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Recognizing Physical Cues

Your dog does not have a poker face. His emotional state is written on his face and in his demeanor. And your dog maintains two categories of emotional responses. One is the upper brain response, this is where a dog is in his domesticated state, which is calm and playful. In this state, your dog exhibits these physical characteristics:

  • Ears are soft and upright

  • Tail is relaxed and ‘swishes’

  • Dog’s gait is relaxed and confident

  • Musculature is relaxed

  • Mouth is open slightly, and loose

  • Breathing is even and relaxed


On the other hand, when your dog is anxious and aggressive (we tend to call this a ‘bad dog’) he is tapping into the lower brain. These responses come from a dog’s wild nature that reaches back to his original wolf ancestors. When anxious, your dog exhibits these physical characteristics:

  • Muscles all over body are tight

  • Ears are back and pinned

  • Tail is tucked between legs, or it is very stiff and still

  • Dog stands like a statue

  • Head is lowered, but eyes are up (this is the time when people make the mistake of comforting their dogs)

  • Movements are sporadic, and your dog is shaky

  • Mouth is tight and clenched

  • Hair is raised and bristled (especially on the back of the neck)

There are many telltale signs a dog can show that will make it easy to see if they are relaxed or anxious.


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