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Probably the most important thing you can do for your puppy is to learn something of their psychology. An understanding of dog psychology can help you to live happily and harmoniously with your dog. We're not expecting you to become a dog psychology expert, neither is it necessary. But a little understanding will go a long way, and if you need help and advice before a small problem becomes a large one, your first port of call should be your vet.
Reading your puppy's body language
Dogs have always communicated with each other by using body language. This involves facial expressions, body postures, noises and scents. Dogs will use their mouth, eyes, ears and tail to express emotions. One of the reasons why they make such good pets is the way they're able to communicate with humans. Your puppy will see you as an extension of their own canine family, and will be extremely quick to interpret your moods and intentions. So by learning how to interpret body language, you can, in turn, interpret your puppy's intentions.
Big dog: If your puppy is feeling brave or aggressive, they'll try to make themselves larger by standing tall, with ears and tail sticking upright. They’ll also push out their chest and raise the hair on their neck and back (hackles). They might also growl and wave their tail slowly.
Small dog: On the other hand, a submissive dog will try to make themselves appear small and act like a puppy; that's because an adult dog will 'tell off' a puppy but not attack. So submission will take the form of a sideways crouch near to the ground, tail held low but wagging away. They may also try to lick the face of the dominant dog or human and may even roll on to their backs.
Your puppy's tail: now there's a tale. Most of us recognise that tail wagging is a sign of friendliness and pleasure. However, exaggerated tail wagging, as we've mentioned, can be seen in submissive dogs, as well as those with very short tails. But the tail can indicate other moods, too. If it's waved slowly and stiffly, that's an expression of anger; clamped low over their hindquarters means your pet is afraid. An anxious or nervous dog may droop their tail but wag it stiffly.
The normal way a dog holds their tail varies from breed to breed but generally speaking, a tail held higher than 45 degrees to the back expresses alertness and interest.
Reading your puppy's face: Your puppy's face will tell you much about their mood; whether frightened or anxious, excited or playful.
Pricked up ears indicate alertness or listening; flattened ears on the other hand, could indicate pleasure or fear. So to read your dog’s mood correctly, you must look for other body language signs. If your dog's eyes are half closed, that's a sign of pleasure or submission; when they're wide open, that's a sign of aggression.
Let's look into your puppy's eyes: In the wild, dogs stare at each other until one backs down or makes a challenge. So you should never attempt to outstare your puppy, especially if they’re nervous, but regular eye contact will reinforce your relationship and reassure them.
Is that a smile? Submissive dogs and some breeds such as Labradors often open their mouths in a kind of lop-sided "grin" and indeed, it is a sign of friendliness. But when lips are drawn back tightly to bare the teeth, that's aggression, make no mistake.
Play, please: If your puppy wants to play, they'll raise a paw or bow down and bark to attract attention. They might offer up a toy, or bound up to another dog to get them to join in a chase.
Your body language: If you want to improve communication with your puppy, you can improve upon your own body language. For example, crouching down with arms opened out is a welcome sign. But towering over them and staring is a sign of threat. Your puppy will watch you to read your body signals more than listening to you, and quickly learn what you're feeling even without you speaking.