While a human licking their lips means they are looking forward to a tasty meal, yawning probably shows we’re tired and teeth chattering is a sign we need to wrap up warmer, with dogs all these signs can mean something quite different.
What’s more, dog owners need to know what these actions really mean, because some of these seemingly human-like behaviours are warnings that their pet needs help.
And even tail-wagging isn’t always a sign that a dog is happy. It could actually mean the pet is frustrated and is best left alone.
Dr Scott Miller, vet and spokesperson for vetcare app Dogtastic (www.dogtastic.co) has talked through some of the main things to watch out for, and how to tell what your dog really wants.
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Most people would assume teeth chattering in a dog would be because they are cold, but it can in fact be a sign of an animal feeling nervous or having a dental problem.
Dr Miller said: “This displacement gesture helps a nervous dog refocus their attention away from a perceived or actual threat and in essence is a self-calming behaviour.
“Along with nose licking, sneezing, shaking, sniffing or excessive nose licking, teeth chattering can become compulsive behaviours that should not be ignored and may need the help of specialist animal behaviourists to understand and effectively address.”
Lip licking or smacking
If your dog is licking their lips, this shouldn’t be interpreted as them anticipating a delicious meal as with humans.
Instead, it sometimes happens before a dog vomits and can be a sign of something more serious, such as a metabolic condition like pancreatitis or liver disease.
Dogs can also lick or smack their lips as a reaction to other animals.
Dr Miller said: “In cases of social nervousness or fear, lip smacking is a non-threatening behaviour designed to diffuse a situation, avoid injury and is key for survival in wild dog packs.”
If it’s a human, a yawn means tiredness, but with dogs it’s also a common indicator of stress.
Dr Miller said: “Of course, dogs do yawn when tired, but they are more likely to yawn when they are nervous or experiencing fear.
“Take a moment to assess the situation and try to appease your dog’s stress or discomfort, offering a calm approach to help reduce their jangling nerves.”
When your dog’s tail is wagging it’s happy and calm right? Not always. Dr Miller says this action is frequently misinterpreted as a sign of happiness but it can also mean your pet is aroused, overstimulated, or frustrated.
It’s important not to just focus on the tail either, as that is “like just listening to a part of a sentence, making it hard to interpret, so the entire body language must be taken into account,” said Dr Miller.
Looking at all aspects of your dog will give you a better indication of their mood.
“If the tail is wagging side to side but your dog seems tense with hard staring eyes, then this could indicate an overly aroused or frustrated dog that is best left alone.
“A slower wagged tail can indicate a canine that is calmly assessing a situation and should be given time and space to do so while a helicopter-style tail wag is a sure-fire sign of friendliness, with a relaxed stance and bum wiggling likely to suggest the dog wants to say hello,” he added.
It’s impossible not to scratch your dog’s tummy when they roll over on their backs but they might not actually be asking you to do this.
Instead Dr Miller said it can be the behaviour of a nervous dog and, if so, a tummy rub by you can result in an aggressive response.
“Often, when this behaviour is associated with a relaxed body, slightly open mouth with tongue lolling out, then it is exactly what you would expect, a trusting signal inviting a tummy rub and some social contact,” he added.
If there’s something you are worried about with your dog, however small, it’s always worth speaking to a professional to make sure there are no underlying problems.
This can be for anything, whether it’s to do with their physical, behavioural, nutritional, or mental health.
You can make an appointment with your vet, but there are also several vet care apps available, including Dogtastic.co which offers unlimited and affordable digital vetcare. It costs £24 for a year’s access.
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