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How to Read and React to a Dog’s Body Language

Community Manager
Community Manager
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Can you tell if a dog is happy, angry, or nervous, just by looking at them? As a sitter, you meet new dogs all the time. Learning to identify how they’re feeling—and greeting them appropriately—will help you be successful.

Meeting a Shy Dog

We can’t all be social butterflies—sometimes a dog will be a little uneasy meeting new people. But by keeping the following tips in mind, you can make friends even with the most timid dog.

  • Let them come to you. If you force a shy dog to interact, they’ll be uncomfortable.
  • Keep an eye out for these shy dog signals: lip licking, showing the whites of their eyes, avoiding eye contact, tail tucking, or frequent yawning.
  • When greeting a shy dog, kneel down and face sideways to allow the dog to work up the courage to come visit.

We promise: It takes some patience, but shy dogs and their pet parents will appreciate your consideration of their feelings.

Meeting an Excited Dog

Other dogs might be a little too eager to make friends and need a different approach. If faced by an extremely excited dog, stay calm:

  • Greet when they have all four feet are on the ground. Let the owner know that you’re waiting to pet their pup so that you encourage good behaviors during their stay with you.
  • If the dog does jump up on you, don’t push them down. Instead, turn away from the dog and ignore them until they sit down.
  • Relax—any high energy you are feeling will go right back to the dog.

Seeing if Dogs Are Compatible

When introducing two dogs, it’s important to keep an eye on their body language. A wagging tail doesn’t always mean everything’s okay. To make sure they’re going to be fast friends, watch for the following.

  • Loose and wiggly body language and soft facial expressions.
  • Circling each other during greetings.
  • If the greeting goes well, one dog may initiate play with a bow. If the other dog returns it, the game is on!

If two dogs aren’t going to get along, you’ll recognize it in their body language. If you see any of the following, watch out: They may not be compatible.

  • Stiff body language. Upright posture and a high tail are signs that a dog is feeling threatened.
  • Intense eye contact. Staring hard is rude and is a sign of aggression.
  • Keep an eye on their hackles: If the hair on the back of their neck is raised, you could be moments away from a fight.
  • If a fight occurs, there are several safe ways to separate the dogs. Startling the dogs out of their tussle is the easiest–and safest– way to break them up. Clapping, loud sounds, or spraying the dogs with water or citronella spray can help stop a disagreement. It’s tempting, but don’t grab the dogs by their collars—it can result in being bitten.

Human and dog safety is our top priority. While we hope you’re never in a situation where you have to break up a dog fight, we’re here to help make sure you have the info you need to keep everyone safe.

Keep an Eye out for Calming Signals

A stressed dog reaches out for reassurance by using calming signals. Another canine does the same signal back to reassure them. They may seem ordinary to us, but these signals are very deliberate ways a dog tries to self-soothe.

  • A yawn, a lick of the lips, and slow blinking are all examples of signals that a dog is uncertain or stressed.
  • Shake it off!  A dog shaking their entire body is another way to relieve feelings of tension.
  • Calming signals are a great way to talk with a dog! If you notice your dog displaying several of these behaviors, you can actually do them back to say, “It’s okay.” Have you ever yawned and noticed your dog yawning back at you? He’s not imitating you—he’s trying to make you feel better!

You want to keep dogs comfortable while they’re in your care. Taking the time to gauge how a dog is feeling and learning how to react accordingly will make both of you more comfortable for the duration of the stay. Understanding body language allows you to talk to your canine clients and is yet another tool for providing stellar customer service.

Author: Arah McManamna