How to Read Your Dog

A person’s eyes might be the window to his or her soul. We learn to read other people through eye contact, facial expression and body language -- not to mention through what they say to us!

But your best indication of what’s on your dog’s mind comes through his tail. By learning to pay close attention to this literal flag and interpreting its signals, you can better meet your dog’s needs and learn to relate to your best pal.

How Your Dog Communicates

Dogs communicate with their entire bodies. When you get home from work, your dog probably wiggles and waggles from top to bottom, eyes alight, ears perked up and voice greeting you with short, high-pitched yaps. But even if you were to ignore these clues, you could ascertain all the information you need to know to make an accurate judgment about your dog’s mood from his tail alone. Consider these basic communications:

  • The excited wag: This is the equivalent of the human shimmy. The tail whips back and forth; the body fizzes into a frenzy to indicate happiness and pleasure.
  • The wary wag: If your dog is unsure, he might slowly move his tail back and forth at an angle parallel to the ground. Your dog’s head might dip slightly.
  • The sentinel wag: Beware the animal that stands at alert with tail wagging high in the sky. This position is that of a guard dog ready to respond to action.
  • The alpha wag: The dominant dog will let you know he thinks he’s the one in control by hoisting a stiff tail high up in the air and then swinging it back and forth at a quick pace.
  • The beta wag: A submissive dog will drop his tail and quiet its movement. He might even hide it between his legs in a sign of surrender.

Get to Know Your Dog

Every dog has dozens of wags in his repertoire to communicate with you. The key, then, is to slow down and analyze them. It’s important to get to know your own dog well, notes Exceptional Canine expert trainer Stacy Braslau-Schneck. A normal expression can vary from breed to breed and from dog to dog. If you spend more time watching how your dog reacts to situations, you’ll know what is normal. And you’ll be better prepared if your dog is fearful or wary.

by the Editors of Exceptional Canine