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How to Read Your Dog’s Behavior

dog and a boy
Photo credit: Golden KB / Bigstock

Most people do not realize just how expressive dogs really are. They may not be able to tell you when they are stressed, nervous, scared, sick, etc., but their behavior certainly does. You simply need to become familiar with some of the things you should be looking for. Not only will this help you better understand how your four-legged friend is feeling; it will allow the two of you to build a better relationship.


Dogs bark for a long list of reasons. This is the way they communicate, so it should never be a goal to get your dog to stop completely. However, excessive barking can be controlled. Before you try to quiet him, try to figure out why he is barking. Is there something outside? Was it your phone ringer that triggered it? Is he trying to tell you he doesn’t feel good? Is his favorite toy stuck under the bed?

Behavioral Problems

Jumping, biting, digging, and chewing may simply seem like behavioral problems, but there is a very good chance your dog is trying to tell you something.

For example, if chewing is an issue then you need to evaluate the dog. If he is a puppy, he is probably teething. His gums are sore, and he needs something to help relieve how he is feeling. An adult that just started this behavior could be unhappy with a new change in the house, or could be exhibiting signs of separation anxiety.

Some view jumping as nothing more than an enthusiastic greeting, but he could be asserting dominance over you. If your dog is digging he could be bored. He may also be hot, and trying to reveal the cool earth below the top layer to lie on. Of course, he could also simply be looking for rodents or a lost bone.

Behavior of a Sick Dog

Your dog could be exhibiting unique behavior because he is sick. You may be confused by how he is acting because maybe you have never seen him this way before.

A sick dog may experience changes in eating patterns and energy levels, and he may appear off-balance, pace, pant heavily, drink excessively, urinate in the house, or cough. He can also experience mood changes. The most gentle dog in the world can show signs of aggression when he is ill.

Body Language

Body language and behavior often overlap. For example, a dog whimpering and yawning, with tense posture, and tucked tail wagging very slowly may appear to be “behaving” strangely, but according to his body language, he is telling you he is anxious, or maybe even a little fearful.

Some assume that a tail wag is always a happy trait, but this is not the case. The position and speed at which the tail is wagging can tell a different story. As mentioned, a low, tucked tail that gently wags could mean he is submissive, but fearful. Keep in mind, fear or nervousness can turn to aggression quickly.

Learning to read body language will better help you understand what your dog’s behavior is telling you. A playful, submissive, anxious, happy, fearful, dominant, or aggressive dog will display distinct behavior and body language.


Every day your dog is communicating with you in more ways than you realize. When you start to really pay attention to his behavior, and learn how to understand it, you will form a stronger bond. Plus, when you are more in-tune with your pet, you will notice illness-related changes sooner, which means you have the opportunity to seek vet care faster than you might if you didn’t recognize or understand behavioral changes.


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