Dog owners have probably asked themselves this question a millions times. If our dogs could speak in our language, what exactly would they be saying? Thankfully, Fido doesn’t need to speak English or Mandarin to let us know what he’s feeling or thinking; all we need to do is learn how to read his actions and behaviour.
Is he happy?
A happy dog is a relaxed dog. When he wags his tail, the tail wags his entire body. His ears will also be relaxed; his pant will be soft, his eyes will be soft as well.
A happy dog that is interested in an activity is plain to see. When Golden Retrievers fetch a ball, you see them running all out, excitement in every inch of their bodies. The same goes for other dogs when presented with a hint of the activity that they love – they may dash out the door in pure happiness, wag furiously, bark, grin, or even spin in circles.
Is he concerned?
When your dog meets other dogs for the first time, notice his body language. Is his tail wagging his entire body? Usually when Fido meets a new dog for the first time, he’s more likely to stiffen his tail and wag it in a way that doesn’t wag the body. This is the tail wag that says, “I’m assessing this new dog right here.”
If you notice the tail stiffen and stop wagging, it may be a sign of heightened alert. When Fido gets nervous, he may draw his ears closer to his head, pant a little faster, and close his mouth, so as to sniff and check everything out. Dogs can also widen their eyes to let in more light to assess a new object or creature.
Is he scared?
Many owners tend to confuse scared behaviour with shame/guilty behaviour. For example, you come home from work and find that Fido has made a mess of your living room. You shout and express strong disapproval and Fido crouches low to the ground and tucks his tail between his legs. You think he’s being sorry, but he’s actually afraid – Fido is afraid of what you might do to him.
On the other hand, dogs that are feeling threatened by something or something unfamiliar to them, will adopt a defensive posture. This means that he’s getting ready to fight. His body language may appear like this: Fido will go rigid and stand tall, to make himself look bigger, and his tail will go very high and stiff. Most of the time, dogs are just waiting for the threat to go away.
Is he angry?
Some owners who leave their dogs at home for long periods tend to rationalise that their dogs take out their anger at them by destroying furniture or making a mess of the home. On the contrary, these dogs are simply displaying separation anxiety. Other dogs may do this because they do not get adequate attention or exercise. To combat this problem, you could arrange for a pet sitter to accompany Fido, or try to spend more time with him and take him out for long walks.