Getting a new dog can be just as daunting as it is exciting, especially when they’re chaotic little babies.
One minute they’re having a nap, the next they’re running around barking, nipping, and chewing like they’ve just downed six espressos.
As their owner, you’ll have to get to know your dog better than anybody to make sure they’re happy, but those first few weeks and months can be pretty tricky.
If you want to start understanding your little pal a bit better, Lorna Winter, a director of the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter and co-founder of puppy training app Zigzag, has shared the five most common things puppies tend to communicate with their body language.
Everyone knows the heart-wrenching appeal of puppy dog eyes, but there may not always be a cute reason for a pup’s hard stare.
‘When a pup is showing the whites of its eyes while looking at something, or averting their gaze,’ said Lorna, ‘it typically is a sign that they are scared, worried and anxious – this is commonly called “whale eye”.
‘A hard stare and a furrowed brow often mean that a pup is stressed and about to react to someone or something. They might even do a little growl to let you know they’re feeling uncomfortable
‘If you do notice your pup doing this, it’s important to take note of its surroundings and try to work out what could be causing the distress.’
This might seem obvious, given how everybody associates a happy tail with a happy dog, but wagging doesn’t always mean what you think.
‘It all comes down to the side their tail is wagging,’ Lorna explained. ‘Studies have shown that a wag to the left actually means a dog is scared or feeling negative emotions. You might even notice they have tightened up their body when this happens.
‘It’s thought that the reason for this is that the left side of the brain controls movement on the right side of the body and vice versa. A tucked tail is also a sign that your pup is feeling unsure – it’s thought that they are trying to hide by covering up their scent glands.’
Not only that, but the wag’s speed could also be a tell-tale (pun intended) sign of what’s on their mind.
‘A slow tail way is often a sign that a dog is still assessing a situation and might not be fully comfortable,’ Lorna said, ‘so it’s always a good idea to ensure they have space from whatever they might be unsure of.
‘A fast or frantic tail wag can mean two things – either your pup is aroused and excited, or it can mean aggression. This is why it’s so important to assess the rest of your pup’s body language and the surrounding environment to fully understand what they are trying to tell you.’
First of all, Lorna wanted to stress that barking is very normal pup behaviour.
‘It is their way of communicating with us and each other and can express a range of feelings,’ she added.
‘It can often feel like your dog is barking at nothing, but it’s important to acknowledge and understand a pup’s bark and think about when or why this is happening. Can you identify any patterns?
‘Sometimes, it can just mean that your pup is bored and looking for a source of entertainment – for them, barking feels great even if your ears disagree.’
If you feel like your dog is barking a lot, and you’re not sure how to stop them, try giving them some puzzle toys to keep them occupied.
Hiccups are adorable, especially when they’re tiny puppy ones, but they can be a sign that your little pal is a bit uncomfortable.
‘Puppies aren’t known for much patience with food,’ Lorna explained, ‘so wolfing food down like it’s going to self-destruct in two seconds can set off the hiccups. Eating something that has made their stomach upset tends to also be a trigger for them.
‘We tend to give pups a variety of treats when training so anything new to them or a bit rich can cause the hiccups to say hello.’
The good thing is that mostly they’ll go away on their own, but if you think your pup is being especially bothered by them, there are things you can to do soothe them.
‘Help them relax and breathe more slowly, stroking them, talking in a soft voice can help the breathing soften and the hiccups pass,’ she said. ‘Rub their tummy if they roll over for a rub. Make sure you don’t force your pup onto their back though.
‘Help your puppy to have a drink. This can be quite tricky to do, so we suggest you offer them a sip slowly with maybe just a couple of drops of water on a spoon. Help them slow down when chomping on meals by using a slow feeder bowl or serving smaller meals more often. Also, let them rest after a meal for about an hour before exercise, so their food can go down properly.’
Just like barking, nipping is a very normal thing for puppies to do.
‘In a puppy, this behaviour is usually a sign of teething and is a very normal part of the development period,’ said Lorna. ‘It can be a painful time for your pup, so they are often nipping to alert you to the pain and to work out their own bite strength.
‘To help their teeth and gums (and your furniture), treat them to dental chews that are specially designed for puppies, as they are more forgiving for dogs teething.’
If you think the biting is starting to turn aggressive, don’t worry, because there’s plenty of time to train them out of it.
‘Firstly make sure that all your pup’s needs are met,’ instructed Lorna. ‘They could be trying to tell you that they’re bored, tired, or are being handled in a way that they don’t like. Again, try to look for patterns in their behaviour and body language.
‘If your puppy’s aggressive biting has come on suddenly, and you’re worried then we would always suggest talking to a vet.’
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