Commonly Misunderstood Behaviors and Terms


Petting: Most dogs do not enjoy being pet on the head. When you reach to pet the head, you often block the dog’s vision. The dog will move away from your hand. This is a signal to pet in another way or to leave the dog alone. Dogs prefer a lowered hand and a slow approach to be pet under the chin or on the chest, then you may move around to the top of the dog’s head and shoulders. Always ask a dog to pet him by approaching slowly, offering the back of your hand and reading his body language. Pet for a few seconds, then stop. If the dog moves away or shakes, he disliked the petting. If the dog moves in with a soft, wagging body, he would like more.


Tail: A wagging tail rarely means the dog is “happy.”  The tail communicates many things.  The most important things to pay attention to are the position and the amount of stiffness.  A tucked tail conveys fear or stress. A tail that is somewhat low is relaxed. A tail that is raised above the spine is alert, aroused, and interested. A tail that is straight up is saying “watch out.” Knowing each dog’s normal tail carriage is important. A Husky has an upright tail to begin with, so its straight up will be even higher and his relaxed tail will still be over his back. In addition to where the tail is, it is important to pay attention to its stiffness versus softness. Soft is relaxed, stiff is not.  


Licking: Licking can mean many things. If you touch a dog in a way he dislikes, he may lick you as a way to say stop.  This kind of licking is often followed by mouthing or biting if ignored. Licking the mouth area of a human or a dog is a friendly greeting behavior and may also indicate respect, affection or groveling. Dogs lick surfaces to relieve stress. Constant licking may indicate a compulsive disorder.


Labels: It is important to refrain from labeling a dog.  Labels are misleading and don’t convey useful information. Behaviors come and go and are the dog’s way of communicating.  No dog is “aggressive.” He may use aggression at times. No dog is “submissive.” He may behave submissively in certain situations. These behaviors are not seen when the dog is alone. Dogs communicate with aggressive or submissive behaviors. An aggressive display is not the same as aggression. Aggression using one’s body is meant to inflict harm. An aggressive display is used to prevent conflict. Submissive behaviors are also used to prevent being harmed. Submissive behaviors are often seen as the dog “knowing” he was wrong or as “guilt.” Neither is true. Guilt, remorse, revenge, spite and the like are human emotions that dogs do not feel. Dogs use postures and behaviors to convey messages to avoid being harmed. Humans live in a moral world of right and wrong. Dogs live in the animal world of safe or dangerous. Keeping themselves safe from harm is their primary concern