Deciphering Dog Behaviors

Dog Behaviors

Small brown dog with shaggy hair cowers away.

Sniffing, shaking, rolling, rubbing, crouching, herding, panting, yelping, circling, wagging…what does it mean? Our trainers become experts in canine body language and dog behaviors. Here are some insights that our trainers learn on the job while earning their guide dog trainer certification. While your own dog does not wear a harness, you can learn from our trainers about your own dog’s body language.

When observing any dog, their body language and behavior will give the best insight to the dog’s personality, acceptance of surroundings, mood, and energy levels. While observing your dog, look at the following categories of behaviors: investigative, grooming, aggressive, defense and escape reactions, and attitudes of dominance or subordination.

Investigative Behavior

This behavior can lead to distraction in dogs.

  • Walking with nose to ground—sniffing
  • Holding head up—air sniffing
  • Looking behind while walking forward
  • Holding the head and ears erect—looking and listening
  • Stopping to listen to a noise or an object

Grooming Behavior

This behavior can be a sign of stress or allergies.

  • Rubbing or rolling on ground
  • Scratching itself
  • Biting at its fur
  • Shaking itself
  • Licking its genitals, anal area, or front paws
  • Rubbing against objects

Aggressive Behavior/ Associated with Conflicts

This behavior may be seen in both dominant or submissive dogs.  An aggressive dog may show the following warning signs:

  • Hackles up
  • Chasing
  • Snapping teeth
  • Growling
  • Barking aggressively
  • Wagging TIP of tail ONLY
  • Herding

Defense and Escape Reactions

A dog’s defense or escape reaction is usually caused by fear and will cause the dog to try to flee from the area unless cornered. If the dog is cornered and is not handled correctly, the dog may feel threatened and nip at the handler or anyone who may be approaching. If the dog is showing signs of defensiveness or attempting to escape, do not put yourself in harm’s way. Approach the dog slowly and speak softly.

  • Crouching
  • Running away
  • Yelping and showing teeth
  • Tucked tail
  • Heavy panting
  • Backing up when approached

Attitudes of Dominance

These behaviors can lead to aggression and are usually observed when the dog is around other dogs.

  • Pawing or mounting the back of another dog
  • Growling with an erect tail
  • Standing over another dog in group/pack
  • Cornering another dog and then chasing it

Attitudes of Subordination/Submission

As in people, dogs’ personalities differ from dog to dog. Submissive dogs tend to be the “softer” dogs. If approached in a threatening manner (by either humans or other dominant dogs) they may role over, urinate uncontrollably, crouch, etc. A submissive dog may seem to lack confidence or assertiveness and may need lots of happy praise.

  • Holding its tail down/tucked
  • Crouching/hitting ground
  • Keeping its ears pulled back and down or pressed against head
  • Rolling on its back
  • Backing up when approached

Posted on August 8, 2017 | Category: Blog