The best advice I can give to you is to teach your children to take a moment to identify how the dog is feeling by looking at the entire dog’s body language. My previous blog reviewed signs of a dog that is uncomfortable, or not happy. This blog will review body language that indicates a dog is comfortable and happy.
This is an example of a relaxed happy dog.
Here are some of the things you want to look for to indicate that things are going well:
1. Relaxed, loose body language – Overall the dog seems to be enjoying interacting with children and looks relaxed and happy. If lying down, he may have his head over his paw or have his paws crossed. The whole body may be wiggling with the tail. He may also be sitting in a relaxed manner with a happy expression on his face. Don’t confuse an excited dog with a happy dog. An overly-excited dog may jump up, or grab the child with their mouth in an attempt to play as they would with another dog.
2. Mouth may be open and you can see their tongue and it can look like they are smiling – Not a tightly closed mouth, snarling or growling. Also the tongue should not be hanging out, extended, as though they are hot, tired or stressed.
3. Eyes look soft, happy, relaxed, and peaceful or even can be squinted.
4. Ears are relaxed – Not tightly pinned down or very erect and rigid. They may be turned to the side, lowered, but relaxed.
5. Tail may be wagging softly, but also look at the base of the tail – It most likely will be level with the back or hanging in a relaxed way, If it is wagging, it will be wagging loosely and in a relaxed manner. The tail should not be erect from the base up over the body, or tucked between the back legs. As I’ve mentioned in my “Stop, Look and Paws” child/dog safety learning activity, a wagging tail itself is not always a sign that a dog is happy. It can mean they are excited and want to interact, but the interaction may not always be positive. You need to look at the whole body for overall body language.
Finally, remember not to focus only on the breed of the dog. All breeds are capable of being safe or not safe to pet. Also, don’t just look at the face or tail of dog. Help the children in your life to observe the entire body language of a dog to help them determine if it may be safe or not safe to pet!