Decoding Dog Body Talk

Three Signals of Anxiety



Poprotskiy Alexey/Shutterstock.com

Family dogs frequently accompany us on errands and outings away from their familiar home environment and we want them to enjoy these expeditions, so understanding their view of the world is important.

To a dog, every experience is either familiar or unfamiliar. The first time they encounter a new sound, place or person, they may feel anxious. We can help with the adjustment by introducing them slowly to each new experience and step aside to provide them distance or space to observe it first at their own pace.

Knowing the “tells” that signal when a dog is comfortable or uncomfortable goes a long way to a harmonious experience. Allison Culver, assistant director of The Lightfoot Way holistic animal learning center, in Houston, remarks, “Knowing how to communicate with your animal can save a lot of heartache.” With a bit of applied attention, we can readily learn to understand the changes in canine body posture and behavior that communicate their emotional state.

Start by observing the dog’s posture when they are relaxed at home. It’s likely that their weight is balanced on all four legs and their mouth is slightly open; movement is relaxed, loose and agile.

When a dog feels happy or playful, notice how their ears may perk up or tilt slightly forward. Their tail might rise and wag, and they may emit a cheerful bark. Using their visual and audio demeanor as a baseline prepares us to be alert for three secret tells that signal a change in their emotion.

Closing their mouth routinely occurs when a dog is unsure or anxious. When their mouth remains closed for a minute or more, it’s a sure clue that they need more time to process information.

Lip licking such as quick flicks of the tongue is meant to appease and may prevent an uncomfortable situation from escalating into anything resembling a confrontation. Dogs do it with each other and with us, too.

A look away that avoids direct eye contact likewise signals that a dog is urgently processing their current environment.

Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas, author of On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, identifies the lip licking and averting of the eyes as selfcalming behaviors. She affirms, “When dogs are stressed by the environment, they start using calming signals to ease the stress.”

When this happens, first try creating more space or distance between the dog and any perceived threat; this may return them to their body language norm. If not, consider using holistic calming aids like a properly mixed lavender essential oil spray or Bach Rescue Remedy Pet flower essences, keeping these well away from their face.

Also try mentally engaging the dog with learned cues. A quick game of sit, down, sit plus high-five allows them to engage in a familiar activity while they adjust to a new environment.

If the pet does not respond to normal cues and continues to display multiple stress signals for an extended period, leave the scene altogether. Their anxiety hasn’t been relieved. If it’s still important that the dog learns to enjoy the troubling environment, work with a professional trainer that uses positive reinforcement tools to aid the transition (see PetProfessionalGuild. com or apdt.com). The trainer will assist in creating a plan that allows the pet to adjust at a pace that allows them to remain comfortable.

By observing a dog’s posture, we can be confident of choosing mutually good outings.


Susan Briggs, of Houston, TX, is co-author of Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety & Fun, co-founder of The Dog Gurus and owner of Crystal Canine.


This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Kudos

The SCARCE Focus on Energy Film Festival and red carpet awards ceremony, featuring student-produced short videos in languages other than English about the smart grid and energy efficiency, was held April 23.

Extreme Kleaner Mobile App Now Available

Extreme Energy Solutions, Inc., creator of Extreme Kleaner products, has released a new mobile app designed to provide convenience and a user-friendly experience to customers.

Boyce Offers the Cream of the Organic Crop

Registered Landscape Architect Rob Boyce, owner of Natural Environments, is a plant guy. He sells certified organic plants and veggies at his greenhouses and area farmers’ markets, as well as offering landscape and design services; plus, he’s a florist.

Weems Offers a Fresh Look at Maintaining Health

Sooniti J. Weems, MSW, M.Div., is a doctor of naprapathy and owner of Well With My Soul Holistic Health Center, in the Old Irving Park community of Chicago.

Never At A Loss For Words

Lindsey Parker Novak, syndicated “At Work” columnist and certified life and executive coach, has launched a new website, LindseyParkerNovak.com, which features practical and proven steps for people wanting to turn their dreams into realistic goals to achieve success.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

Dr. Mark Hyman to Address Diabesity

Feed Your Mind Wellness hosts Dr. Mark Hyman for a talk, Emerging Approaches to Chronic Illness: Achieving Wellness Within Your Community.

Doherty to Lead Four-Day Permaculture Workshop

Australian Darren Doherty, one of the world’s most experienced permaculture design professionals, will lead a permaculture theory workshop.

Infinity Family Fest Offers Mindful Play for Kids

The Infinity Family Fest, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 11, will provide playful, family fun with interactive hands-on mindful games activities.

Dr. Kolodziej Offers Chiropractic and Herbal Remedies

Dr. Leon Kolodziej, DC, MH, Ph.D., is a medical herbalist and chiropractor who has practiced for nearly 30 years on the northwest side of Chicago.

Reading Pet Food Labels

In this new world of big, pet food consumers have to be more attentive and interrogative than ever, because it is important and their pets can’t ask.

Creating a Healthy Family Dynamic

With stimulation overwhelming them from school, home, friends and technology, children are more stressed than ever before. Amanda Hinman, co-founder of the Hinman Holistic Health Institute with her husband, Mike, says children need a holistic approach that addresses how they eat, live and learn in order to grow and thrive.