“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” ― Martin Buber
Little did the Austrian-born Israeli philosopher from the 19th century know that this simple sentence would resonate so much with animal lovers out there. Not to be biased here, but if you have a dog, then you know that no truer words have ever been spoken. Whether you're in love with a great shaggy mutt or a tiny little yapster, you know that language is as important to animals as it is to us humans, especially when they're trying to convince you to give them another treat or go for another walk in the park.
Having said that, while most of the time you think you're perfectly tuned to the needs of your real best friend (let's admit it, your pet is always your best friend), sometimes it can also be difficult to understand the language they're speaking. Always remember, most animals tend to utilise body language to interact, and dogs aren't an exception.
Before you and your canine friend can engage in conversation for hours, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. It is important that you observe your dog's movement, behaviour, mannerism and so forth. Learning how your pet normally behaves will allow you to know when something is wrong and respond to subtle signals of stress and unhappiness, thus avoiding more aggressive and distressed behaviour.
Communication is always a two-way learning process, one where you have to transmit what you mean when you say “sit” or “no” because dogs cannot understand English. Only telling them to “sit” won't cut it since your dog won't be able to distinguish between that and all the gibberish you say around them throughout the day. However, alluring them into a sitting position and rewarding them heavily will encourage your dog to repeat the feat. Unlike popular belief, punishing your dog doesn't really help because it is proven that they don't have a great memory and are likely to forget how angry you were when they poop on your living room carpet. They may give the “guilty look” to appease you but know that he/she cannot relate that you are angry upon seeing their mess on your mom's favourite carpet from the trade fair.
Giving them behavioural cues through positive reinforcements, however, might just get the job done. Rolling over and exposing the belly can be a gesture to appease you, and a belly rub would be great reinforcement for such behaviour. Mounting or humping, on the other hand, can be signs of stress especially when a dog with low-confidence dog is trying to pledge it's loyalty with a higher confidence animal. Dogs usually have a variety of gestures and signs to express their discomfort – excessive yawning or sneezing, licking of the lips, cowering, whale eye (when the whites of their eyes are showing) or a stiff body, all can indicate that your canine friend is uncomfortable. Intervene and stop anything that you are doing which can lead to a state of uneasiness.
If you are trying to make your dog comfortable with something that it does not like, make sure you reward it with a lot of treats while introducing them to the uncomfortable thing slowly. The overwhelming amount of treats will motivate them to deal with it, even if they dislike it initially.
Tails are another fascinating way in which dogs communicate. A wiggly butt and therefore, a wagging tail, indicate the emotion of pure joy while a slowly wagging one can mean that it is in a cautious state. On the other hand, a stiff tail shows signs of alertness and a low tail can mean that your dog is content. Lastly, a tucked tail can be evidence that your pet is scared and shows a feeling of uncertainty.
Your dogs' ears can be another set of signals for you to understand when you are trying to interpret their mood. Pricked ears can be a sign that your dog is concentrating on something, curious, or engaged in play. It can also show intent, curiosity and that your dog is trying to catch sounds. Flattened ears, on the other hand, can indicate that your dog feels afraid and threatened. Ears that are close to the head and forward may also indicate aggression. Lastly, ears that are part way back but not completely flattened can also mean that your canine friend is unhappy or anxious.