By John Woods
Most dog parents will tell you they can communicate with their canine companions. But how?
It’s all in body language. Specifically, dog body language.
Fido is communicating with us all of the time, from a simple bark to a playful bow. It’s up to us as dog parents to pick up on these cues and understand what our dogs are trying to say. To help you out, here’s a simple framework for beginning to understand dog body language.
“TEB” – Tail, Eyes and Body is an acronym that professional dog trainers use to interpret how dogs are communicating with them. In some institutions this has also been expanded to BEET or BEETS by with the addition of Expression and Stress. However, TEB is the default practice as it focuses exclusively on the dog’s body language while Expression and Stress are observed, rather than displayed.
TEB should always be observed in its entirety, so the tail, eyes, and body together, rather than just one body part. Here are some real-world examples of dog body language and how you can read cues from your own dog.
You can learn a lot about a dog’s intention from their tail, but not everything.
When looking at a dog’s tail, there are typically four positions:
A tucked tail, along with no eye contact and flat ears, is normally a sign of a fearful submissive dog. And a dog with a vertical tail, alert ears, direct gaze, and a stiff body is displaying dominance or aggression. It’s not just the vertical tail, direct gaze, or alert ears which mean the dog may be showing dominance, it’s all of these body language signs together which give us the clue.
Your dog’s eyes can have many states, however, two to watch for are “relaxed” or “aggressive.”
Dog trainers typically look for dilated pupils or fixed gazes. The former indicates a sign of a relaxed and happy dog, the latter an aggressive dog. When a dog’s eyes are fixated on something and you can see the whites of their eyes this can be another cue they are dominating or becoming aggressive.
Like Fido’s tail, his body can reveal lots of his intentions before he shows a behavior. Dog professionals term the body soft (relaxed) or stiff (tense) when it comes to using TEB.
To identify stiffness, look at the hackles. Normally raised hackles are a sign of a stiff body. Ears will also be perked and tails vertical and stiff (with no wagging). All of these body language examples can be a sign of aggression or dominance in a dog.
The opposite of stiffness in a dog’s body is relaxation. A combination of body language cues can help you to understand if your dog is relaxed. Their eyes will be dilated, ears relaxed, and tail relaxed too. A relaxed tail normally is a horizontal tail with a long gentle wag, or a tail pointing down (which isn’t tucked).
When walking your dog or observing him or her with other dogs, make sure you look at their tail, eyes, and body to understand what’s going on. Keep in mind however that when dogs play they can display some body language signs that typically signify aggression, but it isn’t until we look at all of their body parts, and the other dog’s behavior, that we can understand how playful or aggressive our dogs are being.
Learning these basic elements will hopefully encourage you to go on and learn more about dogs and how they communicate with each other and their world around them. Pay attention to the cues your dog is giving you, and do your best to learn your dog’s own cues for when they’re relaxed or stressed.
John Woods is a member of the association of professional dog trainers, a dog lover, and founder of All Things Dogs – a digital dog publication aiming to teach 40,000,000 people how to care for dogs.