Decoding your pet

Ever wondered what Fido or Puss would say if they spoke our language? To some extent, their behaviour says a lot more than you think.
By Gillian Lim
Published on Friday, 09 June 2017

While it’s now possible to read your pooch’s emotions through an attached heart rate monitor (like the INUPATHY) or translate your feline’s meows into human speech (like the Temptations Catterbox), the logic behind such gadgets is similar—it’s all based on your furkid’s body. 

“Dogs communicate to us and to other animals all the time, with almost every part of their body,” explains Dr Kang Nee, certified professional dog trainer and certified canine separation anxiety specialist of cheerfuldogs.com. The first step to understanding your furry friend is learning what these different body actions mean, which are often in sync with each other—signs of a happy pup include broad tail wags, a relaxed mouth and a lolling tongue. It applies to cats as well—if Puss is angry, she might have an arched back, bristled tail, and flattened ears. 

The four experts we speak to—Dr Kang Nee, certified professional dog trainer Maureen Tay from KasPUP UniFURsity, professional dog trainer Sunny Chong from Sunny Chong Dog Training School and Dr Tai Yesun from Nam Sang Veterinary Clinic—highlight that while it’s possible to break down your furkid’s body language into different parts, everything needs to be assessed as a whole and in context. Contrary to popular belief, not all tail wags indicate that a pupper is happy, and not all barks indicate that he’s angry. 

DOG 

TAIL POSITIONS

Low or tucked in between its legs: It’s stressed and scared, as if trying to say, “Please don’t hurt me.” 
Extended, tense and curved: Also known as the Scorpion Tail, this means your pooch is on high alert. “The tighter the curve, the tenser he is,” says Sunny. “You’re advised to approach with caution till the dog has settled down.”
Held high: Something’s got its attention, but not in a good way. The tail’s height indicates how intense the dog’s focus is. A completely vertical tail means, “I’m the dominant one here.”
Broad wags with relaxed hips: This dog is definitely happy, as if saying, “I like you.”
Low, close to the body, wagging at the tip: It’s a little cautious, but still willing to engage with you. “It’s important that dogs like these are not overwhelmed, or they could become fearful,” says Dr Kang Nee.

MOUTH POSTURES

Yawning when not tired: This is a clear stress signal and the yawns are used to deflect possible threats. This indicates: “I don’t want any confrontations.” Often, this is accompanied by a shaking off movement, which allows the pooch to relieve stress.
Slightly open, relaxed tongue and lolling to one side: This is one happy pupper, and it’s as close to a smile as you can get. This is accompanied by floppy ears, soft eyes and a loose body.
Licking lips: This dog is distressed, or responding to another dog’s or person’s discomfort. 
Tense, tight jaw and closed mouth: Be careful! This pooch is super nervous and quickly running out of patience—it might snap if you’re not careful.

For more body language interpretations (such as eye positions and types of sounds) for Fido and Puss, flip to Body and Soul (pg 58) of our June-July 2017 issue!