We humans don’t speak dog but our dogs give us as well as other dogs’ distinct clues to how they are feeling with their body language. Learning how to read that body language can tell you if your dog is feeling safe and happy in any given situation or if they are scared, nervous, or angry.
I’ve borrowed a visual chart from DFWDK9 to show you how to interpret what your dog is saying with his physical appearance.
Normal Dog to Dog Introduction
It’s important how dogs react to the initial meeting. How that first meeting goes will determine how the dogs will interact. Dogs that are in the mood to play and happy with their potential playmate will:
- Move slowly
- Approach in a calm manner. Approaching too fast or with too much excitement may frighten to the other dog
- Avoid initial eye contact with the other dog
- May sniff any part of the other dogs body (including the rear)
- Ears will be soft and perked but not lead back on the head in an aggressive or anxious manner
Dogs At Play Behavior And Body Language
Here’s how to read your dogs body language to see if he’s happy and playful:
- A relaxed, non-tensed body
- Ears perked up in the natural position
- Playful bow with front legs on the ground and rear in the air
- Pouncing behavior or pawing in excitement
- A high pitched bark or growl (growling is a normal part of play but sounds and looks different than an aggressive growl)
- The dogs take turns being on top or bottom. This shows friendly play rather than dominate play
- Mouth open when play biting – the dog exercises bite control and is not chomping down hard or quickly when play biting
- Moving side to side rather than lunging forward
Dog’s generally play in short sessions. Excitement for too long can lead to the dog getting exhausted and therefore, agitated with the situation. Just as with humans, one dog may get tired of playing before the other and begin to give cues that enough is enough. However, the excited dog may not want to listen to the request to stop. Human supervision is important so that, if one dog isn’t getting the hint, their human can step in and separate the dogs, allowing them to calm down and reenergize before returning to play.
Signs That A Dog Is Feeling Scared Or Annoyed
Alternatively, when a dog does not want to play or the play turns to frustration, the dog will give body cues as well. You should watch closely for any of these signs and know that if they appear, it is time to immediately separate the dogs:
- Circling the other dog with neck arched, tail high (wagging or not), ears possibly back against head and stiff legs
- Standing with his head and neck over the other dog’s neck or shoulders. This is a sign of domination
- Staring at the other dog
- Tail tucked between his back legs
Keep in mind that a negative experience in play can lead to long-lasting behavioral changes in your dog. It’s important to keep the play safe and fun and stop any behavior that seems otherwise, immediately. It may be that a fun play date got too overwhelming and play drive turned to prey drive. Depending on the situation, the two dogs may or may not be able to play together again. If any aggression is stopped immediately, there is more hope for a happy play date at another time in the future.