WHAT YOUR DOG IS RE­ALLY THINK­ING

Read­ing a pup’s body lan­guage re­quires ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­pert guid­ance. Zazie Todd, a dog trainer and founder of the blog Com­pan­ion An­i­mal Psy­chol­ogy, weighs in on how to de­code Fido’s be­hav­iour.

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IF YOUR DOG LOOKS RE­MORSE­FUL WHEN YOU WALK IN THE DOOR AND SEE A MESS… They’re ex­pect­ing pun­ish­ment but don’t nec­es­sar­ily know that what they’ve done is wrong. Alexan­dra Horowitz, a pro­fes­sor at Barnard Col­lege in New York City whose re­search fo­cuses on ca­nine cog­ni­tion, put that “guilty” look to the test in 2009. In the end, it wasn’t linked to whether the dog had trans­gressed but rather to be­ing scolded by the owner. Sub­se­quent re­search out of the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge found no ev­i­dence that dogs can even feel guilt, which is a sec­ondary emo­tion and more com­plex than a pri­mary emo­tion, such as fear.

IF YOUR DOG LICKS THEIR MOUTH…

They’re stressed. (Note that the tongue mo­tion is less “You’re about to give me a treat” and more a flick­ing out, right up to the nose.) Re­cently, two Euro­pean stud­ies have high­lighted the mean­ing of this lick­ing. One found that it was a ca­nine re­sponse to see­ing an an­gry or ag­gres­sive hu­man face on a com­puter screen; the other de­ter­mined that dogs lick their mouths—and also look away—in re­sponse to a mild threat. If you spot this sign, try re­duc­ing your dog’s stress lev­els. It could be as sim­ple as giv­ing them more phys­i­cal space.

IF THERE ARE FIRE­WORKS AND YOUR DOG IS SHAK­ING…

The noises are fright­en­ing. This is a com­mon re­ac­tion, but a sur­pris­ing num­ber of peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that shak­ing and trem­bling (and hid­ing or seek­ing out peo­ple) are signs of fear. Whereas only a quar­ter of own­ers say their dog is afraid of loud noises, half re­port th­ese be­havioural signs, ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in Ap­plied An­i­mal Be­hav­iour Sci­ence.

If you think your pup would be com­forted, pet them and re­main nearby. Over the long term, work out a plan: de­sen­si­ti­za­tion (grad­ual ex­po­sure) and counter-con­di­tion­ing (chang­ing the emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence to a pos­i­tive one) are ef­fec­tive; you could also dis­cuss med­i­ca­tion with your vet.

IF YOU’RE AT THE VET AND YOUR DOG’S TAIL IS DOWN… They’re anx­ious. Ob­vi­ous signs of an un­happy dog in­clude hid­ing or try­ing to leave the exam room, but com­monly missed trig­gers range from a tucked tail and low­ered ears to trem­bling. If your dog gets stressed at ap­point­ments, ask what can be done. Many vets now use food to make the ex­pe­ri­ence more fun.

If you’re un­sure

that a dog is en­joy­ing be­ing

pet­ted, stop, then gauge their re­ac­tion. This is a con­sent test.

IF YOUR DOG LEANS INTO YOU DUR­ING A PET­TING SES­SION…

They like it! If you’re un­sure that a dog is en­joy­ing be­ing pet­ted, stop, then gauge their re­ac­tion. This is called a con­sent test. If they choose to wan­der off, the ses­sion is over. Other signs of dis­com­fort in­clude sniff­ing the floor, look­ing away and panting. How­ever, if they lean on you or paw at you to get more cud­dles, con­tinue! Pre­ferred spots on their bod­ies are to ei­ther side of the chest and un­der the chin.

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