My name is Scott Shwarts and I'm a pet behavior counselor. My background is in applied behavior analysis, which is the science of predicting and modifying (or controlling) behavior. In what I hope to be regular postings, I'll be discussing many of the problems or just plain interesting behaviors we all see with our pets. I hope you'll ask questions and make comments so we can have a wide ranging discussion.
Understanding Body Language
Your dog (or cat) speaks with its body. Most of the time us humans are completely oblivious as to what they are saying. By building an understanding we can go a long way to making the relationship even stronger and help to resolve problems. In this posting we'll concentrate mostly on dogs, but many of these behaviors apply equally to cats.
Animals use their bodies to make signals and these signals are often subtle. It can be as simple as a weight shift or blinking or yawning or just the shape of their bodies. The tail for example says a lot. Its level, speed and tension can tell us how aroused the animal is. Remember that arousal can be good and bad. Plenty of people have been bit by a dog with a wagging tail!
You know the saying, the eyes are windows to the soul? Your dog's eyes truly are. A relaxed, squinty eye contact with loose, full body wag is generally friendly interest or an attempt to connect socially, whereas hard eye contact - a direct unblinking stare with still, forward posture - could be a challenge or a threat. Glancing away briefly during greeting, acts as a calming signal. Looking away with chin up, as if looking at something more interesting, can be disinterest or a signal to cut-off contact. And averting the eyes with the head lowered, ears back, blinking, lip licking might be discomfort or shyness.
The one thing you can do best for your canine pal is to understand when they are stressed. Mild to moderate stress can be indicated by:
- Lip Licking
- Turning away
- Ear Position
- Displacement Behaviors (suddenly your dog starts sniffing around or doing other things out of context which may look like the dog is stubborn, distracted or disinterested)
- Moving slower
While more increased stress can be indicated by:
- Ears back
- Tail Clamped
- Back Rounded
- Dry Panting
Understanding when your dog is stressed and helping them through or out of the situation goes a long way to "being in the moment" for your dog. In the next posting we'll discuss more about body language. In the meantime, when you're out for your walk or at the Gulfport dog park, start watching your and other dog's bodies more carefully. See if you can figure out what they are saying from a dog's viewpoint.