Dog Behaviour

Knowing how to interpret canine body language and specific signals (often subtle) that your four-legged companion shares is key to understanding your dog. Whether you are dealing with seemingly unpredictable puppy behaviour or familiar adult dog behaviour, recognising the diverse types of dog communication will help you to better meet the needs of your pet and improve your communication with them. To help you gain a better understanding of puppy and dog behaviour and body language, we have collated several of the more common types of behaviours for you to look out for.

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Understanding your dog: Insights from Kimberley Nicolle, Qualified Force-Free Dog Trainer

Better understand your dog through their body language and common dog behaviour.

Types of Dog Behaviour

There are many common dog behaviours that can be completely normal in certain situations but in other contexts can signal worry, distress or discomfort. Learning these signs can help you better understand and communicate with your pet.

Dog Panting

It is common for dogs to pant for short periods of time during exercise, play or in hot weather. It is primarily a method of cooling down but can also be a sign of stress, anxiety, illness, pain or fever. It is important to monitor any unexpected or heavy panting to make sure breathing settles once your dog is resting in a cooler environment. Prolonged or excessive panting, or persistent panting at night (during rest) can be an indicator that your dog is struggling or suffering. It is important to seek veterinary advice in these cases as your dog may be dealing with a medical emergency such as heart or lung disease, pain, fever or toxicity. If panting seems to be triggered by anxiety, a vet can also help to identify possible reasons and support your pet in feeling better.

Dog Chewing

If you have a dog at home, you may have witnessed destructive chewing. Many dogs seem to have an intense urge to chew everything, including soft toys, dog chew toys, sticks, shoes, dog beds or even pieces of furniture. Depending on the age of your dog, chewing can be related to several different things. Puppies need to chew frequently during teething, while dogs of any age may chew for fun, to self-stimulate, as an outlet for anxiety when left alone, or a sign of frustration from inadequate exercise or a lack of attention from family members. It can also help dogs keep their teeth clean and their jaws strong. To promote healthy chewing behaviours rather than destructive chewing, provide your dog’s meals in interesting formats such as puzzle feeders. Why not give your dog a safe, healthy dental chew or dog chewy.

Dog Digging

Digging is a natural dog behaviour, but it is often undesirable when it involves dogs digging holes around the house and garden. If they are digging holes under the fence or around your garden, they may be looking to provide themselves with shelter from hot or cold weather, wind or rain. Some dogs might dig as an attempt to escape to find you when left home alone or during panic attacks from noise phobias (such as storms of fireworks) or secondary to separation-distress. Others enjoy burying or digging up smelly items. If your dog is digging in bed, this could be part of their normal self-settling routine or they may be attempting to create a place of security or comfort, especially if they have been spooked or feel nervous in their surroundings.

Dog Biting

Biting is a confronting and very undesirable behaviour, but there are several triggers that may cause it. If you have a young dog, then puppy biting (mouthing) is a way for them to explore the world around them, including objects in their environment as well as nibbling at skin, fur or clothes. This is the equivalent of a child exploring new things with their hands and mouth. If your dog is chewing their paws or chewing their tail, this may be an indicator that they are struggling with itchy skin from an allergy or parasites like fleas or ticks. It is important to speak to your vet if you notice this behaviour regularly. Biting can also stem from fear which is the underlying cause of dog aggression. A bite is usually preceded by other warning signs such as stiffening, staring, growling or snapping. It is crucial to know the difference between these contexts so that you can correctly interpret the situation and seek support in managing the problem.


If you notice your dog walking in circles, they may be getting ready to perform normal behaviours and activities like urinating, sniffing, and exploring their environment. However, in some cases, dog circling can be an indication of underlying pain or potential neurological disease. Seeing a dog repeatedly walking in circles or chasing their tail can also be a sign that they are dealing with a compulsive disorder. It is important to consult your vet if your dog exhibits unusual or unexpected circling behaviour.

Tail Wagging

Wagging the tail is a way that dogs convey their emotional state to those around them. Tail wagging by dogs can be an indicator of whether the dog is feeling happy, nervous, threatened, excited or anxious. When a dog is content, its tail will usually sit in a relaxed resting position. A relaxed tail wag can signal a happy but relaxed state while rapid wagging can be a sign of excitement or nervousness. A very low and fast tail wag can be a sign of fear or apprehension. You can use other clues, such as panting, eye movement and muscle tension to better interpret this dog tail language. If you happen to notice your dog wagging their tail in their sleep, then do not worry, this is a sign that your dog is experiencing good quality sleep to keep them feeling refreshed and healthy.

Aggressive Dog Behaviour

Understanding different dog behavioural problems that can lead to aggressive dog behaviour is essential for any dog owner. Undesirable behaviours such as excessive chewing, pulling on the leash, whining for attention, barking and digging can be signs of social anxiety, panic, generalised anxiety, separation distress or simply a lack of fair and consistent training. Being able to understand and properly respond to these behaviours can help us avoid future behavioural problems, such as aggression, by properly managing demanding situations before they escalate.
Aggressive behaviour in dogs can arise from any number of triggers that incite fear or anxiety, such as defensive or protective behaviours, territorial aggression, guarding of valued resources (such as dog or puppy food aggression) as well as pain, confusion or illness. Dogs generally want to avoid needing to use these responses at all costs and they will almost always be preceded by displacement behaviours or warning signs. Looking out for signals such as growling, baring teeth, stiffening or fixed staring can warn you of potentially escalating aggressive behaviours.

Dog Behaviour Training

There are a variety of dog training methods that you can employ to take care of your pet and reinforce positive dog behaviours while reducing problematic ones. With dog training techniques like positive reinforcement dog training, you can ensure that your pet enjoys a positive experience while you instruct them on the behaviours you want them to exhibit. With options for everything from puppy behaviour and biting training, to training for abnormal behaviour in dogs, there are a variety of techniques to help. To search for accredited trainers, click here.



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