Presentation Recap: Understanding dogs' body language

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Aug 27, 2011
By dvm360.com staff

Why is it so critical to understand body postures in dogs? asks John J. Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, speaking at the CVC in Kansas City.

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By understanding how dogs communicate, we can diminish the amount of miscommunication that occurs between people and dogs, can better predict future behaviors in the dogs we interact with, and reduce the incidence of dog bites, says Dr. Ciribassi. And, he adds, understanding dog language will increase owners' enjoyment of their dogs.

The eyes, ears, tail, mouth, and overall posture can give us the best indications of what dogs are trying to communicate, says Dr. Ciribassi. These structures can convey relaxation, anxiety, tension, or confidence and by understanding the subtleties of their expressions, much ambiguity can be eliminated.

Because aggression can greatly influence the bond we have with our pets, an understanding of the progression of aggressive responses can help minimize the exacerbation of problem behaviors. The "Ladder of Aggression" serves to provide a good model of how aggressive behavior can develop from relatively benign "calming signals" to more overt aggressive displays culminating in snapping and biting, says Dr. Ciribassi. Practitioners should be observant of the more subtle signs of discomfort and concern in a dog before these early signs escalate to biting.

The Canine Ladder of Aggression (from bottom rung to top: early, milder signs progressing to severe signs)

  • Biting
  • Stiffening and snapping
  • Lying down with leg up
  • Food guarding
  • Ears back, creeping
  • Walking away
  • Turning body away
  • Turning head away
  • Yawning, blinking, and licking