We’ve all wondered what our pet's behavior means. What are thinking? Everyone’s guilty of having had a conversation with their pet as if they could understand us. But what if they are actually communicating their feelings to us regularly without us realising? Both dogs and cats have been learning ways of getting what they want from us ever since they were domesticated, and by learning these, along with their subconscious communication, we can form ever closer bonds with our pets. Body Language Sometimes it’s obvious when your pet is telling you he’s happy. A bouncy dog with a slack tongue and waggy tail is almost certainly enjoying himself, and a content kitty can be heard purring or seen walking proud with her tail raised high. However, there’s plenty of other ways your pet tells you that they’re content. A dog that rests his head on his paws and sighs with eyes half closed is letting you know he’s very relaxed and happy, and similarly a cat with ears leaning forward is communicating the same. However, sometimes behaviour that seems normal can be your pet’s way of telling you that they are stressed. The key to recognising this is to look at the context of the behaviour to see if it seems out of place. For example, it’s normal for our pets to yawn when tired just like we do, but if they have no reason to be tired; yawning could be a sign of stress. Another example is licking lips or drooling – totally normal when snacks or nice smells are around, but otherwise your pet could be trying to tell you that they feel uncomfortable. Your pet’s body language may also tell you when they are sick or in pain. Some signs such as limping or nibbling one area excessively can be easily spotted by owners, but some animals hide their symptoms. Cats, for example, have been known to not complain about stomach pains or skin problems, but to avoid being touched and instead shy away from company and hide themselves away. Thinking of insuring your pet?Get Quotes & Compare Vocalisations Did you know that cats only meow to get the attention of humans, never to one another? It’s said that over time they have learnt to imitate the cries of human babies to catch the attention of the adults, so if you hear your cat meowing in another room, he’s trying to tell you something! Dogs however have a much broader vocal range, which is tricky to translate but can be done with some practice. Whines and growls can indicate anything from distress to content or playfulness, all depending on the tone and body language. Howling is normally associated with loneliness, a dog crying out for the rest of his pack. Whilst this can be true, dogs howl for many other reasons too, and sometimes for no reason at all! Take a look at the context of the howl to figure out what your dog is trying to communicate; does he want some attention? Is he bored? Or has he just heard a high pitched song or siren and thinks it would be fun to imitate it? Everyone recognises a cat’s purrs as a sign of pleasure, but dogs also communicate pleasure or enjoyment in a similar way with a low growl. This is often misunderstood as a sign of anger or aggression, but if paired with relaxed or playful body language (rather than aggressive stance and snarling lips) your pup is telling you he’s happy! Behavior problems Although it might seem like some pets are just naughtier by nature, many behavior traits that owners deem to be misbehaving are actually your pet’s way of communicating with you. The biggest behavior problem we hear people complaining about is destructiveness at home. This can be difficult to deal with but the first step is always understanding the cause of the behavior. More often than not a destructive pet is telling you that they are bored, especially if the behavior occurs when they are home alone. Some breeds don’t deal so well being the only pet in the house, but many can be kept happy with interactive toys and treat dispensers such as Kong chews. Boredom can also stem from pent up energy, so be sure to play with your pet or walk them before you need to leave them for a few hours. Another common behavior problem is pets having ‘accidents’ inside the house or outside of their litter trays. If your pet is young and still being toilet trained we can forgive them getting confused; every animal takes a different amount of time to totally get where to go, but if the problem has suddenly started from nowhere your pet is trying to tell you something. Both cats and dogs instinctively like to keep their beds and homes clean and so prefer to relieve themselves outside or in a litter tray, where available. This means that if they have started to go in their home then something is wrong, and it’s a strong sign that they are feeling stressed about something. Think about any changes that have happened since the problem started such as a change in your pet’s routine, someone joining or leaving the household, a home move, or new neighbours, and talk to a pet behaviorist about how you can deal with the stress. There are plenty of things that our pets are trying to tell us all the time; part of the joy of having a pet is knowing that your relationship is unique and you understand them in a way no one else does. If there’s something your pet does to tell you something, let us know on Facebook! Most of the behaviors discussed here are normal for both cats and dogs, but if you notice a sudden change in your pet’s behaviour always consult your veterinarian to rule out health reasons. Thinking of insuring your pet?Get Quotes & Compare
Let’s be honest, when our dog’s tail is raised, wagging or tucked we like to think we know exactly what he means. The reality is, despite having our share of single sided conversations with our dogs, we don't always fully understand what they mean despite the fact we feel as though we know them, their quirky personalities and behaviors. Dogs most certainly have a language, which allows them to communicate with other dogs and humans alike. Although our canine friends use some verbal communication with a bark or howl, their most common form of communication is through body language. If you haven’t yet managed to read our “what is your pet trying to tell you”, which covered vocalizations and behavioral problems, it's worth a read too! Tapping into, and understanding, dog body language will provide you with lots of practical information on what your dog is feeling in different circumstances, this will help you to understand your dog’s state of mind in different situations. Three Positions of a Dog’s Tail When observing your dog, you will typically find their tail between one of any four natural positions: 1. Raised Vertically 2. Raised Horizontally 3. Relaxed 4. Tucked in-between the legs Quick and fast rules can be used to observe a dog’s tail position and relate this to how they may be feeling. But, as we will explain later, ideally a framework should be used to help correctly identify their emotion. A fearful or anxious dog will typically tuck their tail in-between their hind legs, especially during walks. This can commonly be observer during Thanksgiving or fireworks evenings. A dog who is displaying signs of interest will typically raise their tail and wag it horizontally. Finally, a dog display signs of extreme emotion (excitement or aggression) will raise their tail vertically. I can hear you asking how do I know if my dog is excited or aggressive? At this point, it becomes a little bit clearer as to why a framework should be used to explore dog body language and not just an isolated body part. Using a Dog Body Language Framework For the past twenty years, dog trainers across the US have been using a framework taught to them in the form of TEB. TEB stands for Tail, Eyes and Body Posture. It is thought that by combining all three body parts together, you get a much clearer understanding of a dog’s body language. The example below highlights the importance of this. A Play Bow or Aggressive Dog? Looking at the picture, notice how both dog’s forequarters are lowered to the floor. Despite both dog’s having a similar posture with regards to their forequarters, we can look to their tail, eyes and posture to observer what their true intentions are. Notice how both dog’s tails are raised, so we are either dealing with excitable or aggressive dogs. Now look at their postures, notice how the dog in the second picture has a fixed and stiff posture; you can also see a few raised hackles along their spine. In contrast look at the dog in the first picture’s posture, look how relaxed he looks, his ears are down and hackles, too. If we observed just the dog’s tail, then we may have made the mistake of thinking both the dogs are either wanting to play or be aggressive. However, using a complete framework, we can now understand one dog wants to play and one does not! You can use the handy table below to help you interpret common dog body language signals. Eyes Tail Body Posture I’m Relaxed Dilated Soft and floppy Soft and floppy I’m Interested Dilated Horizontal Slight Way (optional) Stiff forward lean with perked ears I’m Nervous Avoiding direct contact Tucked between legs Lowered and ears back Putting It All Together Hopefully now you realize that a dog’s tail can tell us lots about their emotion or behavior, however, we must observe their entire body in order to better understand their potential behavior. If we don’t, we may make the same mistake described above or misinterpret our dog’s emotions and potential reactions. This can have embarrassing consequences! Using a known framework such as TEB enables us to systematically analyze our dog’s behavior which maps multiple body parts to a single behavior. Give it a try next time you’re walking your dog, observe how they interact with different animals, sounds, and people; try to use the framework and observe if you are able to correctly interpret your dog’s behavior.