Dogs' body language, behaviors a clue to some emotions

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Dogs have different physical habits that we might wonder about. Some are extremely important to know, as they might indicate critical emotions pertaining to their immediate feelings in a situation.

Knowing these might help an owner to diffuse a situation before it becomes uncontrollable.

Tail positions can tell us a lot about how a dog feels in a situation. A tail that is straight up (except for dogs that have tails always curled over their back) can indicate that they need to exhibit dominance or possibly aggressive behavior.

They might even do it when they are unsure of another dog. They can indicate this behavior around people or objects to show their dislike or concern.

Once comfortable they might lower the tail into a more neutral position.

If the tail remains upright and causes you concern, discuss this with a behaviorist who will ask about your dog's specific triggers.

A neutral tail position is also a happy tail, close to even with the dog's body while wagging. It is friendly and an indicator that they want to play with another dog.

A neutral tail also shows excitement around people that dogs love. It is used by a dog when he wants something special, such as something they love to eat or do.

A low wagging tail generally indicates that the dog is uncomfortable, anxious, nervous or submissive. She might actually be afraid of someone, something or another dog. Don't ignore this behavior, as it is telling you significant things about the extent of your dog's discomfort.

In some cases, we can desensitize a dog to a specific fear. In other cases, it is a good idea to remove the dog from the situation.

Lip licking can be a very confusing behavior signaling varied emotions. In some, it is referred to as a calming signal and is often used by a dog as a means to self calm in a stressful situation and is often followed by a yawn.

The lick may be all the way up to their nose or just around their lips. A dog uses it when unsure of people or other dogs. However, it is also used as a warning when the dog is fearful and basically indicates "Back off! I don't know how I feel yet!"

Other lip licking can be self-calming, as when the dog is excited just prior to anticipating something that pleases him. Confusing, isn't it?

Knowing your dog's specific signals can help you to preempt behaviors that might cause trouble in your community and also to relax your dog so that situations do not escalate.

If you are unsure, rely on removal to keep dogs and people safe.

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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