Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Body Language: Is This Dog Relaxed?

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Dog Body Language ImageIs this dog relaxed or tense? Let’s read this dog body language and decide. We have a lot of cues to look at. Let’s go arrow by arrow.

Light Blue Arrow pointing to the eye. This appears to be a partial “sidelong glance”. When dogs get tense they can freeze up, becoming motionless. Then, to look at something or someone nearby, they have to roll their eyes rather than turning their heads. This can expose the whites of their eyes and is often called “whale eye”. Now, not all white showing in a dog’s eye is a sign of this but when a dog is stiff and they are rolling their eyes rather than turning their heads – I become alert to their discomfort.

Dark Blue Arrow pointing to the ear. There’s that deep central fold we discussed here. Inner ear showing. Ear held back and away from head. Nothing relaxed about that ear.

Dark Purple Arrow pointing to neck. That looks like a sharp fold indicating tension to me. Have to see a relaxed pic to be sure but I’m guessing that is sharper than usual.

Light Purple Arrow toward chin. A closed, tight mouth. Those whiskers may be hiding something but that looks like a shortening mouth from here. When dogs are worried/fearful their mouths elongate. When dogs are stressed/getting annoyed their mouths shorten. I note both I stop whatever I am doing if I see shortening. That is a count-down to aggression.

Red Arrow pointing at tail. Is that tail sticking out stiffly in back? Reads that way to me. It appears at if it may have slight lift off the ground at the tip which would absolutely be tension. Hard to tell but I’m adding the impression to my entire inner picture.

Maroon(ish) Arrow toward knee. Dogs can pull their knees inward when nervous/tense. That leg looks pulled in.

Yellow Arrow at foot. As anyone who had put a tense dog down on a metal exam table knows, dogs curl their toes when anxious. That toe looks to be gripping the ground from here.

Black Arrows between the front legs aiming at the front feet. Note how we know that the person is off to the dog’s right and notice how the front feet are set a bit off to the left with the toes pointing to the left. They should be lined up with the rear feet pointing forward but they are not. This dog has moved away from the person. That’s never a sign of relaxation in any of us and not in dogs.

Let’s look at the whole picture now.

Little Girl and Tense Dog Image

If you saw this dog body language, what would you do next?

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