Do you ever get the feeling that your dog is trying to tell you something? If you’re regularly met with those pleading eyes, or if you’re just interested in learning more about dog behavior and how you can use it to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you, WINPRO Pet has created this article just for you.
Dog behavior doesn’t have to be confusing, complicated, or out of reach for the average dog owner. Here are some of the most common behaviors or “quirks” that dogs show, what may be causing them, and what you can do to help.
A Quick Caveat
Before digging into the real meat of dog behaviors, it’s important to address an important fact. First and foremost, if your dog is exhibiting new or different behaviors (especially if they are concerning), you should always start by taking your dog to the vet.
Certain problem behaviors, like biting or being destructive around the house, can be caused by physical issues. Cognitive decline associated with age, discomfort, urinary tract infections, and parasites can all be silent on the outside but create behavioral issues from the inside. Ruling out any physical causes is essential before treating behavioral concerns. We can’t stress this enough.
How Dog Body Language Can Help
When it comes to figuring out what your dog may be thinking or feeling, it really all comes down to animal behavior. Lucky for all of us, there are people who study this for a living and can really help to give us some insight.
Animal behaviorists are one of your best resources for not only learning about your dog but also giving you the keys to making their life better. They can also help you curb problem behaviors by understanding them, which can help you tackle the actual reasons they’re happening.
When it comes to animal behavior, dogs are actually a lot more complex than we give them credit for. Even though they can’t use English to explain their feelings (which is probably a good thing, if you think about it), they use their entire body to communicate.
Through their postures, their facial expressions, and even their vocalizations, dogs can just as effectively communicate as a lot of people can! It comes down to learning how to read and decipher them.
It wouldn’t be a conversation about how to interpret your dog’s behavior without actually discussing what their body language means! While we can’t discuss every single motion that they make, we can talk about the most important factors to help you decipher them.
So… tail wags seem like they’d be pretty obvious. A wagging tail always equals a happy dog, right? Although that can definitely be the case, it isn’t always. Not taking the time to really figure out what your dog’s (or any other dog’s) wagging tail means can actually put you in danger if misinterpreted.
It’s best to think of a wagging tail as a sign that the dog is somehow emotionally involved in the situation. This doesn’t always mean that they’re excited about it. Tail wagging can also be a sign that the dog is frustrated or angry.
To really figure it out, take it one step further and pay attention to the small details - where exactly your dog is holding its tail, how fast it is moving, and which way it is wagging.
The Position Of Your Dog’s Tail Speaks To Their Confidence Level
When it comes to positioning, you’ll look at where it is located in relation to the ground. The higher their tail is, and the further it is away from the ground, the more confident that they’re feeling. A dog with his or her tail held high is feeling assertive, while one with their tail tucked between their legs is probably afraid or stressed.
How Fast The Dog Tail Is Moving Relates To How Engaged They May Be
After paying attention to where your dog is holding their tail, the next factor to consider is how fast it is moving. You don’t have to break out your radar to officially clock it, but it should be pretty obvious overall. If it is swinging back and forth wildly, your dog is fully alert and engaged in whatever is happening around them.
However, that doesn’t always mean that they’re happy, so keep that in mind. If it’s moving slowly, they are more likely to be feeling relaxed. And if it seems to be held stiffly, that’s usually a sign of aggression.
The Direction Their Tail Is Wagging Can Give You Even More Insight
Interestingly, there has been a lot more interest put into what the actual direction the dog tail is moving in means. Take this tail-wagging study, for instance. After research, they came to the conclusion that a dog who is wagging its tail more toward the right side of its body is likely to be feeling positively. The flipside was also found likely to be true—a left side wagging tail indicates that the dog is going through something they feel negatively about.
Then there’s the famous helicopter tail. This is almost always an indication that your pet is thrilled with whatever is happening, which is usually you getting home from a long day at work!
Keep The Whole Body Approach In Mind
Now that you know more about dog tail movements and what they may mean, you’re good to go, right? Not so fast! While the tail can tell you a lot about how your dog is feeling, it won’t tell you the whole story. What if your dog has a slightly raised tail that they are quickly wagging to the right but are staring at you with bared teeth?
You have to take the time to evaluate all of the signs your dog is giving you to be confident that you truly understand what they may be trying to tell you. Things like your dog’s health and wellness, particularly if they’re suffering from any conditions that may make it difficult to wag their tail comfortably (like joint discomfort), can also change the way they can express themselves.
Next, let’s look at a dog's eyes. Just like how we can get a pretty good sense of how someone is feeling by looking them in the eyes, dogs are also great communicators with their gaze and the way they make eye contact (and how long they do it for).
For example, if a dog you don’t know is staring you down and not breaking direct eye contact, you can be fairly confident that this is a warning that you are in danger.
This is especially true if they have dilated pupils or they are giving you what’s known as “whale eye," where they are showing you the white part of the eye, called the sclera. Squinty eyes, on the other hand, can be a part of a dog's submissive grin, which indicates appeasement as blinking can.
Lip-licking is another clue. If a dog is licking his or her lips, and it isn’t dinner time, it is most commonly believed to be a way for them to placate or appease you. If that goes one step further, and your dog is also drooling or panting, they may be trying to tell you that they are scared or unhappy.
Aggression comes in various forms and can have many different triggers, which is why it is one of the more difficult dog behaviors to figure out.
For instance, aggression in one dog can look “textbook,” like excessive barking, snarling, growling, or even biting. In other dogs, a tail that is held straight up along with raised hackles is all that you can see, with no verbal cues. Knowing your dog and what is normal for them makes a big difference. Even stillness can be a “tell” in some dogs.
Generally speaking, though, aggression tends to look the same — raised hackles (those hairs on the back of their neck), a high and wagging tail, a wrinkle in their muzzle, a short and C-shaped corner of the mouth, narrowed eyes, direct staring, and slow, methodical, even stiff movements. Just remember, when dealing with an aggressive or fearful dog, don’t run unless you have no other option.
Your dog behavior issues can be a result of a lot of different things, too. There is territorial aggression, resource guarding (especially food), protective aggression, fear aggression, and pain-related aggression. It can also be triggered by social phobias, predatory instincts, or the hormones associated with not spaying or neutering your pet.
In general, aggression should always be considered a serious problem to be managed by both your veterinarian and professional animal behavior consultants like dog trainers or a veterinary behaviorist due to the risk of injury to not only your dog but also yourself and the people around when it happens.
Anxious feelings and aggression get confused for each other fairly often, but there are slight differences in how this tension presents. Instead of a high and wagging tail, dogs are far more likely to tuck them in as a sign of fear. They will have raised hackles and stiff movements, like angry dogs, but also tend to drool, lick their lips, and do tongue flicking. They may lift a front paw when approached, as well.
Why Is My Dog Afraid?
As humans, we fear all kinds of things like airplanes, heights, not having enough money to pay our bills, or the death of a loved one. Dogs are much more simple creatures, mostly because they aren’t so far removed from their wild ancestors.
Normally, the underlying cause of fear in dogs is directly tied to instinctual behavior and leads to one of four different responses: fight, flight, avoidance, or surrender. Fight or flight is fairly straightforward. Avoidance tends to be seen as your dog ignoring potential triggers, and surrender is more of an acknowledgment of the trigger without having a strong reaction.
According to the American Kennel Club, some of the most common fears and phobias fall into four different categories:
- Sound: This includes things like fireworks, thunderstorms, or other loud and sudden noises. Herding breeds (Australian Cattle Dogs, Collies, etc.) may be especially susceptible.
- Blood Injection: If your dog is afraid of a trip to the veterinarian, it may be because of a phobia of needles.
- Situational: Separation falls into this category, as does any new or different experience.
- Strangers: New people, or even known people who may be wearing different clothes, can trigger a fear reaction in some dogs. Many dogs also have a greater fear of new men than women.
Keep in mind that every dog shows fear a little differently, especially depending on how they react to it. Dogs prone to exhibiting a flight response may run away and cower under the bed or in a different room, while those inclined to “fight” bare their teeth and may even attack.
Look for raised hackles (hairs on the back of the neck and by their tail), wide eyes, flattened ears, a tucked tail, and even panting or lip licking if you’re worried that you’re dealing with a scared dog.
Can My Dog Tell If I’m Afraid?
A lot of people misunderstand what it means when we say that dogs can pick up on human emotions. It’s not that our emotions are floating around the room and that dogs are sensitive to them in an empathetic way. Instead, it comes down to basic dog instinct and human body language.
Dogs have a pack mentality, and that desire for natural hierarchy leads them to watch the people they see as “leaders” very carefully. If you’ve noticed that your dog seems to stare at you a lot, it’s likely out of respect and acknowledgment of your dominance.
It’s because of that mentality that really being their leader when they are experiencing anxiety is essential to helping your scared dog calm down. Dogs learn by imitating the behavior of their pack so, if you can exhibit calm behavior in the face of fear, they will more likely be able to as well.
That can be a lot easier said than done, of course. If your dog is afraid of something that you’re also afraid of, like loud noises or snakes, you’ll have to learn how to control your fear as well.
If you’re afraid, the dog’s natural inclination is to step in as pack leader, which is why so many fearful dogs actually appear to be aggressive. It’s a free for all and, even if your dog is afraid, they will react to that fear by trying to control it themselves.
How Can I Comfort a Scared Dog?
Although this isn’t an option in every case, controlling the exposure your dog has to what scares him while you work on helping him learn to develop his “surrender” instinct can really help. You may want to combine this with other techniques that can help reduce stress, like supplements or thundershirts.
Essentially, you want to expose your dog to what scares him or her in a controlled environment, where you can be prepared to demonstrate calm, in-control behavior. Over time, your dog will learn that this trigger may be scary but that you are in control and can help them to feel in control as well.
In some cases, your dog’s phobia may be too much to handle at home. Dog behaviorists, as well as veterinarians, are trained to help modify bad behavior and bad habits in dogs and have a wide range of techniques and medications at their disposal.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help when you need it; that’s what the professionals are there for!
Keep in mind that behavior modification can be a lengthy process and requires consistency to address. You have to be committed to helping your scared dog because trying to address it inconsistently can actually worsen the issue. You’re not only helping your dog, but you’re also helping yourself. It’s well worth the time and effort.
Why Don’t Human Techniques Work on Scared Dogs?
Think about how you feel when you’re anxious. Your brain seems to be moving at a mile a minute, and your racing thoughts are usually always pointed towards all of the terrible things that can happen. It’s exhausting and overwhelming, to put it mildly.
However, when you’re feeling worrisome, you can rely on coping techniques and even medications to help you calm down. Having people there with you to tell you that you’re ok and that things are going to work out is hugely helpful.
Dogs don’t possess the ability to learn and grow from negative experiences the way that humans can. It's a common misconception that your canine companion needs the same comfort as you do. When we sit with our dogs and try to calm them down with soothing words, quality time, small treats like peanut butter, and petting their fur, we can actually reinforce the behavior we are trying to stop.
This really comes down to negative versus positive reinforcement. When you use human calming techniques on your dog, they learn that their fear is actually something that they get rewarded for. That means that they’re more likely to do the same thing when confronted with their fear next time because they’ve learned that fear = reward. However, punishment is also not the answer.
There is a safe way to help remedy common dog behavior problems, and it's enlisting the help of a trained professional—whether you want your dog to learn basic commands, to set clear boundaries with them, or to stop constant barking.
A common behavior issue that may be trying to tell us something is digging. If you’ve ever had your yard torn up by a dog digging holes, you already know the struggle. To truly understand this dog behavior and save your backyard, it’s important to look at the whys behind the digging and how you can help stop it.
Unfortunately, for some dogs, it comes down to simple genetics. Certain types of dogs, like terriers and hounds, were bred for their ability to literally dig out prey.
If you have one of these dogs, they may be digging out small animals like gophers or moles! Or it may be a result of their genes, and the digging is just normal, instinctual behavior (which can be difficult to stop).
Certain breeds, like huskies, are prone to digging in an attempt to cool down, as well. Even when it’s not hot out, that can be a difficult behavior to curb.
Digging can also be an attempt to escape or to relieve stress or nervousness. In these cases, you’ll want to make sure that your backyard is as safe as possible to avoid your dog actually getting out and getting hurt.
Then, see if you can identify the source of stress and redirect that energy elsewhere… like a dedicated toy, longer walks, or a supplement that can help to manage their mental health (like WINPRO Calming chews).
There aren’t many things that are cuter than puppy dog eyes. That sweet stare, begging and pleading you for a taste of your food or a belly rub, is enough to make many pet owners melt and give in to their demands. It’s hard to resist, and our dogs know it.
What isn’t quite so adorable is the noise that often comes with those eyes. No matter how much we love and adore our pups (which, for most of us, is a lot!), dog whining can be like nails on a chalkboard.
Why Do Dogs Whine?
There are a few primary reasons why dogs whine: to get something, boredom, self-expression, stress, fear, or pain.
- To Get Something: When it comes to our furry friends, dog whining is explicitly directed at getting something physical from you. An excellent way to tell if this is the case with your dog is to watch their eyes, especially if you’re eating.
- Boredom: These whines and sighs are pretty recognizable and very similar to what humans do when we’re feeling that way! It’s a way for them to vent and maybe even get a little attention from you.
- Self-Expression: For some dogs, whining is just how they express themselves. Dogs like this are difficult to train out of that behavior, so it’s often best to just embrace that you have a vocal dog.
- Stress: If your dog is whining due to stress, you’ll also see them doing different appeasement behaviors. Appeasement behaviors like lip licking, yawning, and avoiding eye contact help your dog tell whoever is around that they are not a threat. These are strong signs your dog is anxious about something.
- Fear: If your dog has their ears back, its tail tucked, and you can see the whites of their eyes while they’re whining, they’re likely terrified of something. Even if your dog is your best buddy, don’t approach them when they’re like this. Scared dogs can bite, even though they don’t mean it.
- Pain: Your dog either wants to tell you that they’re hurting somewhere because they trust you, or they’re trying to calm themselves down and make themselves feel better the only way they can.
If you notice symptoms of pain, make an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian right away, and don’t try to figure it out yourself.
What Can I Do About Dog Whining?
The first and most crucial step in addressing your dog’s whining is to pay attention to what’s going on around them when it happens. Those factors are a great place to start and guide you toward what you need to do next.
First, although it may be tempting, be aware that you can not punish a dog for whining. It can also lead to a lack of trust in your relationship, so they’ll be less likely to come to you in the future if they have something wrong. Find the cause of the behavior and fix it instead of doing something that can negatively affect your pet’s relationship with you.
For instance, if your dog is whining for behavioral reasons, you can use that to your advantage with training. Does your dog constantly whine when you have peanut butter? Don’t give in right away, but use peanut butter to train them to learn a new trick! That makes peanut butter a “high value” treat, so you’ll probably get a great response.
If you’ve figured out that your dog is likely whining because they’re frequently bored, try to provide them with new and different toys! You can also ensure that they’re getting enough exercise and maybe even train them to do a new trick or two!
As we briefly touched on already, always approach a dog that may be whining out of fear or pain very carefully (or not at all). Dogs experiencing serious emotional upheaval or unexpected pain can become aggressive, even if they don’t “mean it.” Avoid a situation where you get bitten by your dog by taking the time to evaluate the situation before just going in. Humans may want to be soothed and comforted when we’re going through something, but dogs do not.
Chewing is another problematic dog behavior, especially if the target of that chewing is your shoes or your home itself! In fact, chewing is one of the most common problems dog owners deal with (next to aggression).
Excessive chewing often starts in puppyhood as a way of helping their teeth hurt less as their permanent teeth start to grow in. If that behavior isn’t curbed in your new baby, it can turn into one that is all about chewing and not about physical discomfort. However, you should always have any dental issues ruled out by your veterinarian, whether you have new dogs or new behaviors in old dogs. And, even though they may be cute, never encourage your puppy to chew. What may be adorable in a puppy is far more dangerous in an adult dog, when a nip or snaps can do serious damage.
If you’ve ruled out physical issues and you’re dealing with an adult dog (and not a teething puppy), you’ll likely need to redirect the anxiety or frustration that is driving the chewing.
If you catch them chewing on something inappropriate, calmly and gently switch that object out with appropriate chew toys. Try to avoid yelling, as this can cause other issues. Praise your dog when they chew things they should and redirect them when they don’t.
Chewing is also associated with separation anxiety for much of the same reason. Keeping your dog out of areas where he or she isn’t able to do any damage (both to themselves and your things) and making sure that they have appropriate things to chew on can help. In some cases, you may also have to work to actually limit the time they spend alone.
For dogs, just like children, potty training comes with a learning curve. It’s perfectly normal for puppies to have accidents while they’re being trained, and they should never be punished for them (positive reinforcement only). However, if that behavior has extended into adulthood, it’s time to take a closer look at it.
Physical things like urinary tract infections, food sensitivities, or GI issues can cause dogs to literally not be able to hold it… leading to accidents in the house. Age can also be a factor, as older dogs have a much harder time going hours between being able to go outside than younger dogs do.
In fact, in the vast majority of cases, this problem can be curbed by taking your dog out more, ruling out medical issues, and being a little bit more flexible. It’s rare that accidents are related strictly to behavioral issues.
It can be difficult to tell whether your dog is tired or simply appreciating their life full of lounging around and being man’s best friend. Nevertheless, if you have noticed a difference in your dog’s energy levels, you should certainly look into it as it could be an underlying health problem.
When we’re talking about your dog being tired, we’re referring to drowsiness or sluggishness. If your usually outgoing and playful dog turns dull, there might be something wrong. Since dogs can’t communicate with us verbally, you have to pick up on their nonverbal cues. Lethargy can be considered a nonverbal cue.
A tired, lethargic dog likely won’t be interested in going for a walk. Alternatively, they might seem disinterested in eating their food or even playing.
Occasionally, this can be attributed to the weather. For example, if your area is experiencing abnormally high temperatures, this could be to blame. Another thing that could be to blame is exercise, such as being tired after going for a walk. These are considered normal cases that your dog would be tired.
If your dog doesn’t have a reason for its sleepiness, it could be a sign something is not quite right. But don’t panic! If you’re an attentive dog owner, you’ll notice differences, meaning you can quickly seek medical attention.
In addition, if you are concerned about your dog’s health, take them to a trusted veterinarian. This helps your dog tremendously and provides you with peace of mind!
Signs to Look Out For
Let’s talk about the signs that you should look out for if you notice that your dog isn’t acting quite like its usual self. This will help you figure out if something is wrong.
We also want to mention fatigue itself is a symptom that something is wrong with your dog. In some cases, it might be that they’re not feeling their healthiest. That means you will have to take steps to support them in improving their health.
- A Lack of Interest in Their Normal Activities: The first sign to look for is disinterest in their usual activities. If you take your dog for a walk every day, it should raise a red flag if they suddenly don’t want to go. This is a behavior that deviates from their usual and should be taken seriously.
- Weight Gain: Another potential reason that your dog might be lethargic is that they’re a bit overweight. For health reasons, it’s important to slim your dog down. Taking walks with your dog is an excellent start. You might also have to tweak their diet slightly but your veterinarian can provide you with the right advice.
- Your Dog Doesn’t Have Enough Water: Just like humans, water is crucial for dogs. Dehydration certainly can be the reason that your dog is tired. If you’re giving your dog water routinely and they seem to be drinking it abnormally quickly and are still parched, reach out to a vet to get their opinion on this situation.
How Do I Help My Tired Dog?
Much like human beings, there are many potential reasons why your dog might be tired. We recommend that you get a professional opinion on what might be wrong with your dog instead of letting it continue to happen.
Depending on the cause of your dog’s tiredness, your vet will suggest ways that you can treat it. That’s another reason why a veterinarian’s insight is valuable, as they will help you figure out where to go from here.
If you’re following the vet’s advice, you might be curious if there is anything more that you can do to support your sleepy dog. The answer is yes! It is always the right time to give your pet a helpful supplement to enhance their overall health. This will give them a boost, and therefore, could help reduce their tiredness while getting them back into their best shape.
Oh, happy dogs. These are the dogs we all want to see, and definitely the way we want our dogs to behave around us! Dog body language that may show you that your dog is feeling particularly content is fairly easy to spot because your dog’s body is as relaxed as their mind! In a relaxed body, look for a neutral position, with ears, eyes, muscles, and tail as relaxed as possible. They’ll also be more likely to lean into you during petting or just when you’re close by. If this sounds like your dog, congrats! You’re doing something right—and it's time to give your pup a belly rub!
As part of a dog’s natural self-grooming process, most dogs lick and clean their paws. If they’ve been in an especially dirty area, you may also notice them pulling at the hair between their paw pads with their teeth. That is just your pup’s way of keeping themselves clean. It may not be as obvious of a process as cats, who may spend hours every day grooming themselves, but it is entirely normal.
However, there’s also obsessive, sometimes damaging chewing. Think of anything that seems over the top or concentrated on one specific foot.
Why Is My Dog Licking Its Paws?
Beyond grooming, your dog may be licking its paws due to injuries, allergies, stress, or parasites:
- Injuries: If your furry friend is focusing all of their paw-licking effort on one foot, in particular, it may be a sign that they have an injury to address. These injuries can be anything, like a torn nail, a growth, or even a piece of glass. It may also be an invisible injury, like the aches and pains that can come from arthritis.
- Allergies: Many dogs, especially those with food allergies, tend to be obsessive foot lickers. Along with other common symptoms like “hot spots,” gnawing at the skin, and head shaking, dogs have many ways to tell us they’re itchy without being able to say it out loud.
- Stress: In some cases, obsessive foot licking can have a behavioral cause. Treating behavioral causes of paw licking is more complicated than a straightforward injury or allergy, unfortunately. To manage these concerns, you may have to resort to medication or consulting with an animal behaviorist, but you can also explore an all-natural route… WINPRO Calming supplements!
- Parasites: Although we don’t like to think about it, there are all sorts of small critters dying to make a meal out of our pets. Most of the time, using appropriate flea and tick medication can help your dog avoid issues, but occasionally they can still sneak through. That can include the more common fleas and ticks, but it can also be things like mange and various parasitic worms (gross, we know).
If you believe your dog has an injury, allergy, or parasite, be sure to take a trip to your vet as soon as possible to address the underlying concern!
Is Obsessive Paw Licking Dangerous?
It isn’t just the foot licking that can be a problem. In some cases, especially with obsessive paw lickers, there is an increased risk of your pup developing a secondary infection.
These infections mainly happen due to the moisture involved. You likely already know that yeast thrives in warm, moist environments, and adding saliva between the toes provides precisely what yeast needs to grow out of control. Secondary infections take an already not great problem and make it a lot worse, so jump on any new paw licking right away.
And finally, one of the more “annoying” dog behaviors out there… begging.
Unfortunately, when it comes to begging, it’s usually the human who needs to be trained more than the dog! Dogs learn very quickly how to “work” us, and they’ve seemingly perfected those puppy dog eyes through centuries of domestication. Likely, if your dog is having issues with begging you for food, you’ve probably accidentally trained them that it works.
Here comes the hard part. If your dog is begging, you have to either remove them from the room during dinner time or learn to ignore them. No more sneaking them a crumb under the table… your dog should only get treats as a real treat or a reward for good behavior. When you give them food when they beg, you’re teaching them that it is a reward, and they will continue to do it until they learn it will no longer pay off.
Although we may speak different languages, when you approach understanding your dog with an open heart and mind, you may be surprised by how much more you can learn about them. This only results in a closer relationship and a stronger dog/owner bond. Isn’t that what we all want?