DO you really know what your dog is telling you?
Reading their body language helps but that is not as straightforward as you might think.
Zazie Todd’s new book, Wag: The Science Of Making Your Dog Happy, draws on the latest canine science plus tips from vets, researchers and trainers to help you fathom your pooch’s inner life.
She says: “Any owner can make their dog happy but the key is reading their subtle body-language cues. It’s not simply about a wag of the tail or a tail between the legs. There are also far less obvious signs.”
Zazie, 51, was inspired to write her book after giving homes to pups Ghost, a Siberian husky/Alaskan Malamute cross, and Australian shepherd Bodger. She struggled to find advice on understanding them.
She adds: “Studies show people often miss their dog’s signs of anxiety or worry, at home or even in situations like at the vet, which many dogs find stressful. If a dog licks their lips and there is no food around, that’s often a sign of stress. Yawning can be too. Owners may assume the dog must be tired but they are telling you they are anxious.”
“Signs of fear can include leaning away, raising a paw and showing something called ‘whale eye’, where you can see the whites of their eyes. So it’s not just a case of looking for shaking and trembling. Signs your dog may be angry or potentially aggressive include a stiff posture or freeze and not just growls, snarls or snaps. An upright tail is also a sign to watch out for.”
“Many people struggle to tell play from fighting. Body language is again key. When a dog is playful, signs include a play bow (the front legs go down, the bum is in the air), a happy face (every owner will know their dog’s happy face), a bouncy gait as they move, self-handicapping (they don’t use their full force) and changes in activity such as from chasing to wrestling.”
Likewise, happiness is a combination of things. Zazie says: “A truly happy dog usually has an open, relaxed mouth as well as a waggy tail. And the whole body is wiggling. That’s like a broad, beaming smile.”
She adds: “Once you learn how to read your dog, it really helps you understand their needs. You can remove the stress or what’s making them anxious or unhappy — or do more of what makes them happy.”
Zazie’s book has more advice beyond body lingo. She urges owners to train dogs using food they like, as science shows dogs who have to work for rewards are happier. “Give them opportunities to use their nose,” Zazie says.
“Let them go on a ‘sniffari’ so they can check their ‘peemail’ — sniffing where other dogs have left markers. Also, create a safe place for them to relax in, supervise children when with your pup, play with your dog and, most obvious of all, take him or her for a walk. But keep a distance from other walkers at the moment.”
Thomas Baker, 33, from Leeds, has a seven-year-old poodle called Sammy that loves to bark.