What is your dog trying to tell you?4 min read
We might all think we know what our dogs are trying to tell us, but experts say their little signals could mean something entirely different.
From tail-wagging to rolling over, licking to teeth-chattering, they all have secret meanings to our pooches that we may not have realised.
Now Dr Scott Miller, regular vet on ITV’s This Morning, has released a new book Puppy Parenting to try to debunk the myths about what your pet’s behaviour really means.
Most of us associate tail-wagging with a happy or excited dog – but there can be lots of other reasons why your dog is wagging its tail. And the type of wag is very important in working that out.
While it can be a sign of happiness, a dog wagging their tail can be a sign of them feeling over-stimulated, frustrated or simply assessing the situation in front of them.
“When your dog meets another dog and they start wagging their tails we get all excited and think they want to play,” says dog trainer and canine expert Leon Towers, who features on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Pets.
“But they could attack. When their tail is upright and flicking quickly people mistake that for friendliness, but in fact it is the complete opposite.”
However, a ‘helicopter 360 degree’ wag with a wiggling bottom is a ‘surefire sign of friendliness’, according to Dr Miller’s advice.
Read more: Health habits that can help a 40-year-old increase their life span by six years
Exposing their belly
If our dog rolls over onto its back, we automatically think they want a tummy rub.
“Sometimes when a dog rolls over, they can be feeling nervous or submissive,” says Towers. “You will know because when they go to ground and show their tummy, if they are kind of curled up they look vulnerable or a bit scared.”
Watch now: Missing dog reunited with owners after couple find it sleeping in their bed
While we chatter our teeth when we feel cold, it usually means something totally different in canines. It could be due to dental problems, says Dr Miller, or could also be a sign of nervousness.
“Dogs can also chatter their teeth when they sniff or lick where another dog has urinated,” says Towers.
Some owners think their dog licking means they are nervous, but Towers says it can mean the opposite.
“Some owners hate being licked on their legs or arms, but licking can be a sign of stress, or a sign of relaxation,” he explains. “Dogs find it very soothing or almost like a form of meditation. So if they are licking you or licking themselves it doesn’t always mean they are nervous.”
But while we might not always understand our dogs’ signals, they sometimes get confused by us too.
Read more: How house plants can ease anxiety and encourage happiness
“Dogs don’t have any concept of time,” says Towers. “Whereas humans have been using the same techniques for the last 90 years, we only know the time because we went to school, that’s how we were taught the time. So it is impossible for a dog to know the time.
“When you have these training books telling you to tell you to leave your dog for five minutes when you first leave them in the house, then leave them for 10 and then 20, it is actually worse doing that because they have no concept of time. So you flitting in and out all the time actually creates anxiety.”
Towers advises it is better to leave the dog for longer periods, up to a maximum of three hours.
Read more: Pugs’ high health risks mean they can’t ‘be considered a typical dog’
Punishing past behaviours
While it may be tempting to punish dogs for ruining the carpet or chewing furniture, telling a dog off for something that happened in the past will only confuse them.
Dr Scott says that canines have no concept of reflecting on what they’ve done in the past and will think their owner is angry at them for their current behaviour.
“I hear all the time people shouting at their dog for urinating inside,” adds Towers. “But even if you catch them mid-flow the worst thing you can do is shout at them because what happens is that they become nervous to urinate.
“Instead don’t say anything and just take them outside. Also when puppy training, please don’t use puppy pads. By doing that you are teaching your new puppy to wee inside. Instead every hour take the puppy outside and don’t praise them until they have finished going to the toilet, then give them lots of praise.”