “I am just a lowly peasant, Your Royal Highness”. You don’t often see dogs
rubbing each other’s bellies with their paws. But some dogs love belly rubs by their owners and the
accompanying attention lavished on them. Those dogs will purposefully go belly up for this special
together time. You can test this with your own dog by rubbing his belly for 5 seconds. Then stop and see
if he asks for more. And yes, some dogs do sleep on their backs. There is nothing cuter!
Dogs deserve a lot of credit for putting up with us for ignoring, missing, misinterpreting, or punishing
their attempts to communicate in the only way they know how.
A video is worth a thousand words. Check this one out of a very tolerant Labrador Retriever and all the
signs he is giving that he would rather be anywhere else:
Written by: Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Trusting Paws Dog Training, LLC
Camp Hill, PA