When my dog sits next to her food bowl and looks at me, it’s easy to figure out what she’s trying to say. However, not all dog body language is that easy to figure out, and misunderstanding a dog - especially one you don’t know - can mean trouble. So, here’s a short course in canine communication, from the largest online community for healthy and green living, Care2MakeaDifference.com:

  • Tail-wagging isn’t always a good thing. Patricia Curtis, the author of City Dog: Choosing and Living Well With a Dog in Town, says that a friendly or curious dog holds its tail low and wags it in wide sweeps. When a dog’s tail is held high and moving in short side-to-side motions, it’s nervous and aggressive.
  • Look at the ears. According to Ivan Ojounru, who’s been writing about and training dogs for three decades, a friendly dog’s ears will be relaxed. When the ears are back, the animal’s afraid. Ears that’re pointed forward mean the dog’s on alert for trouble.  
  • The eyes are the windows to the soul. For dogs, eye contact is all about dominance. John Wright is an animal behaviorist and professor at Mercer University. He suggests that you make eye contact with your dog, but only glance at strange dogs when you meet them. Never try to stare down an aggressive dog - that could encourage an attack.
  • Pay attention to posture. When a dog bends down on its front paws and puts its rear in the air, it wants to play. Lying on its back is canine for, “You’re the boss”. A frightened dog crouches close to the ground with its tail between its legs, and unless you know the dog, be careful. A scared dog can become a “fear–biter.” If a dog shows signs of fear or aggression, give it space. Keep your hands by your sides, and don’t look it in the eye or turn your back on it. You want to speak in a soothing voice and back away slowly.

Knowing these tips will help make all your dog interactions good ones.