I have to admit, I did not know that Friday, October 6 is National Body Language Day. Apparently, it was created to raise awareness about the power of body language as an important method of communication. Since our furry companions cannot speak (well, except to bark and meow), their main mode of communication is through body language.
This is especially important for shelter pets as they get acclimated to their new surroundings, whether in a shelter, foster home, or a loving home of their own. Understanding a dog (and cat’s) body language cues can help make more adoptions successful, and ultimately lead to less people returning dogs and cats to already overcrowded shelters nationwide.
To celebrate National Body Language Day, Best Fiends Animal Society, a leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of cats and dogs in America’s shelter by 2025, is sharing the different ways dogs and cats communicate their likes and dislikes.
Canine Cues: How Dogs Communicate with Body Language
Tail truths. Like cats, a tail is a great indicator for how a dog is feeling.
A very high tail means the dog is in a state of high arousal. Use caution with a dog with a high, tense wagging tail by giving them plenty of space.
A low or tucked tail means a dog is feeling some fear or caution. It’s best not to approach this dog, but instead allow the dog to approach when they’re feeling more comfortable.
A tail right in the middle, roughly in line with their spine and sweeping widely from side to side is a sign of a friendly, relaxed dog.
Side kick. A pup with good manners always approaches from the side, moving in an arc, rather than head-on. Dogs always feel more comfortable when we approach them in the same way.
Yawn etiquette. A yawn when done out of context, is a calming signal used to help reduce conflict. Dogs may yawn when they arrive at the vet’s office or if they are asked to do something they find scary. When meeting a shy dog, people can use this calming signal to help dogs feel comfortable.
In the blink of an eye. Like yawns, dogs may blink repeatedly as a calming signal. People can use blinks the same way they use yawns to help a dog feel more comfortable. Soft, nearly squinting eyes that aren’t blinking rapidly are a sign of a relaxed dog.
Feline Fundamentals: How Cats Use Body Language
It’s all in the tail. When a cat is holding their tail up, think of it as a little welcome flag for engagement. However, if a cat’s tail is thrashing back and forth, it means the cat is overstimulated. Either way, their body is full of energy and it’s not an ideal time to pet them.
Soft, squinty eyes. To help a cat feel at ease, a person can soften their eyes and slowly blink at them. This lets the cat know they can feel safe in the current environment and that there is trust. If the cat softly blinks back, they’re saying they trust the person, too.
Tummy time. A cat’s tummy is their most vulnerable area and, as prey animals, they need to keep it protected. When they roll on their back in your presence, a nice way to return the compliment is a head scratch.
Soft and relaxed body. The more at-ease a cat feels, the looser and more stretched out their body will be. If a cat is feeling nervous or stressed, their body may be stiff or tense with the tail held tight to their body.
By taking the time to understand likes and dislikes, more dogs and cats can hopefully stay in homes, leading to less unnecessary killings of dogs and cats who find themselves temporarily homeless.
About Best Friends Animal Society
Best Friends Animal Society is a leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by 2025. Founded in 1984, Best Friends is a pioneer in the no-kill movement and has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from an estimated 17 million per year to around 378,000. Best Friends runs lifesaving programs across the country, as well as the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary. Working collaboratively with a network of more than 4,400 animal welfare and shelter partners, and community members nationwide, Best Friends is working to Save Them All.
For more information, visit bestfriends.org.
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about the author
Brandie Ahlgren is founder and editor of CityDog Magazine. She, and her team of dog-loving editors, dig up the best places for you to sit, stay and play with your four-legged friends. Brandie, 12-year-old boxer Thya and Mexican foster failure Pancho, reside in West Seattle and can often be found hanging out at Westcrest Dog Park.