Your dog's posture explained

Happy bulldog

Find out what
your pup is saying

Dogs communicate all the time. If you know what to look for, you can learn a lot from their posture and behavior. Find out what a dog behavior expert has to say about your dog's posture.

Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA Adoption Center, is an expert on dog behavior. She shares expert input on your dog's posture and what you can learn from your dog's behavior. With this insight from a pro, start listening to what Fido has to say.

How can I tell if my dog is happy?

Your dog has specific tells when it comes to happiness and contentment. Look for a loose tail wag, a gently parted mouth and a tongue partially sticking out. Wells says that a happy dog will usually have a neutral ear position, with the ears set neither back nor forward. Even your dog's eyes can show happiness. "Look for a relaxed eye with the pupils neither dilated nor constricted," Wells says, adding that the body should be in a neutral position with the weight distributed evenly.

What does it mean if my dog is walking low to the ground?

At times, your dog may stay hunched and low to the ground. What does this mean? "If the dog is fixated and walking slowly with a rigid tail and the hair on the back of the body standing up, that could be a predatory stalking behavior," says Wells. "If the dog is crouched on the ground and the tail is tucked, that could be a fearful posture." Context is important when you're trying to interpret your dog's posture and behavior. What is your dog looking at or reacting to?

Is my dog submitting or asking for a belly scratch?

There's no simple explanation for a dog rolling over and showing his belly, but it generally can mean one of two things. "It could mean a submissive posture," says Wells. "It's a behavior that a dog displays when it's approached and it wants to show the person or the other dog that it's the subordinate." This doesn't necessarily mean a dog is afraid. Your dog may be trying to diffuse a perceived confrontation. Of course, this can also be a learned behavior, especially if your pup is expecting a belly rub. How do you tell the difference? "The tail wouldn’t be tucked if it was a learned behavior," says Wells.

Is displaying teeth a sign of aggression?

Many people believe that a dog showing its teeth is an angry, aggressive dog. Wells points out that being able to see the teeth doesn't mean a dog is angry. In fact, it can be the equivalent of a tense or awkward smile from a human. "If it's a tight mouth, tightly pulled back, it's a submissive grin," she says. "You have to look at the ears as well. If the dog is lowering its body, slightly cowering down, it's a submissive grin, just like dogs grin when they're nervous. If accompanied by a growl, it could be a defensive baring of the teeth."

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Comments on "Your dog's posture explained"

Carole Richards January 09, 2014 | 2:42 PM

My two year old rescue male x breed dog who I have had for three months has started to what I would call posturing to some but not all dogs. He is bumping and sidling into the other dog with his face resting on the dog's nape of the neck. Is this natural, if not, how can I stop him doing this? Thankyou

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