Please note, this is an extremely short list of the most commonly used signals or the ones most often missed by parents!
For a more thorough list of signals, please stay tuned for our article on Canine Stress Signals.
1. YAWNING /SHAKING OFF:
If they didn’t JUST wake up from a nap or JUST exit a body of water, yawning and/or shaking off is actually your pup expressing mild anxiety or stretching to relieve stress. This is one of the most common stress signals. You may notice your puppy yawn during an especially intense training session or shake off after meeting a new friend.
2. LIP LICKING & TONGUE FLICKING:
If they didn’t JUST get a treat, a small flick of the tongue over the lips or nose is a sign of stress. This signal can relay an internal conflict or just a mild annoyance. You may notice your dog do this when you are being affectionate. This means they are a bit uncomfortable with that type of love and you should adjust.
3. WAGGING TAIL:
Just because their tail is wagging, doesn’t mean they’re “happy.” A tail that slopes down with only the very end wagging quickly could be an expression of mild anxiety and/or submission. That pup could be feeling intimidated, requiring you to back up or adjusting your approach.
This dog has a little tail wag but the rest of his body (tail tucked, ears back, belly up) indicates his happiness to visit with the human is laced with anxiety or overwhelming desire for approval. This pup would do well with a handler that can adjust their interactions to promote confidence!
This video shows you the variety in wags overall! Take the quiz and see how you do!
4. WHOLE BODY POSITION:
Happy dogs have loose wiggly bodies. If they are loose, their face should also look calm, their body should be soft and relaxed (i.e., ears NOT held tightly back, body NOT hunched or cowering, tail loosely wagging in slight figure 8 pattern). Take the whole body into account when determining your pup’s emotional state. Every piece matters!
Growling is a completely normal and appropriate form of communication for a puppy, especially if they feel their first stress signals were not recognized or respected. Do not correct your pup for growling.
Hackles describe the hair that sometimes raises up along the pup’s spine. This indicates a high arousal state that can be brought on by intense excitement or a desire to intimidate. It does NOT necessarily mean a dog is aggressive.
7. PLAY INVITATIONS:
Play bowing and twirling are common, polite, and appropriate invitations to play. Pawing, pouncing, humping, barking, neck mouthing, leg nipping, etc. are also common invitations to play, but are considered slightly to extremely pushy and depending on the other dog can be inappropriate altogether.
8. RUN / FREEZE:
When a puppy feels overly intimidated, they will either run or freeze. A running dog attracts a chasing dog, since running is normally an invitation to follow. This will of course make things worse. On the other hand, if during a social meet up your pup gets cornered by a pushy friend, they also may become so intimidated they cannot run and feel they have no choice but to fight. This is when fearful nipping often occurs. Socialization at a young age with APPROPRIATE play mates can help prevent these two cycles. Under all circumstances remember to be your pups advocate and, when needed, bodyguard!
For more information on Puppy Socialization stay tuned. And if you feel your pup may be especially nervous or fearful, learn about How to Bond with a Scared Dog.