Unfortunately for dog owners, they don’t speak human and we can’t speak dog. However, man’s best friend is still always communicating with us. If you pay a little attention you can figure out what your buddy is feeling through facial expressions and body language.
Studies show that dogs have rich emotional capabilities in line with our own. A joint effort between People for Animals and Cruelty-Free International concluded using MRI brain scans that dogs have an equivalent emotional intelligence to human toddlers. This means they can go well beyond simple happy, sad, mad and can feel more complicated things like jealousy, anxiety and grief. They are able to display very human-like behaviours such as selflessness, tolerance and fairness - things even some people have trouble with.
So why does this matter? Our dogs pick up what we want from them through tonal cues in our voices as well as our own body language. If we can figure out what our dogs are trying to say in return it can help foster a better understanding, a stronger bond, a happier dog and, practically speaking, an easier time with training. You can take advantage of good moods for compliance and work to fix bad moods early, saving everyone some frustration.
But what do these moods look like?
Happiness is usually an easy one. A calm, content dog will be relaxed with upright ears, a high-held tail, gentle behaviour and often an open mouth with a hint of a smile! A bouncy, excited dog will be jumping around and wagging its tail to display its joy.
Fear.Nobody wants their dog to be scared. If you notice flat ears, a tucked tail, standing fur and a tense body, chances are something scary is going on for your pet. This could be any number of things from loud noises to uncertain situations. If you can pick up on these behaviours quickly you can help them feel more secure.
Anxiety is no fun for us or our pets. Dogs can be prone to separation anxiety and general anxiety triggered by discomfort. Some of their behaviours can be obvious such as compulsive actions like excessive chewing or tail chasing. Others can be mistaken as no big deal. Yawning, licking and panting seems like standard dog behaviour, but a little more than usual could mean your dog is uncomfortable and anxious.
Jealousy - the green-eyed puppy. Dogs actually have an innate sense of fairness, and they pick up that they aren’t being treated fairly; he got TWO treats and I only got one!They will respond to this in opposing ways. They might try to get lots more of your attention to compensate or punish you with the silent treatment. This will depend on your pet's personality.
Grief, another very human experience, can occur in dogs for similar reasons; loss or big changes. And they react the same ways. Dogs can fall into depression when they experience grief, with lack of appetite, excessive sleep and low energy being common behaviours.
Anger! Aggression is one of the more concerning behaviours for dog owners, no matter who or what it’s displayed towards. Stubborn behaviour, growling, barking, snapping and biting all indicate your dog is mad. They often bare their teeth as a threat and may attempt to mouth and muzzle punch you as an attempt at dominance. If aggression is an ongoing issue for you and your pet, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.