What is Your Dog Trying to Tell You?

Objective:  Understand how our dogs and puppies talk to us and what to do when your puppy is frightened


i-Speak Dog
You are about to embark on the exciting journey of learning how to translate from ‘dog’ to ‘human’.  A great place to start is the i-Speak Dog website.

The i-Speak Dog website is an excellent resource to start understanding what your dog is trying to tell you.  The goal of this site is to teach you how to read your dogs’ body language, how to understand your dog’s emotional states and to teach you why your dog is doing what they do!

After you have spent some time on the i-Speak Dog website, check out the additional videos listed below.

Description External Video or Article Links
How Dog’s Show Anxiety Here is a video that illustrates several displacement behaviors in dogs. Displacement behaviors are normal behaviors that are displayed out of context (for example licking chops when no food is present, yawning when not tired, shaking off when not wet). They indicate that the dog is in a state of conflict and is feeling uncertainty or anxiety. It is best for children to stop interacting with a dog that shows these signs and not to approach a dog that shows these signs. When parents see these signs, it is time to intervene and direct both child and dog to another activity.
11 Subtle Signs your dog is Stressed Dogs have so many subtle ways that they tell us they’re not comfortable….
Are you listening?
Stop the 77 Dog bite prevention video for families everywhere.
77% of dog bites come from a friend’s dog or the family’s very own dog. We want to change that number.

Speak Dog – Doggone Safe

Video slide show that teaches about dog body language, why to stay away from tied dogs and how to deal with a pack of dogs.

Body Language – Your Dog’s Native Tongue

The myth of ‘spite’ and ‘guilt’ and how to tell when a dog (including your own!) wants you to come closer or move away
1) Watch “Stop the 77” last. Can you identify how the dogs are showing their discomfort?

2) Pick one of the easy to observe signals (ex. head turn, yawn, whale eye, sniffing the ground). Pay attention to your dog or puppy over the next week.  Do you see any of these signals?  If yes, what is  happening in the environment that might be causing your dog or puppy concern?

Conflict / Appeasement Behaviours1
These are normal behaviours used to communicate appeasement.  When these behaviours are displayed in specific contexts, they mean your puppy is uneasy with the social interaction or situation.  Humans often do not pick up on some of these subtle cues.  These behaviours are used to decrease social tension and aggression in puppiess.  They are a way of your puppy telling you or another puppy, “please back off, you are making me uneasy”.  For example, while training your puppy, you lean over him and command in a stern voice, “Sit!”  Consequently your puppy does not sit and instead he sniffs the ground and looks away from you.  Many owners would misinterpret this as disobedience when actually your puppy is trying to communicate that he is uncomfortable with the situation (your threatening tone and stance).  Your puppy is being polite and communicating to you in his native language.
Yawning                             Licking lips/nose                                           Turning head away
Looking away                   Squinting eyes                                               Scratching
Sneezing                            Curving body into a ‘C’ shape                    “Wet Puppy” shake off
Belly exposure                  Sniffing the ground                                      Mounting/humping
Hackles raised                   Lifting front paw
Signs of Fear2
Puppies experience a fear period from 8 to 10 weeks of age.  This is a normal developmental stage where the puppy is more likely to be fearful and sensitive to traumatic events such as a bicycle falling near the puppy.  A second fear period occurs between 4 and 12 months of age and can last up to 3 weeks.  This period is associated with a fear of familiar objects or novel environmental stimuli.

Fear is a normal and adaptive behaviour of puppies.  Don’t expect your puppy never to become frightened.  More importantly, your puppy should readily recover from novel and mild fear inducing stimuli.  At some point your puppy will encounter something that is startling or produces a fear response. How will you know he is afraid?  The following are some common signs:

Tail tucked                         Hiding                                  Pulling ears back or down to the side
Shaking                              Freezing                               Seeking close human contact
Leaning away                   Pacing, running or escape behaviour
Whale eye                          Stops taking treats

 1Puppy Start Right, Kenneth M. Martin and Debbie Martin.  Pg 12

2 Puppy Start Right, Kenneth M. Martin and Debbie Martin.  Pg 28

What should I do when my puppy is frightened3

Do use treats liberally

Do allow your puppy to investigate at his own pace

Do get your puppy to a non-stressful starting place (for example:  moving farther away from the ‘scary’ thing)

Avoid reprimanding your puppy when he is afraid

Example 1:  Walking past a For Sale sign in your neighbours front yard
Your puppy is on leash and you are walking down the street.  The neighbours have placed a For Sale sign in their front yard.  You are about 20 feet from the sign when you see your puppy notices the sign and stops in his tracks.  He is staring at the sign and learning slightly backwards and away from it.  His tail is tucked and his ears are pointed back against his head.  The hair on his shoulders or rump seems raised.  He lets out a little “woof, woof” and jumps forward towards the sign and then back again.  He is afraid.  Immediately drop a handful of small treats on the ground and allow him to eat them.  If he takes a step closer to the sign give him a treat.  You may approach the sign yourself and wait to see what your puppy will do.  The leash should remain slack and very little verbal encouragement should be used.  You should remain standing upright and let the puppy approach the sign as he feels comfortable.  If he takes a step forward, give him a treat.  If he backs away, move with him.  If he takes a step forward, give him a treat.  Your puppy should start to relax (tail and ears return to a normal position) and investigate the sign.  Give a few more treats then continue on your walk.  The next yard sign (it doesn’t have to be a For Sale sign) that you see, proactively off your puppy treats the moment he notices the sign.
Example 2:  A loud garbage truck approaches you and your puppy
You are walking your puppy on leash and a garbage truck approaches you.  Your puppy tucks his tail and pulls at the end of the leash trying to run away from the truck.  You should calmly turn and walk a distance away from the truck and give your puppy treats.  If he is not taking treats, increase the distance from the truck and offer treats again.  Once he is taking treats, continue to give them until the truck has passed.  Keeping him focused on you with one treat after another while the truck is passing by will make the truck less scary.  Next time a loud vehicle approaches, offer your puppy treats as soon as he sees or hears the truck.  This will continue building a positive association with loud vehicles.

3Puppy Start Right, Kenneth M. Martin and Debbie Martin.  Pg 31-32

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