Dog Body Language

When a dog’s fear or anxiety emotional reflex is triggered, a surge of adrenalin and cortisol releases into the bloodstream.
The outcome of this physiologic stress response, seen through the dog’s behaviour i.e. their body language, can last up to 72 hours.

Remember: The dog does not choose to display the physiologic stress responses.
The body language comes from the subconscious emotional reflex! 
So a dog does not “choose to be naughty” or “choose to be stubborn”, they are simply reacting emotionally to their environment based on previous experiences. 

Because canines have a specific way of communicating stress, that is different to ours, as pet owners we need to become attuned to the subtle body language signs our dogs display to help reduce their anxiety.

Behavioural displays we may see include any combination or variation of the following:

  • panting
  • pacing
  • nose/lip licking
  • yawning
  • thumping heart rates
  • hypervigilance (being on high alert)
  • cowering
  • rolling themselves on their back with tail and feet tucked in
  • freezing
  • muscle tension including jaw tightness
  • hiding
  • avoidance behaviours (turning head away or avoiding eye contact)
  • “whale eye”
  • if unmanaged can lead to direct eye contact, stiffening, growling snapping and biting.

The variation of body language displays above will depend on:

  • Temperament (genetic predisposition to being more introverted vs. extroverted)
  • Age and developmental stage
  • Presence of sexual hormones (testosterone and oestrogen)
  • Learning process from previous general life experiences
  • Learning from previous training methods used
  • Dog’s environment and level at which their basic needs are

​Here is a collection of images I put together to help you learn how to read the subtle differences in Tense Vs Relaxed behavioural displays dogs show.

Relaxed vs Tense Dog Body Language.pdf

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The BSAVA has produced a great image we can use as a guide to explain the escalation of Body Language signals that lead to aggressive displays. 
Focus on the Green/Yellow/Red categories, rather than each “step” as such. Each dog is individual and may not show all of these or may show them in slightly different order. 
Aim to recognise your dog’s “Green” level signs and help them cope by either removing them from the situation or use Classical Conditioning to change the emotional link with that trigger. 

Subtle Fear and Anxiety Body Language.png

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Remember to always see the world from your dog’s perspective, rather than from what we assume they see. 
This will go a long way to helping them feel more comfortable and reduce the need for them to display coping strategies. 
These coping strategies we often see as “undesirable” behaviours. 
However, remember that dogs rely on us to keep them safe and comfortable within their own limitations. 
So respect what your dogs are telling you, subtaly, and they will be happier!

How Not to Greet a dog.jpg

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How to Greet a Dog.pdf

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Clinic is located:

2 Ford Rd (corner of Ford Rd and Beattie Rd, entrance is opposite Global Footware) Coomera 4209

Details :

Phone: 1800 DR NELA (1800 376 352)
Email: info@calmcompanions.com.au