How to Interpret Dog Behavior

If you're confused, imagine how Fido feels.
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All too often we misunderstand what our four-legged companions are trying to tell us, either because we attribute human emotions to canine behavior or misinterpret the body clues altogether. This only leads to a confused pooch and a frustrated owner. Understanding why your dog exhibits certain behavior and learning how to correct it will strengthen your bond.


Instead of sweating through the skin, as people do, dogs release heat through the pads of the foot and by panting. You might think your dog is smiling, but panting is accompanied by heavy breathing as his tongue moves forward out of his mouth. Prevent overheating and help him regulate his body temperature by avoiding the outdoors in hot weather for long periods of time. Your dog also will appreciate it if you bring along cool water for him to drink. Keep an eye out for panting during play time, when he is excited and exerting lots of energy, and allow him time to calm down. If he ever becomes listless, take him to an emergency veterinarian or pet hospital.


No one enjoys going outside to find Fido has dug up the meticulously kept yard or garden. This instinctual behavior, most often exhibited in terrier breeds, can mean he is searching for food or trying to create a cool den in the ground. However, many dogs dig when bored as this gives them something to do to release pent up energy. Supervise your dog whenever he is outside to prevent this behavior and redirect his attention by playing a fun game with him or going for a walk.


Many a house guest is alarmed when greeted by a jumping dog, and rightfully so. Whether leaping up to put his front paws on them or jumping completely in the air, Fido is asserting his dominance. Just imagine how your guests feel when this happens and you simply laugh at the behavior. It is one thing to train a dog to jump on command, and quite another to allow him to do this to everyone. You must take control by preventing the situation entirely. Discourage him from greeting you in such a way by maintaining a calm demeanor every time you enter the home. If he jumps, turn around and ignore him. Keep him leashed when outside and use positive reinforcement, such as treats, when he remains on all fours instead of jumping at passers-by.

Barking and Growling

Though excessive barking is annoying, both to you and neighbors as well, occasional barking is an endearing quality. For one, your dog is sounding the alarm, warning you of danger and telling others to back away from your territory. It also is a means of communication between dogs. On the other hand, constant barking stems from boredom, fear or improper training, but it is when Fido growls that you should pay extra attention. Be aware of lowered ears and exposed teeth. Your barking dog is telling others along your walk that you belong to him and, if he feels threatened enough, he will bite.


Understand that biting is how your dog shows what he is feeling in the moment, whether angry, nervous, afraid or possessive. It may even be accompanied by a growl. Be mindful of aggressive behavior when playing, as your dog will chase and bite if his prey drive is engaged. Disengage him by standing tall with arms crossed and avoid eye contact so as not to challenge him directly. If a strange dog is able to knock you over, curl in a fetal position to protect your face, hands and neck; he should become bored and cease. A mother dog is naturally protective of her puppies and will bite if she feels the pups are in danger, even from people she knows. Give her time to learn you mean the puppies no harm.


Similar to young children, puppies will experience painful teething from four to six months of age and should have appropriate chewing toys. Adult dogs, however, should not chew on the furniture, electrical cords or clothing. Chewing behavior in your pooch often is the result of boredom or to show separation anxiety, especially when coupled with going to the bathroom indoors. In addition to giving your dog a selection of chewing toys in the home, you must train him to understand that when you walk out the door, you are not leaving forever. Grab your keys, pull on your coat and step outside for a short period of time before reentering your home. Gradually increase the time you leave so Fido can understand that you always will come back for him.

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