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  • Writer's pictureNicola Smith

Dog Body Language - 8 Signs Your Dog Needs Space

Dog Body language

Ever heard someone say, "oh the dog's tail is wagging, so this means they are friendly!" Well if you didn't know already, this is not true! Dogs can also wag their tail when they are about to attack or feel threatened or anxious.

Dogs use what we call Calming Signals to alert other dogs and us when they feel stressed, anxious or want to play. By recognizing our dog body language, dog owners will be better equipped with the skill set to help create a meaningful bond based on mutual trust and understanding with their dogs.

The many different types of calming signals are broken down into three categories, Increase Distance, Decrease Distance and Come Play With Me.

In this blog post, we will look at 8 calming signals under the Increase Distance category, meaning your dog wants more distance between them and what is happening.

For those of you who visit dog parks with your dogs, unless you understand these signals and how to spot them, you shouldn't be!

If we can read these signals, we can help our companions feel more comfortable in situations that may be overwhelming. Knowing these cues may, in severe cases also prevent a fight from breaking out or potentially save you or someone else from getting bitten.


1. Flagging Tail / Tail Wagging

One of the Calming Signals indicating increasing distance is tail wagging. A dog's tail can provide insight into its current state of mind and intentions, especially in a situation like a dog fight. Before getting into a physical altercation, dogs will often begin to wag their tails rapidly, making it look to the untrained eye like they are happy and excited. However, this is a sign of aggression and dominance. This behaviour is thought to be the canine language used to tell the other canine that they are not intimidated by them and are ready to fight. It can also be seen as an attempt at establishing dominance over the other canine. In any case, it is crucial to recognize that rapid tail wagging can signal a dog's readiness for aggression and should be respected as such.


2. Leaning Forward

When a dog leans forward with their ears held forward and tension in its body and mouth, it usually indicates that the dog is feeling anxious or uncomfortable. This posturing can also come up when a dog claims something or someone. For example, you are sitting on the couch, and your dog comes and leans forward over you; in this case, your dog may be claiming you.


3. Lowered Head or Neck

When a canine lowers their head and neck, it is often interpreted as a sign of submission called an appeasement gesture. This motion can mean that the pup accepts and submits to whatever their human or canine companion tries to convey. By lowering their heads and necks, dogs sometimes communicate that they don't want any trouble or conflict; they are trying to avoid or end a negative situation.

It is also possible to see a lowered head and neck when a dog guards a toy, space or object. The guarding stance will look very different from the first described because they will have a very stiff body and ears forward. If your dog is making this motion while guarding a toy or object, it's a good idea to see a qualified dog trainer to help them work on resource guarding.


4. Seeking Height

From canine language, there can be many reasons our dog seeks height. Dogs sometimes will seek elevation to assert their dominance when they feel threatened or scared and want to distance themselves from a perceived threat.

As a Dog Walker, I have seen this a handful of times when I have arrived at a home to walk a dog I have never met or do not know well. They will climb the stairs to an elevated position, often followed by barking or growling, alerting me that they want space.

Height seeking can also show up as jumping onto people or mounting other dogs. When dogs do this, the body is usually stiff and tense.

Dogs sometimes also seek elevation for comfort or a better view of their surroundings. Sitting on higher surfaces could also allow dogs to be closer to food sources, providing them an additional sense of security. Regardless of the motivation, dog behaviour reveals that height is an essential source of communication and safety for canine species.


Dog Hard Stare
5. Hard Stare

The dog's stare can signify aggression or protection when feeling threatened, such as when they sense an unfamiliar person or animal entering its territory. It may also indicate a lack of trust in the situation. Dogs may also give a hard stare when feeling anxious or stressed. Other body language cues, such as lip-licking, a stiffened body, and lowered head or tail tucking, often accompany this behaviour. Dog owners need to recognize these signs of discomfort so that they can take steps to help their dogs feel more comfortable.


6. Freezing

Freezing can be a dog's way of communicating fear or uncertainty. Dogs may freeze when they are startled, scared, overwhelmed, or intimidated. Dogs may also freeze when they are uncertain or confused by an unfamiliar situation. This may also be a last warning sign before they engage in a fight or attempt at a bite.


7. Barking

Barking is one-way dogs communicate, often used as an alert or to ward off potential threats. A Distance Increase bark could happen in a backyard, in the home when a noise is heard, or in an area where your dog feels confined; this type of barking means your dog wants space. Usually, the dog is either backing away or standing very still.


8. Claiming Territory

Dogs claim territory by marking it with visual and olfactory clues. This is most commonly done through urine marking, which can be seen when dogs pee on trees, fire hydrants, people, other dogs, or other objects in an area.


Thanks for reading this blog and I hope that you have learnt some helpful tips into understanding dog body language and when your dog or others need space. As dog owners we all want to create a safe and secure environment for our dogs and humans to thrive.

Stay tuned for more Dog Training tips by Nicola


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