Every dog owner likes to believe they know what their dog is thinking but the latest research suggests we have it all wrong. Dogs actually do a better job at reading body language than their owners.
"Research from Barnard College in New York showed that owners see guilt in a dog's body language when the person believes the dog has done something it shouldn't have - even when the dog is completely innocent ," says Kate Mornement, BSc (Hons), Animal Behaviourist.
"Interestingly, other research just published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science shows that dogs are so good at reading body language that they can identify when their owner approaches them in a playfully threatening manner and they respond in a similarly playful manner with tolerant, contact seeking behaviour and play bows.
"The play bow is a key method of canine communication. It says 'I think we are having fun together' and dogs use it with each other and with humans to communicate that the play is not serious," says Kate.
"Dogs are very good communicators, they rely on their body language to relay sophisticated messages to other dogs and to people. As a dog owner, or someone that interacts with dogs, you can learn to interpret this language quite readily," says Kate.
My dog Oscar definitely has a sixth sense! He knows when it's time to play or go for a walk and when I'm feeling down he'll come and snuggle up to me and sit on my lap," says Emily, owner of two year old Toy Poodle cross Lhasa Apso, Oscar.
"Barking and other noises, facial expressions, the position of the tail, a dog's overall body posture and even the state of their hair all communicate something. If you look at all aspects of a dog's body language and understand what is being communicated you can interact appropriately with your dog in any situation."
Kate says to watch for the following when seeking to understand your dog's body language.
"A happy dog will have a relaxed posture with weight evenly balanced on all four legs, the tail and ears will be held in the natural position. The face will appear relaxed and the mouth will be closed or slightly opened. If it is warm, the dog may pant in a relaxed and regular manner.
"A wagging tail is often thought to be associated with friendliness but this isn't necessarily so. If a dog's tail is unnaturally high or low or is held in a stiff manner, it is a sign that the dog is not feeling friendly and is best left alone. In fact, any dog that lifts its lips or growls, backs away, raises the hair on its back or stares at you is should be left alone.
"If you pay attention to what your dog is trying to tell you, you may even get to understand him as well as he understands you," says Kate.
Further information on the known, and not so well known, behavioural traits of dogs is available on www.petnet.com.au
Averting the eyes: Submissive behaviour towards other dogs and people. Alternately, a dog that stares in a tense or rigid manner is displaying threatening behaviour and it's best to slowly look away.
Circling before lying down: Thought to be a nesting behaviour.
Eating grass: Often just part of the diet, but can be used by the dog to induce vomiting when they are unwell.
Play bow: Soliciting play, letting other dogs know the play is all in fun.
Pointing: Often a behaviour that is innate to particular breeds but can also signal playtime.
Tail chasing: Usually a playful or trained behaviour, although can be associated with disorders.
Vocalisation: A whole world of language that includes play noises, including play growling; through to barking or growling cues that aggression may occur. There are a range of web sites with more information.
Walking on tip toes: Displaying dominant behaviour.
Yawning: Thought to be a calming response.
Issued on behalf of the Petcare Information and Advisory Service