view all puppy resources

keller-chewning-TOXh_V2d1GU-unsplash
This quiz is a supplement to Problem Prevention: Resource Guarding. It is designed to help you better read your puppy’s body language as you approach, and to practice seeing the difference between a dog who is comfortable with approach, and one who is not. If the quiz is easy for you, great. If not, don’t despair. Reading dog body language takes practice. They are a different species! Take your time, watch dogs, ask questions, and you’ll get there.
Body Language

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

X Incorrect.  This dog has a stiff posture. His teeth are bared, and he is showing all of his front teeth and even the gums. His ears are back and pinched tight. His eyes are wide and round.

Correct!  This dog has a stiff posture. His teeth are bared, and he is showing all of his front teeth and even the gums. His ears are back and pinched tight. His eyes are wide and round.

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

Correct! This dog has a relaxed body. You can see that his hip is rolled over and he is ‘slouching’. His mouth is open, but he is not baring his teeth. His tongue is lolling, and his ears are soft. His eyes are squinty and soft – almond shape.

X Incorrect. This dog has a relaxed body. You can see that his hip is rolled over and he is ‘slouching’. His mouth is open, but he is not baring his teeth. His tongue is lolling, and his ears are soft. His eyes are squinty and soft – almond shape.

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

X Incorrect. This dog’s head is held unnaturally low, like a turtle trying to pull his head back in his shell. His ears are flattened tight against his head, and he is drawing his front legs up into his body, rather than holding them (and himself) in a more natural, balanced, and relaxed position. His mouth is closed tight, his eyes are wide and round.

Correct! This dog’s head is held unnaturally low, like a turtle trying to pull his head back in his shell. His ears are flattened tight against his head, and he is drawing his front legs up into his body, rather than holding them (and himself) in a more natural, balanced, and relaxed position. His mouth is closed tight, his eyes are wide and round.

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

X Incorrect. This dog is leaning away. His mouth is tight, his ears are back. His eyes are wide and his pupils are dilated. You can see the white of his eye. This is called “whale eye”. In this dog, the “whale eye” is caused by two things. First, his eyes are open wide. Second, he is looking at the person approaching, but he is pointing his nose to the right of the person. When a dog feels threatened, they will often keep their eye on the threat while pointing/leaning in the direction they would like to escape.

Correct! This dog is leaning away. His mouth is tight, his ears are back. His eyes are wide and his pupils are dilated. You can see the white of his eye. This is called “whale eye”. In this dog, the “whale eye” is caused by two things. First, his eyes are open wide. Second, he is looking at the person approaching, but he is pointing his nose to the right of the person. When a dog feels threatened, they will often keep their eye on the threat while pointing/leaning in the direction they would like to escape.

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

Correct! This dog has a balanced and natural posture. He has a lolling tongue, relaxed mouth, and his eyes are soft, squinty, and almond shaped.

X Incorrect. This dog has a balanced and natural posture. He has a lolling tongue, relaxed mouth, and his eyes are soft, squinty, and almond shaped.

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

Correct! This dog has a balanced and relaxed posture. His ears are held naturally and alert. His tongue is lolling and his mouth is relaxed. His eyes are somewhat rounded, but not overly so, and likely he is bright eyed with excitement (and perhaps they naturally have a less almond shape).

X Incorrect. This dog has a balanced and relaxed posture. His ears are held naturally and alert. His tongue is lolling and his mouth is relaxed. His eyes are somewhat rounded, but not overly so, and likely he is bright eyed with excitement (and perhaps they naturally have a less almond shape).

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

X Incorrect. This dog is leaning away. His mouth is held tightly closed, and his ears are pinched back. His eyes are very wide and round.

Correct! This dog is leaning away. His mouth is held tightly closed, and his ears are pinched back. His eyes are very wide and round.

This dog is being approached.

Do you think that he is comfortable being approached?
Or do you think he is feeling defensive?

Correct! This dog has relaxed and balanced posture. His mouth is open, and his tongue is resting over his teeth. His ears are soft, and his eyes are soft and almond shaped.

X Incorrect. This dog has relaxed and balanced posture. His mouth is open, and his tongue is resting over his teeth. His ears are soft, and his eyes are soft and almond shaped.

Understanding and interpreting dog body language can be challenging, but does get much easier with practice.  It can be difficult because some very similar looking body language signs can mean very different things. Often, it can help to take the entire picture and the situational context into account when trying to decide what a dog is “telling” you.

The last two dogs are the same breed, which makes it easier to compare and contrast their body language, particularly when you can see them at the same time.

The overall impression we get from each of these two dogs is completely different. The yellow dog appears to be relaxed, comfortable and easy going. The brown dog appears to be nervous, avoidant and apprehensive.

Eye

This simple close-up shot of these dogs’ eyes speaks volumes.

The yellow dog’s eyes are an almond shape. This is a soft, squinty eye. They looks alert, curious, and relaxed. The brown dog’s eyes are wide open and round, like a human’s eye watching a horror movie. Because his eyes are wide open and because he is turning his nose away from the person approaching, the brown dog has whale eye. You can also see that the brown dog has dilated pupils (indicating activation of the sympathetic nervous system/fight or flight) even though the lighting in the room is good. 

If you look carefully you can see how the brown dog’s ears are ‘pinched’ and folded tight, pressed against his head. If you look even closer you can see that the brown dog has dandruff shedding – another possible sign of stress.

Interpret your dog’s body language relative to their personal baseline. This dog has big round eyes in the photo, but is not nervous or feeling defensive. This dog breed just has big round eyes to start with, so you have to look for a change from ‘normal’. Rounder eyes, I guess?

Of course, sometimes dandruff is just dandruff, and you may see the whites of your dog’s eyes in many other circumstances. For example, a lazy and comfortable dog who doesn’t lift his head up to look at something may show the whites of his eyes.  Other dogs may get crazy-eye while bouncing around playing. Take the context and the rest of the dog into consideration when trying to interpret dog body language.

Ears go back for many reasons. The general message of “ears back” is “I’m no threat”. A dog feeling friendly might put his ears back as if to say “I’m no threat, I just want to play. Let’s be friends.” His body will be loose and wiggly. A dog feeling nervous might put his ears back as if to say “I’m no threat, you have no reason to hurt me. Just leave me alone.” The ears may look pressed back and stiff. The nervous dog will not be loose, relaxed, or wiggly.

Similarly, mouths close and open for many reasons. A dog who is focused on a toy, or concentrating hard, may close his mouth. A stressed dog may have a wide open mouth, but the mouth will not look relaxed, he may be panting, and his lips may be drawn back unnaturally far and tight.

Even tail wagging can be deceptive. The brown dog appears to be wagging his tail. This does not mean that he is “happy”.

The most useful information comes from recognizing how the dog’s body language changes when something in the environment changes.

For example,

  • When I approach my dog at his food bowl, he stops eating, his ears pin back, he holds his head completely still over the bowl
  • When I pick up my dog’s foot to trim his nails, he leans away and turns his head. I can then see the whites of his eyes. His mouth is closed tight
  • When I approach my dog when he is chewing a bone, he lifts his head to look at me. His eyes are squinty, his body body is wiggly, his tail wags like a propeller, and his tongue is hanging out. He sometimes leaves the chew to come see me, sometimes he brings the chew with him

Knowing the context of the body language, and taking several different body parts into consideration, gives a clearer picture of how the dog is feeling. Can you guess how the dogs above are feeling just based on the written description of their body language?