dog tail wag

Dog tail wag – The MANY unique meanings behind!

Happy tail wag, happy dog?

Happy tail wag means a happy dog, right? But is it really that simple or is your dogs tail wag more complicated than that?

Today we are looking into how a dog communicates with their tails and what underlying emotion a tail wag might display.

Watch our video about this subject here:

As a dog owner you have properly seen your dog using his/her tail in different ways to communicate with you. The happy tail wag you see when you get home after a long workday to the more insecure frightened tail between the legs telling you that your dog is feeling insecure or frightened about something. The high tail wag tells you that a dog is confident and happy, while a low tail wag tells you that a dog is insecure. The lower the tail, the more frightened a dog is. 

Dog tail wag - The MANY unique meanings behind! 1

The science behind the tail wag

Recently scientists have figured out that a tail wag can also display a dog’s most inner feelings. It all comes down to lateralization. A dog’s brain, like a human’s, is divided into a left and a right hemisphere. The left hemisphere of the brain has control of the more positive emotions while the right hemisphere takes charge of the more frightening uncomfortable emotions. Just like in humans, the nerves cross on the way from the muscles to the brain, so that the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body.

Scientist found that the symmetry in which a dog wags his/her tail differs slightly when comparing the right and left side.

This was studied further, and a study have now shown that when dogs greet their owners their tail is more turned to the right, hence the left hemisphere is splurging out happy emotions. This was in contrast to when the dogs were introduced to a stranger, where it was observed that their tail wag went more towards the left hence an activation of the right hemisphere in control of the more insecure, frightened emotions.

A dog’s wag can change instantly if the situation changes which was seen when the dogs saw their owners from a distance and first wagged a little insecure to the left but once they recognized their owner their tail wag quickly changed to the right.

But it is not only for humans that dog differ their tail wag symmetry, they also use it to communicate with other dogs. This was found in a study where dogs were shown video clips of other dogs wagging their tails either more to the left or to the right. In the dogs observing, a higher pulse and increased insecure behavior was seen when they watched dogs wagging their tail more towards the left.

These studies show us the importance of learning to read our dogs body language and how the slightest changes in their body language can tell you how they feel. Furthermore, it also proves that just because a dog wags his/her tail it does not mean that he/she is happy, it can also be a sign of insecurity and many other meanings we still haven’t figured out. With this knowledge you can help your dog by understanding how they feel in different situations and protect them from uncomfortable scary situations in the future.

Your dog is properly lying by your feet or next to you as you read this, happy and content, but try to notice how your dog wags his/her tail next time you come home and how different it is to when a stranger comes to your door or greets your dog in the street.

Let me know your observations in the comments below.

Want to know more about body language in dogs read these blogs:

https://lifewithadog.org/fur-color-and-behavior/

https://lifewithadog.org/dog-body-language/

https://lifewithadog.org/dog-myths/

Happy tail wags to you all!

fur-color and behavior

Can your dog’s sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior?

Does the color of a dog’s fur really say something about their behavior?

Well yes it can!

Where does the color come from?

Dogs come in all different types of colors these days, even within the same breed you can get different colors. The colors come from 2 different types of pigment – Eumelanin and Pheomelanin. Eumelanin gives black fur and Pheomelanin gives red, yellow and brown.

Dogs did not always come in so many colors. Wolves, as we know, are not found in this many colors. The many different colors in a dog fur was created throughout the dogs’ domestication. In fact, the changes in the dog’s fur was the first signs that domestication had begun. But not only did they change fur color they also started losing their color. Throughout the dog’s domestication the offspring started getting little white spots in their fur. This was linked to Eumelanin slowly being decreased and then through generations evolved into offspring being completely white individuals (read more about the dog’s domestication here).

The Fox experiment

Can your dog's sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior? 2

The geneticist Belyayev and his team was interested in what happens when you try to domesticate a species, in this case a fox ( Watch more about the experiment here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsIibD-TLcM).

Belyayev and his team decided to see if they could explain what happens both to an animal’s genetics but also behavior during domestication. They captured foxes and bread them. After each breeding they would pick the tamest offspring and make them next in line to breed. Then they would again pick the tamest individuals and have them breed and that continued over many generations.

By picking out the tamest individuals, a.k.a the least afraid and aggressive, and breeding them, they found that after a few generations the offspring started to have white spots in their fur. The white seemed to increase after every new generation. What is interesting here is that Belyayev and his team picked the tamest individuals for breeding and ended up affecting other aspects of the foxes physical appearances. In this case tameness is related to loss of pigmentation. The fact that the foxes started getting white spots in their fur is not surprising as a gene often codes for more than one thing. In this case the gene that coded for tameness also coded for pigmentation.

Although no one knows how exactly this happens, the physiology behind might be able to explain why this loss of pigmentation affects a dog’s behavior. The production for Eumelanin and Dopamine are related in the body. Dopamine has a big influence in how the brain works in social contexts making it plausible that by decreasing the production of Eumelanin you also affect the Dopamine production, changing the way the brain works and thereby affecting the way an animal behaves.  

The red colored Cockers

A study in Spain performed a behavior study on Cocker Spaniels. They found that red Cocker Spaniels showed more aggression to people then black or mixed colored Cocker Spaniels. Here, the gene coding for a higher risk of developing aggression is also the gene coding for pigmentation.

Risk of disease

Can your dog's sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior? 3

Science has also found that certain colors are correlated with risk of certain diseases. This is the case for Australian Shepherds who are born white but also deaf. They are missing the pigment Eumelanin who not only gives the black color but also has a specific function in the inner ear. Without Eumelanin the white dogs go deaf.

This proves that the fur color of your dog can have an affect on his/her behavior and that we as owners need to take that into consideration when we work with our dogs.

A myth that we actually can confirm as being true.   

Emotions in dogs

Emotions in dogs – How is your dog feeling?

Behind every behavior lies an emotion.

Talking about emotions in dogs is something relatively new in the scientific world of dog behavior. The neuroscientist Gregory Berns was one of the first to establish that dogs really does empathize with us and that what we feel can be transferred down to our dog and make them feel the same. Do they love us? You bet!

But what are they feeling themselves and how do they portray those feelings, and more importantly how do we as humans learn how to read and understand those emotions?

A dogs’ emotions

Emotions in dogs - How is your dog feeling? 4

A dog has emotions just like we do, and as we know from ourselves, emotions are never neutral and can vary in intensity. The core emotions help your dog to survive and are beneficial, it is when an emotion turns into a permanent state that problems can arise.

Just like us, a dog can go from content to super happy or depressed and sad to downright frustrated. Emotions impact how their brain is structured and how it functions, through the signals of different neurotransmitters, which in return shapes their personality. Different emotions provoke different behaviors and different cocktails of neurotransmitters are wired in different situations. This creates quick changes in the different emotional states, making it hard to specifically pinpoint the exact emotion to an exact behavior.

How can you help your dog with his/her emotions?

Emotions in dogs - How is your dog feeling? 5

The first is to learn to read their body language as that is our dogs most pronounced communication with us when portraying their emotional state (more about that here).

The second is to learn how to teach our dogs. It has been shown that by using positive reinforcement we help our dog stay more balanced. Both low and high arousal in a dog affects their ability to learn, so it is our job as their human to find that golden in between, in order to optimize their learning. By using treats in our training, we also make the experience more pleasant. This increases the dogs’ willingness to stay focused on the training.

By providing a strong positive base for our dogs it can help them handle the always unavoidable unpleasant scenarios that exist in our environment and that we cannot control. Your dog will get scared or frustrated at some point in his/her lives, but by having that strong positive base with consistent positive reinforcement it is easier for them to bounce back and not enter a permanent state of fear or stress and thereby also avoiding a range of behavioral problems.

Emotions also have the amazing ability to spread backwards.

What does that mean?

Well, say that your dog loves to play with their toys, but doesn’t like to ride in the car. What if you play with the toys in the car and then take a ride? Then the car ride becomes a positive experience because you first did something that your dog already likes.

Sadly, it can also go the other way – say that fireworks go off right when you step out the door, and the next time you try to enter your dog is scared. His/her fear of fireworks has been transferred to a fear of the doorway.

However, if you have given him/her that positive base he/she is more likely to ‘yes get scared’ but then bounce back to normal faster. Stress and fear are not always negative. A little stress, the so-called eu-stress can be positive for your dog and so can a fear (helps your dog to survive by staying away from truly dangerous things). It is when staying in those states for a longer period that problems may arise.

It is important to remember that all dogs have friends, enemies and acquaintances – we cannot expect our dog to love everything! But by giving them different positive experiences with as many different things as possible, we create a strong foundation and early avoidance of problem behaviors that stems from negative emotions.

Remember, that first impression lasts, so make it a good positive one!

The take home message of today’s’ blog is therefore:

By understanding the underlying emotional state of our dog we can prevent a potential behavioral problem and not only create a better understanding of our dog but also improve the bond between us.

dress up

Dog dress up – Why you should STOP!

Are you playing doggie dress up? Here are some reasons why you should stop dressing up your dog!

I have never been a fan of dressing up any animal, but sadly always see a boost of dog dress up on social media around the holidays. X-mas and Halloween being the worst of all! I understand how humans would think that their cute little fluff looks so adorable in that Santa outfit, but their dog might beg to differ!

Here is why you shouldn’t dress up your dog

dog dress up

  1. Dress up makes your dog uncomfortable. This can be seen through their body language. If your dog has flat ears, whale eyes (showing the white in the eye), clenched jaws (like the picture) or licking their lips continuously, tucked tales or hunched up bags then they are telling you they are uncomfortable. It can also be that the dog has simply frozen in their spot or the complete opposite, is struggling to get whatever they have been dressed up in off as fast as possible. Read more here about dog body language.
  2. Dress up makes your dog stressed. The signs are the same as before and is shown through your dog’s body language. If these signs are present your dog’s stress level is rocketing through the roof.
  3. Dress up makes your dog mistrust you. Dressing up your dog can also create a mistrust between you and your dog as your dog does not understand why you would do this to them and see it as a punishment.
When should you put clothes on your dog

dog wearing coat

Dogs need clothes for very few occasions.

A coat for when it is very cold outside. This is true for short haired breeds as most long hairs can manage the cold just fine with their fur (so smart!). Of course if the place you live reach extreme minus degrees you should also give your long haired dog a coat. However, if it is that cold, you might want to reconsider if it is smart to even take your dog out in the first place.

If you have a hairless dog breed you sometimes also need to protect their skin from sunburns during the summer by using a coat.

Dogs need shoes if they have an injury on their paw. This is to avoid dirt getting into the wound or the bandage. Dog’s also need shoes if there is deep snow (sleigh dogs often wear shoes to protect their paws from the snow and cold), or the roads has been salted. Both can cause a lot of pain on your dog’s paws when they walk on it.

Dogs do not need to be dressed up as a sausage, Santa or a skeleton. They do not need to wear sunglasses, hats or any other gadget you might think is cute. You got your dog because you think it was cute as it is, and I am sure it will continue to be as cute as when you first got it, without being dressed up.

What to do instead of dressing up your dog

I understand that you want a cute dog picture for the holidays, we all do!

But why not use those smart filters you can download on your phone and take some pictures or a video with your dog with that? The filters are cute and free and you can dress up your dog in a new outfit as much as you want. Filters does not make your dog uncomfortable or stressed (unless they are scared of your phone) and your bond with them will stay intact, as you haven’t done anything to make your dog mistrust you. Finally you will save a lot of money from not buying all those costumes.

Let your dog be and use the technology!

Dog Body Language

How to understand dog body language

Dogs speak to us constantly, maybe not by using sound but by using their body language. In fact, this does not only go for dogs, but for all animals. Humans tend to communicate by moving their lips up and down and making different sounds. We, of course also use body language but to a lesser degree than dogs. This has made us somewhat blind to what our dogs are trying to tell us.

Many behavioral problems, such as the dog acting aggressively, is due to the fact that the dog has given up in trying to communicate with their humans because their humans time and time again have crossed their boundaries despite the dog being clear in his/her communication and body language.

Every day, I see videos or pictures of dogs having their boundaries crossed because their humans do not understand what they are saying. It is not just the owners, but also the people commenting on example how cute the dog is for having a child sitting on him, when really the dog is scared to death.

Dog body language

Uncomfortable dog showing ears back, staring and slight lip curl to show the teeth.

But how can we learn to understand what our dogs are trying to tell us?

Dog body language EXPLAINED!

We start by listening.

Dog body language

It has been scientifically shown that the more humans try to communicate with their dog, i.e. try to read their body language, the more the dog will try to communicate. This will automatically enhance the relation and understanding between human and dog. Dogs are masters at reading humans and sometimes know how we feel before we realize it ourselves. Humans on the other hand struggle to understand what their dog is telling them.

To read a dog’s body language takes practice. Each dog communicates differently depending on their personality but there are common traits which will give you a good start into understanding your dog on a whole new level. Below I have tried to capture some common signs to look for in your dogs that almost always means the same.

The basics in dog body language

Whale eye:

Dogs use their eyes a lot in their communication. In fact during their domestication dogs have developed extra muscles above their eyes, making them able to form those cute puppy eyes we all know. This is a specific adaptation to their lives with humans over time and one that has certainly paid off.

Moving from cute puppy eyes to the other end of the spectrum we find, what is called whale eyes. Whale eye is a term describing that the dog is showing the white in their eyes and is often a sign that a dog is very uncomfortable in a situation. Whale eye is often accompanied by turning of the head, lip licking or clenched jaws.

Tail:

I have written a whole blog about the different meanings of a dog’s tail wag. Many dog owners know that when their dog’s tail is down between their hind legs, the dog is either scared or insecure about the situation.

The tail wag is a little harder to decipher. Science have now found that dogs will wag their tail differently when they see their owner compared to a stranger.

Furthermore, it is not always that a high swishing tail means that the dog is happy, it can also be that the dog is nervous, excited or stressed which is seen in more rapid, closer tail swishing. A tail can also quiver which should tell you that the dog is experiencing some form of arousal, be it good or bad.

Ears:

A dog’s ears are used widely in their communication with both us and con-specifics. They can be hard to read as they come in so many different shapes. If you want to understand more about the physiology behind a dog’s ear, then go to this blog.

If a dog flattens their ears it is often a sign of insecurity and you should move away as the dog uses this as a warning sign. However, flat ears can also be a submission sign and the dog is telling you that he/she is friendly. Upright, forward pointed ears often mean that the dog is alert or attentive.

Mouth:

What you want to see is an open relaxed mouth.

If the dog is hyperventilating it could be a sign that the dog is stressed. If the dog’s mouth is clenched tight it is normally because the dog is uncomfortable in the situation. Licking around the lips is another sign that a dog is uncomfortable and could be a sign that a dog is about to bite. Showing of teeth is a sure sign of a dog telling you to back off or else they will bite. The dog is very stressed and nervous in this situation and is giving you a last warning before they will go for the bite.

Body:

Dogs communicate with their entire body and often use more than one sign to tell you what they want or need. This can also be seen from the many different meanings specific parts of the body can have in the above. It is therefore important to always look at the entire body to understand what your dog is telling you.

A classic example here could be belly rubs. Is your dog really asking for belly rubs or is he/she using their body to tell you to back off by showing you the most submissive body language they know? If we look at the entire body we can read what they want.

A dog who is asking for belly rubs will often have almond shaped eyes (all muscles around is relaxed, the white in the eye cannot be seen), he/she might pant a little but not to an extensive degree and the muscles around their mouth will be soft and relaxed. If a dog shows you the white in their eyes, does not meet your gaze, is panting rapidly or have clenched jaws perhaps showing their teeth a little, then they are asking for space.

Dog body language

Whale eye, and clenched mouth, this dog is not asking for a belly rub

A dog should never be punished to show you their body language. Often dogs have given up on showing people what they need and go straight for the bite. They have tried over and over again to show humans using more subtle signs but the humans have not listened and kept crossing their boundaries and now the only way that has actually worked and made the human stop is to bite.

This is the main reason we must educate ourselves in how dog’s communicate, so our dog is not forced to go to their last resort, which is biting, but instead can tell you by walking away, that they need space.  

To know your dog’s body language also benefits you in a different way, as it will help you in finding out if something is wrong with your dog. Maybe your dog suffers from pain somewhere and he/she is displaying it through their body language.

Dog Body language

The dog is insecure, slight tilt of the body, clenched jaws and showing slight whale eye

There are many great sources for learning more about dogs body language, and the dog community is slowly starting to look at their furry companions in a different way. If you want to know more about dog body language then sign up for our email list and get notified when we launch our next mini course in dog body language.