There are many ways we show our dogs how much we love them. We provide them with the best food we can, a comfy place to sleep and we help when they are hurt or ill. But how do we know if they love us back? Of course, all dogs have their own personalities, and you know your dog, which already helps you to understand him. We look at some research that has been done on this subject.
1. Tail wagging
It’s common knowledge that a happy dog wags his tail, but did you know there is more to tail talk than what meets the eye? The height, speed and stiffness of the wagging tail all play a role, and interestingly, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a friendly dog. A wagging tail that is held high up usually shows confidence in the dog; a nervous dog will carry his tail lower. A fast tail wag generally means that the dog is friendly, but with a slower wag it’s a good idea to look for other signs in his body language that the dog is not comfortable. A dog whose wagging tail is carried stiff over his back is likely not in the mood to make friends, and it’s best to give this dog some space.
So is the tail wag in fact not really a good thing? Judging by your dog’s reaction when you get home, it indeed is! You know your dog is really friendly and super happy to see you by the way he wags his tail fast and high as described above – and the fact that he is doing it with such enthusiasm that his whole butt wags along!
2. Facial expressions
A dog can also use his face to show you that he is contented and comfortable. And he does this by smiling at you! Look out for a relaxed, open mouth with soft eyes that are making eye contact with you. As with tail wagging, you have to be careful not to misread your dog’s facial expressions. A happy dog with an open mouth should not be panting excessively, as this could be a sign of stress – unless of course it’s a very hot day. Also be careful of a hard stare with little to no blinking, as well as wide eyes where you can see the whites around the pupils, as these might be signs that the dog is distressed.
Facial expressions in dogs get even more interesting. In a study that was done in Japan, dogs were shown various items and their reactions monitored. These dogs were presented with their parent, a stranger, a dog toy and an item they do not like. Upon seeing their parent, the dogs lifted their left eyebrow and shifted back their left ear, while there wasn’t really a reaction when seeing a stranger. When seeing the item they didn’t like, they shifted their right ear.
3. Jumping up
As puppies our dogs jump up to get our attention, which works very well! And while it’s good to know our dogs are so happy to see us that they want to jump up and get closer to our faces to say hello, this behaviour can become a problem later on in life, especially in a large breed dog. He could cause injuries in elderly people and small children, not to mention paw prints on your fancy outfit … Often when this happens we get angry and shout at the dog to stop, which only makes matters worse. Now at least you know your dog has good intentions – so don’t punish him for this behaviour! Punishment is never an effective way to change a dog’s behaviour. In the case of jumping, a good idea would be to train your dog to replace the jumping behaviour with a behaviour that is more acceptable to you. Working with a reputable animal behaviourist will help you to achieve this.
4. Following you around
When you love someone you want to be near them, and it’s the same for dogs. Many of us know someone with a dog who is practically their shadow! This is also a behaviour that needs to be monitored though. If your dog is doing this because he cannot cope without you, you are possibly dealing with separation anxiety. No dog should be left to his own devices 24 hours a day, but unfortunately due to our busy lives we aren’t able to always be at home. Therefore it’s in your dog’s best interest to teach him that some alone time is okay to prevent him from suffering severe distress when you are not around. You will need to start leaving your dog alone for very short periods of time, leaving him with a yummy treat to show him that good things can come with alone time. Slowly, as your dog is comfortable, progress to longer time slots. Once again, a behaviourist’s advice regarding separation anxiety is strongly recommended.