The ancestor of the domestic dog, the wolf, developed a long time ago to be a co-operative pack hunter. Their bodies and brains, senses and abilities developed solely to serve this purpose and they developed behaviors which helped them thrive in a challenging environment.
These same behaviors and motivations still exist in the domestic dog.
Dog Behavior: Pack Mentality: As pack animals dogs naturally submit to a leader, most often their owner. They are most comfortable when they know their place within the pack. Dogs that are given mixed signals, for example when dominant behavior is sometimes tolerated, sometimes not, tend to be stressed.
Dog Behavior: Body Language: Dogs communicate using body language involving the tail, ears, body posture, eye contact and facial expression. A dog drooping its head and tail when scolded, for example, is indicating submission.
Dog Behavior: Territorial Aggressiveness: Dogs naturally protect what they see as their territory. This can include food, a favorite toy, and in extreme cases, even their owner or other humans of their pack.
Dog Behavior: Socialization: Play and socialization in wolf packs serves to cement relationships and hone hunting skills. This is why play between an owner and his dog is so important. Wolf packs also bond through participating in hunts and patrolling territory. This is simulated when you walk your dog.
Dog Behavior: Pursuit: A wolf’s instinct is to chase anything that moves because it is potential prey. Dog’s also show this instinct, chasing the neighbor’s cat, the mailman or a passing cyclist.
Dog Behavior: Fleeing: Given the choice of fight or flight most wild animals choose the later. Wolves (and dogs) are no different especially around loud, unknown noises like fireworks or thunder.
Dog Behavior: Vocalization: Wolves have a more limited vocabulary than dogs but still rely on howling or growling to communicate. The dog’s vocabulary includes barking and whining to express happiness, fear, anxiety, or to sound a warning.
Here is a quick reference list of some typical dog behavior and how to recognize it.
Behavior: AggressiveEars Forward or back, close to head.Eyes Narrow or staring challengingly.Mouth & Teeth Lips open, drawn back to expose teeth bared in a snarl.
Possible jaw snapping.Body Tense. Upright. Hackles on neck up. Completely Dominant
position.Tail Straight out from body. Fluffed up.Vocalization Snarl. Growl. Loud bark.
Behavior: Before FlightEars Back.Eyes Wide open. Possibly rolled back with whites showing.Mouth & Teeth Slightly opened mouth. Possible drooling.Body Tense. Shivering. Low, poised to run.Tail Low or between legs.Vocalization None. Possible yelp or whine.
Behavior: FriendlyEars Perked-up.Eyes Wide open. Alert look.Mouth & Teeth Relaxed, possibly slightly open, “smiling” mouth.Body Normal posture. Still, or possible wiggling of whole rear end.Tail Up or out from body. Wagging.Vocalization Whimpering, yapping, or short, high bark.
Behavior: GuardingEars Perked-up. Forward.Eyes Wide open, alert.Mouth & Teeth Mouth slightly open, teeth bared. Snapping or gnashing of teeth.Body Tense. Rigid. Hackles up. Standing very tall in an aggressive or dominant stance.Tail Rigid. Held straight out from body. Sometimes fluffed.Vocalization Loud alert bark. Growl. Snarl.
Behavior: Happy / PlayfulEars Perked-up and forward, or relaxed.Eyes Wide open. Sparkly/merry-looking.Mouth & Teeth Mouth relaxed and slightly open, teeth covered. Excited panting.Body Relaxed, or front end lowered, rear end up in the air, wiggling in a play-bow. Excited bouncing and jumping up and down.
Circling around and running forward and back in an invitation to play.Tail Wagging vigorously.Vocalization Excited barking. Soft play-growling.
Behavior: PredatoryEars Alert. Held forward or backward to catch sounds.Eyes Wide open. Staring, focusing.Mouth & Teeth Mouth closed.Body Rigid. Low to ground, ready to spring forward. Quietly sniffing the air.Tail Straight and low.Vocalization None.
Behavior: Subordinate/SubmissiveEars Down, flattened against head.Eyes Narrowed to slits or wide open, whites showing.Mouth & Teeth Lips pulled way back from teeth in a “grin”.
Nuzzling or licking other animal or person on face.Body Lowered to ground, front paw raised. Lying on back, belly up. Possible urine leaking/dribbling. Possible emptying of anal scent glands.Tail Down, between legs.Vocalization None, or low, worried whining. Possible yelping/whimpering in fear.