Animal body language: how to read dogs and cats

By SuzanStMaur

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By Angie Taylor

As an owner of several animals I often get asked how you know when you pet is unwell or needs your attention. The answer is just as relevant in animals as it is in humans as it is all in the body language.

Dogs have body language I hear you ask? Have you gone barking mad?! Well I have been barking mad for years – but yes, it is easy to interpret your best friend if you know what to look for.

The obvious things such as a wet nose and shiny eyes are a starting point, but have you looked at their gums? If they are pale then this is a sure sign of dehydration and that works for nearly all animals. However, of course they cannot tell you when they are sick so what else should you look for? If they look depressed, are slow to raise their head or slow on their feet, they need a vet.

Doggie social skills and good manners

If you have never met a dog before try not to smile showing your teeth, as to a dog this looks like you are growling and this is an aggressive sign to them. Smile keeping your lips together and go to their level but under no circumstances let your head be below theirs as they will feel they’re dominant over you.

Hold out your hand so they have to move their head to sniff it. As long as your head is above theirs, it them it tells the dog you are their friend, but above them in the pecking order. If a dog is getting aggressive ensure you are standing above them and put space between you backing away quietly.

Do not run as most dogs see this as a game and will give chase. Do not attempt to stare them out unless you are a very experienced owner! If you do the dog must look away first as this again, is a dominance trait.

A tail can tell you a lot. If it’s up and wagging then the dog’s happy. Down between their back legs is a sign of subservience or illness and/or depression. Animals can also suffer with depression which must be dealt with fast as this can make any pet ill and very quickly.

Cats are very different and although I am no expert, I have tamed a few ferals in my time!

Again get your head to their level and make sure you have enough space between you and blink at them:  this is how cats communicate. Most cats will blink back and then make a move towards you.

Make time with your pet for quality one to one fussing. This could include a good brushing as this is very therapeutic for both dogs and cats, as is a good long walk with toys. And although this is a bit harder with cats, it can be done.

Get to know the personality of your pet as best you can; perhaps they don’t like a fuss in the morning but are happy to play in the afternoon. At the end of the day a pet is very much like a child as it needs to be loved, trained and treated well.

What are your animal tips?

Take Care People


Great post, Angie, and some very valuable advice on how to handle dogs and cats. Thanks for sharing.

    Walking cats??? 😉 my cats and I blink at each other all the time although I do get annoyed with Bobby when he insists on sleeping on my hand as I am trying to type!

      My tip for cats would be to buy a laptop … ours regards mine as its own personal radiator and gets quite narked why I try and do some work 😉

      BTW Sarah, why do you have trouble shooting parcel couriers? I would have thought they’d be quite easy to hit….

        Angie Taylor

        Chris, my Cats all love a fleece jumper, preferably one that has just been cleaned and is brand new, they will then maul it to death before snuggling up for a snooze. Have to say my laptop is also popular as is the top of the stereo therefore blocking the DVD player which means we have to move them to use the remote control. Thanks for your comments. Angie

      Angie Taylor

      Hi Sarah, yes it quite normal to see a Cat on a lead but these tend to be mainly house cats that don’t go out much. It is great exercise for both Human and Cat plus it really helps the bonding process. My Husband did manage to get Rocket (a dear old Cat of 16) to sit on command so I guess you can teach and old Cat new tricks too! Thanks for your comments. Angie

    Angie Taylor

    Thanks for your comments Suze and the great pictures!

My dog does a little bit weird stuffs. This article has helped me decode his acts.

    Angie Taylor

    I am really pleased to hear that. Feel free to post any questions you have and I am glad I could help. Thanks very much for your comments. Angie

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