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5 common dog behaviors explained

If you live with a dog, “What are you thinking?” may be a question you ask your pet on a regular basis. Pet parents like to think they understand what is going on in the minds of their pets, and sometimes they might. Other times, pets may do something surprising, leaving them unable to decipher the behavior.  

Reading your pet’s body language is also crucial to their safety (and yours). Here are five common dog behaviors decoded to help you better understand your pet.

The stretch. When Henrietta and I get up in the morning, she always does this long, “bone stretch.” I assumed it was because she was in need of a stretch after having been in bed all night. However, that a long, full body stretch is a way of your pet saying “hello” and “I trust you.” It is not a behavior your dog will exhibit with a stranger or with someone he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with or trust.

I want to be your friend. When you and your dog encounter another dog while at the dog park or out for a walk, pay close attention to the body language of the dogs. If they curve around one another, sniff butts and exhibit loose body language, they are just getting to know one another. It’s a good indicator the meeting will be a good one. 

I’m not sure about you. If your dog’s posture is upright, alert and looking forward, he or she is exhibiting behavior that shows they are interested in what’s going on – like meeting another dog. If, however, your dog crouches down and his hackles are raised, this is a signal to stay away. A dog whose body is stiff, tail is raised, ears are back and who is growling is exhibiting signs a fight is imminent. Remove yourself and your dog from the situation. 

Larry Kay, best-selling author of “Training The Best Dog Ever,” works with shelter dogs at Pet Orphans in California. He said when introducing dogs to one another, proceed with caution.

“Sometimes a too-quick introduction can lead to aggression. If the dogs seem unsure of one another, separate them with a fence or keep them on a leash and walk them some distance apart so they can get to know one another without fear of a fight.” 

The same goes if your dog exhibits this behavior with a human. Don’t force the encounter, your dog is letting you know that he doesn’t want to be friends with this person and you need to respect that.

Separation anxiety. Because dogs are pack animals they may exhibit bad behaviors when left alone. If your dog chews shoes, furniture, the walls or floors in your home or barks incessantly, it could be because he or she is anxious, lonely and bored. 

Recommendations for curbing this behavior include crate training, having more than one pet in the home, and playing background noise—such as the television or radio. When you leave your dog home alone give him a treat he doesn’t normally receive, and invest in a puzzle-type toy that will keep him entertained and engaged. Additionally, lavender on the collar or bedding may have a calming effect. 

Tail wagging. The wagging of the tail is the universal signal from your dog that he is happy to see you, but let’s look at that behavior more closely. If a dog is wagging his or her tail and their whole butt is engaged and wiggling around, they are happy. If a dog is wagging his tail in short, fast strokes and his body language isn’t exhibiting a welcoming feel to it, the tail wagging in this instance could be a sign of aggression. If the dog is wagging his tail in short, fast strokes and his body is stiff and he appears tense, this could be a sign of aggression and a looming attack. Step slowly away and don’t engage. 

Kay explained, there are subtle differences between various tail wags.

“Obviously when a dog crouches, that is a sign of fear. When a dog seems alert and happy and their tail is wagging, we can take that as an indication he or she is ready to socialize. Approach cautiously and positively giving the dog a little bit of space. Invite the dog to come to you."

Every dog has his or her own unique personality, but this is a bit of primer on what to expect when you are first introduced to a dog or if you want to gain a better understanding into your own dog’s behaviors. 


Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.

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