Dog Body Language: Practice Reading the Signs

Reading dog body language – certified professional trainers can never have enough practice! Review the photo and brief scenario description provided below. Compare your thoughts and interpretations with our comments below.

Scenario Description:

This is a picture of a medical carry taken midday in Texas in June. The dog has a large accumulation of burrs under her armpits matting the hair and making movement painful. Pain was evidenced by a severe limp. She is being transported to a rehabilitation area.

What do you see?

1. Context.

As professional dog trainers familiar with body handling, we know that many dogs don’t enjoy being picked up. We know based on the scenario description that the dog may be physically uncomfortable or even in pain due to the burr matted hair. Be careful! Don’t let the context and the expectations that you may have based upon that context trump the dog’s body language.

2. Body Posture.

Body posture is difficult to see here since the dog is not bearing her own weight. The loosely dangling legs, however, are some evidence of relaxed body posture.

3. Facial Expression.

Relaxed facial muscles combined with the upturned corners and slight parting of the mouth create what is frequently described as a “smile.” Upturned corners with tight facial features or a closed mouth may not lead to the same conclusion. But this dog evidences all three characteristics.

4. Other Evidence of Distress.

Panting can be a sign of distress. In a still photo, the rate of the dog’s breathing is not evident, and a rapid rate of breathing can also be a sign of distress. Here, the relaxed facial muscles provide some evidence that the panting portrayed in the picture is not rapid; additionally, the tongue is relaxed – it will be more spatulate when the dog is tense. We do know that the picture was taken midday in June in Texas. Some panting would be expected based upon environmental conditions.

5. Summary

Happy, relaxed, and comfortable. This dog does not show signs of extreme stress or distress. This photo is an excellent example of how important it is to observe body language. The context predicts a strong likelihood that the dog would be uncomfortable, but her body language says otherwise.

If you’re not satisfied with how your interpretations compared with the final analysis, don’t worry! Keep practicing. Check back for more photo posts with analysis. And attend the upcoming September 2013 seminar “Canine Body Language” hosted by Raising Canine.

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