For instance, a wagging tail does not always mean “I’m happy”. Many an incredulous person has exclaimed, “But he was wagging his tail”, after being bitten.
Rolling over to expose the belly doesn’t always mean “rub my belly”. It can be a sign of uncertainty and appeasement by a dog. It is important to be aware of the context surrounding any dog communication. It is also important to look at the whole dog, not just one body part.
Many of the subtle signals a dog gives are a plea for more space or an escape from a situation. If these subtle signs are ignored, especially if escape is limited, the dog has to ramp up the communication to make it more obvious.
To humans, a growl, snap or bite comes out of nowhere. After learning and observing dog body language, the precursor signals now become like a flashing neon sign, alerting of the dog’s distress. By heeding these silent indications, the need for the dog to escalate the form of communication can easily be prevented.
In future articles, I’ll explain the different ways dogs quietly tell us they are under stress and why it's so important to learn the wonderful language of dogs.