Canine body language. Chihuahua sitting with foot up and ears back showing signs of fear

Our dogs tell us a lot about how they feel in a given situation by how they behave.

Our dogs tell us how they feel through their behavior.  Careful observation of canine body language during a new situation can help us understand our furry friends better. Fear and anxiety are common responses to new situations, smells, sights and sounds.  An example of this is a sudden loud noise.   Some dogs may run away from the sound, others may cower under the dining room table.  Another dog may respond to the same sudden sound by barking and pacing.  Which dog is your dog?

Reading Canine Body Language - Signs of Fear

How do you know your dog is fearful?  Your dog can show fear in several ways.  They cannot talk to us. The easiest way is for you to observe and be able to read their canine body language. Let's use the experience of going to the veterinary office as an example.  A necessary event, but the veterinarian's office can produce fear in our patients. All of these behaviors can indicate your dog is fearful.

  1. Is there slight cowering (ears back, wide-eyed) or major cowering (ears back, head down, wide-eyed)?   Is your dog barking?  Maybe they are sitting in the corner of the veterinary exam room or under the bench where people sit?
  2. Is your dog panting when it is not really very hot in the room?  Or are they licking their lips often?
  3. Is your dog moving in slow motion or are they pacing from door to door in the room?
  4. Is your dog yawning acting sleepy when they shouldn't be tired or perhaps acting hypervigilant looking in many directions quickly?
  5. Does your dog suddenly not eat treats when they were eating them earlier?  Are they moving away from the treats?

The good news

We can help our dogs feel less fear and anxiety with regard to going to the veterinarian with just a few simple steps.

  1.  Keep it positive.   Console and encourage a fearful or anxious dog.   Try bringing some special treats,  or a favorite toy to your veterinary visit.
  2. Keep the humans calm and relaxed.  Your dog will mirror your fear.  Let us know if you have any special questions or concerns prior to your appointment so that we may address them ahead of time.  When in the room, talk softly and calmly.
  3. Practice at home.  Plan on spending time with your dog practicing things that may occur during a veterinary exam.   Reward your pet by making it fun to touch their feet, abdomen and ears.  Allow your dog to become used to these types of movements and touches so that when they come to the veterinarian's office it is no big deal.
  4. Plan ahead.  Come visit our office and grab a dog treat at the front counter!   Sometimes going to the office and having a fun visit like a weigh in or just to have a biscuit keeps the veterinarian's office a positive place instead of a fearful place.

If you have any questions please ask your veterinarian.  Click here for more information.

Written by Hilary H. Fordyce, VMD