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How to Read a Dog's Body Language: Deciphering Canine Non-verbal Cues

by Justin Girdler |

Unlike us humans, dogs cannot speak for themselves, and they may not always be able to express their discomfort when injured or sick. 

Though they lack the verbal ability to communicate their feelings, dogs can still speak to you in a different way–and that’s through their body language.

So, if you’re wondering how to read a dog’s body language, just know that at first, it may not be easy to decipher these non-verbal cues. but you’ll be able to easily pick up on them when you know what to look for.

Aside from barking, there are many ways your dog can communicate with you, and these can be in the form of wagging its tail, whimpering, panting, or whining.

How to Know If Your Dog Suffers From Pain?

Wondering why your dog is acting differently than usual? They may be experiencing extreme discomfort. It’s important to pay close attention to the body language of your dog in pain

For instance, your pup might be suffering from leg-related injuries if it's hopping around on one leg or whimpering after every step. But some signs are more subtle than the obvious cues.

If your dog is shaking and limping, it could be due to an underlying chronic or degenerative bone condition. Sudden onset of limping may also happen due to trauma. 

To further understand your dog’s body language, here are some tell-tale signs that your furry companion is in distress or pain:

Obsessively Licking a Body Part

One of the common signs your dog might be injured is when it licks its paws or other body parts more than usual. Licking is typically harmless behavior, but obsessive licking is a symptom of a larger problem. 

If your canine is in pain, instinctive it will reach for the affected body part to lick or scratch it. You’ll notice this especially in dogs that are fresh out of surgery. 

Even though the pain is internal, they will still attempt to soothe themselves by excessively licking the area.

Whining, Shaking, Panting, and Whimpering

Injured pups whine to express their distress or discomfort. Sometimes, they’ll yelp loudly without seeming cause as a call for help. 

This behavior, coupled with heavy panting and shaking, indicates a severe problem. Moreover, a dog that is shaking and limping may be experiencing muscle tremors caused by distemper, an upset stomach, or illnesses like hypoglycemia and brain disease. 

If these symptoms persist, contact your vet immediately, as your pet may have an underlying chronic illness or unknown trauma.

Showing Disinterest in Normal Activities

If your dog isn’t interested in its usual walks or playtime activities, you may need to keep a close eye on them for any issues. Lethargy, fatigue, and lack of appetite suggest that something is wrong. 

Illnesses that accompany these symptoms vary from a simple muscle sprain to more severe conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

Sudden Limping

Lameness happens when your pet finds it difficult to walk or bears abnormal weight on one of its legs. If this occurs suddenly, it may point to a leg injury. 

Otherwise, degenerative or chronic bone conditions like Osteoarthritis and Dysplasia can also cause a limp that worsens over time. 

Common Non-Verbal Dog Cues and What They Mean

Non-verbal dog cues don’t only reveal when your pet is sick or injured. Interpreting basic dog body language also allows you to tell when your pet is happy or angry. Here are some other common canine non-verbal cues to help you communicate with your pet.

Wagging Its Tail 

If your dog is happy and relaxed, it usually wags its tail from side to side. However, dogs convey other emotions aside from excitement when wagging their tails, and it may not always be a sign of a happy dog's body language.

An uncomfortable or intimidated pet may lift its tail high and move it back and forth, keeping its body rigid and erect. And if your pup lowers its tail while wagging slowly, it may be hesitant and anxious about something. 

Lowering Body to the Ground

One of the ways dogs show humans affection is by being submissive. They’ll typically lower their body with their ears back and down to catch your attention–this means they trust you and are ready to be petted. 

Note that this particular dog’s body language sometimes may also mean they're feeling scared or threatened. So, exhibit some caution when going to pet a dog exhibiting this behavior.

Raising Head and Standing Erect

You may notice it when your dog making its body appear larger while standing erect with its head held up high. This could be a sign of aggression, in response to the internal pain it is experiencing. Especially if your pup is usually submissive, it could be reacting to an ache. 

If your dog tilts its head when you’re speaking, it could be paying close to what you’re saying even without understanding your words. Their posture also reveals their feelings. For example, if your dog arches away from you or keeps its body straight, it may be asserting its dominance.

Making Eyes Appear Smaller or Larger

Aside from posture and tail movement, facial expressions are also key non-verbal cues from dogs. Like humans, a dog’s eyes convey feelings. 

If your dog looks frightened, its eyes may look larger or smaller than usual. Meanwhile, droopy eyes may indicate that your pup is not feeling well.

Snarling or Baring Its Teeth

Don’t get too close if your dog snarls his teeth angrily–this basic dog body language cue is an obvious warning to stay away or let your pup calm down before engaging. Dogs display aggression by baring their teeth, and in some cases, it also means your pup is feeling overwhelmed or guarding its territory.

Pay Attention to What Your Dog Is Trying to Tell You

Watch out for your puppy’s body language and mood changes as it grows older. It will help you identify the body language of a dog in pain and address early symptoms of a chronic illness. 

If you like to get more helpful tips on how to take care of your dog, visit the Lick Sleeve blog today.

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