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When a dog’s ears are hanging back, along with a lowered head, closed mouth, and tight lips, it can mean she’s mad at you, says April Olshavsky, American Kennel Club dog evaluator, trainer, and behavioural consultant. “Body language is the only way dogs can communicate with us,” she explains. “By studying your dog’s body language, you can learn a lot about her emotions.” The remedy? Some serious belly rubs and ear scratches. “Chances are, your dog will forget whatever it is you did to upset her with just a few minutes of TLC,” she says.
If a person refused to meet their gaze and turned their back on you, you’d get the message that they were angry loud and clear. It’s the same with dogs, says Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, dog training and behaviour expert at Camp Bow Wow. “A dog who is happy and comfortable will likely be willing to make eye contact with his owner and seek out their attention whereas a dog who is angry or upset may avoid this type of interaction and move away from their owner, leave the room, or even sleep in a different area,” she says. How to fix this? Offer calm, quiet time together to help you and your dog relax, say reading a book or listening to soft music, she says.
If your pup is in a crouching pose with his tail tucked between his legs, he might be taking your criticism more personally than you’d thought. This posture shows he’s guarded on the defensive. “Dogs, like humans, are emotional creatures,” Olshavsky says. “If you’ve scolded them, or spoke sternly, they can pout like a teenager.” If you see him backed up like this, lower your voice and talk softly and soothingly. “This will re-establish your bond together and will reinforce the trust your dog had in you,” she says.
Let’s be honest, it’s never a great sign when the whites of any animal’s eyes are showing. Whether she’s showing fear, confusion, disgust, illness, or anger, widening of the eyes indicates a high state of alertness and you’d best pay attention. Why she’s upset may be more of a mystery. “It could be something as simple as you’ve forgotten to feed them,” Olshavsky says. To fix this, try giving her a snack. “Hangry” is a real thing for dogs too.
Most people associate cowering and hiding with fear and while that can definitely be true, fear is also closely linked to anger in dogs, Taylor says. “Cowering indicates a high level of stress,” she explains. “If your dog is also trying to hide and get away this means your dog is overwhelmed.” Your job as a responsible pet owner is to then remove him from the situation before he gets more overwhelmed and acts out. You’ll know it’s working when you see these signs your dog really trusts you.
“Growling is an obvious but frequently misunderstood sign,” Taylor says, adding that it shows your dog is very uncomfortable and upset. “It is often used as a warning for the purposes of making something stop. For example, he may growl if you’re trying to move your dog from his comfortable bed for late night potty time by using her collar or when a stranger approaches your dog and tries to pet her,” she adds. Resist the urge to yell at or otherwise punish your dog for growling as that damages trust, doesn’t teach your dog appropriate behaviour, and can often worsen aggressive behaviour, she says.
Just like your roommate who counted out your M&Ms from the communal bag, dogs place a high emphasis on fairness. “Dogs get mad if they have been treated unfairly, and may act instantaneously with bursts of rage,” Olshavsky says. What this looks like may be different for each dog but you’ll know it when you see it. The solution is simple: More exercise. “Dogs need to get that energy out in some way and a daily walk is the perfect way to do it,” she says.
Think dogs don’t have a voice? Then you’ve never seen a puppy kennelled. They may not be able to use words but they can vocalize their displeasure. Whimpering is the canine version of whining, Olshavsky says, and it’s every bit as grating as the human kind. To cut down on whining, set aside a few minutes each day just to play and work on tricks, she says. Give her your attention when she’s not whining and she’ll learn that whimpering/whining doesn’t work.