Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
wagging tail always the sign of a friendly
dog? If your
cat rolls on her back, does she really want you to rub her tummy? If your dog is
“smiling” does that mean he is happy? As a veterinary behaviorist, I have to tell you, the answers to these questions might surprise you.
There are some common behaviors that our dogs and cats exhibit that many people often misinterpret. Let’s review some canine and feline
body language in order to help you determine what your pet is
really trying to tell you.
For example, tail wagging is not necessarily a sign of friendliness. In dogs, a wagging tail is an indication that the dog is willing to interact, but that interaction can be either
aggressive or friendly. In order to determine what the dog is “saying,” you need to look at the rest of the dog’s body posture to figure out if he is approachable or not. Are the dog’s ears pinned back and flat against the head, sort of like a seal’s? Is his body and/or head lowered? Is he
avoiding direct eye contact? Is he holding his body still or is he perhaps leaning away from you? These are all signs that the dog is uncomfortable and wants to avoid further interactions. Also keep in mind that a dog may not always choose to leave your vicinity in order to avoid a confrontation. Just as some people might just turn away from someone to avoid a conversation rather than move all the way across the room, a dog might try to stand, turn his head or hold his body away from you if he is uncomfortable. On the other hand, if the dog is being friendly, you might observe that he comes over to you and presents his side or hindquarters to be petted or scratched. He may nudge your hand for attention or press his body up against you. Or, when you look at the dog or speak to it, he may move closer to you for more attention and not
growl as he approaches.
In cats, a “wagging” tail is definitely
a sign of agitation. Cats don’t really wag their tails like dogs do. When relaxed, they tend to hold their tails quietly with minimal movement in comparison to a dog. So if a cat is moving her tail back and forth quickly two or three times in a motion I describe more as “whipping,” this might indicate agitation. It means something has caused the cat to be aroused, and it is best to give her some space and not interact with her until she has calmed down.
behavior that we as humans often misread is when an animal rolls over onto its
back. This is not always a sign that he or she wants a tummy rub. When a dog lies
on his back, he is showing a sign of utter submission and appeasement in the
dog world. People have chosen to interpret it as a sign the dog wants a belly
rub. Many dogs may simply like attention, will take it any way they can get it
and have learned to love their belly rubs. Other dogs, however, may feel really
threatened by someone leaning over them while they are showing their most
ultimate form of appeasement. Submissive behavior is deferential behavior used
to tell the other dog that he wants to avoid conflict or a confrontation and that he needs space. When a dog rolls over onto his back, I typically ask him to sit
up first before I give him attention to avoid this potential problem. Some
people are really surprised when they try to pet a dog’s belly and he growls or
snaps. While some dogs have been conditioned to receive attention in this
manner and maybe even have learned to like it, always keep in mind that in the
natural order of things, this is actually a signal saying, “give me space” or “do
not hurt me.”
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
There's a lot of misinformation out there
about getting pets fixed, so we're clearing
up some popular…
Repetitive behaviors like tail chasing and
excess paw licking can indicate that your
animal has a compulsive…
From Alaskan Malamute to Xoloitzcuintli,
here's our guide to pronouncing the most
tongue-twistery dog breed names.
Weaving through your legs can be an
endearing habit, but sometimes it's a
sign of a behavioral or medical issue.
Minimize the risk of a bad trick-or-treat
interaction by brushing up on your dog’s
manners before October 31.
The Schapendoes (aka Dutch Sheepdog)
is known for his incredible jumping skills
and cheerful personality.
Parasites are no fun for dogs. Learn how
to protect your canine from heartworms,
hookworms, whipworms and more.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.