Helping cats and dogs live their healthiest lives.
German shepherd puppy sitting in black and white on a white background

Understanding your puppy’s behaviour

You are an important social partner to your puppy, and whether they're trying to catch your attention or not, it's important you're able to understand their behaviour, how they express themselves and the meaning behind their actions.

Your puppy's body language

Your puppy can't communicate through speech, so look at their body language and try to recognise how you can meet their needs.

Black puppy licking a young boy's face

Relaxed

A relaxed or calm posture is thought of as the neutral point for all other body languages. It's important that you know what your puppy's baseline body language is so that you can recognise any subtle changes in their behaviour.

1. Tail

Your puppy's tail will most likely be in a downward position, but not in-between their legs. If they are relaxed, their tail may be slowly wagging.

2. Posture

When a puppy is relaxed, all of their weight will be evenly distributed across their legs without any tension in their body.

3. Ears

If your puppy is relaxed, they will hold their ears in a neutral position, neither pulled forward or backwards.

4. Eyes

Slow blinking may also be a sign that your puppy feels relaxed.

Alert

If your puppy is showing alert body language, this means that something has caught their attention. This isn't exclusively a reaction to something negative, and merely shows your puppy's interest in specific items/situations. That being said, pay close attention to the development of your puppy's behaviour to be sure they feel comfortable and confident in each situation.

1. Tail

Your puppy will hold their tail in an upright position. They may also be wagging their tail.

2. Posture

Your puppy's body may be tense when they are alert. They may also be leaning towards whatever has caught their attention on their front legs.

3. Ears

A sign of an alert puppy is upright and slightly forward ears. If your puppy has dropped ears, this change may be more subtle.

4. Eyes

An alert puppy will watch what has caught their attention closely.

5. Mouth

An alert puppy will often have their mouth fully closed.

Playful

A common indication of a playful puppy is the stereotypical "bow". As well as this stance, a playful puppy can also be recognised by exaggerated movements. Engaging your puppy in fun games when they are presenting this body language is a great way to ensure they are getting plenty of physical and mental stimulation.

1. Tail

A playful puppy may lift their tail up high whilst wagging.

2. Posture

Play bowing or quick changes in behaviour, such as chasing and wrestling may indicate your puppy is feeling playful.

3. Ears

Pricked up ear, indicate your puppy is ready to play. If your puppy has dropped ears, this change may be more subtle.

4. Sounds

If your puppy is excited they may bark during play.

5. Mouth

Often, playful puppies have their mouths open with their tongue out.

Fearful

It's important to recognise the signs of fear or distress in your puppy. If your puppy appears to be fearful, you should take them away from the trigger and allow them to calm down.

1. Tail

A fearful puppy will tuck their tail down in-between their legs.

2. Posture

Your puppy may lower their body and turn their head away from whatever is causing their fear. This could make it look as if they are walking sideways. They may raise one forepaw, yawn or lick their lips as an indication of anxiety.

3. Ears

Pulled back ears could be a sign your puppy is fearful.

4. Sounds

If your puppy is fearful they may also express this by whining.

5. Eyes

If your puppy is fearful they may avoid looking directly at whatever has caused them upset.

Defensive aggression

Puppies displaying this behaviour are afraid and could attack if they're provoked. It's important to pay close attention to your puppy's body language and avoid pushing your puppy too far.

1. Tail

A defensively aggressive puppy may tuck their tail in-between their legs.

2. Posture

A defensive aggressive puppy may stand in a crouched position with their tail tucked low. The hackles on their back and tail may be raised and they may lean back and crouch their legs.

3. Sounds

Growling is a common indicator of both defence and aggression in puppies.

4. Ears

If your puppy is displaying defensive aggression, their ears are often pulled back and flattened against their head.

5. Eyes

A defensively aggressive puppy's eyes may be wide with dilated pupils. As your puppy is fearful, they will likely not make direct eye contact, and instead will turn their body or head to the side.

6. Mouth

If your puppy is defensively aggressive, they may pull the corners of their mouth back and reveal their teeth.

Offensive aggression

If your puppy is showing aggressive behaviour, it's important to try and diffuse the situation before they attack.

1. Tail

If your puppy bends their tail upwards, this could be an indication of aggression. The hairs on their tail may also bristle.

2. Posture

A puppy displaying offensive aggression will have a very strong stance. Your puppy will be standing upright and leaning forward on their front legs.

3. Sounds

If your puppy is growling at other dogs or people whilst also leaning forwards, this is a sign of aggression.

4. Ears

An offensive aggressive puppy's ears could be pointing forward, lifted as high as possible.

5. Eyes

If your puppy is showing aggression, they may be making direct eye contact with whatever has caused the behaviour.

6. Mouth

A offensively aggressive puppy will curl their mouth and nose back.

Encouraging good behaviour

The evolution of a dog's behaviour

Domestication has seen dogs change from wild animals to household pets, which has resulted in drastic behavioural changes. As dogs no longer need to source food or seek shelter, they need to be able to communicate their needs to their owners, which they learn to do so from an early age.

Husky puppy walking outdoors through grass and branches

Puppy behaviour explained

Discover some of the reasons that may be behind your puppy’s behaviour.

Your puppy may be experiencing separation anxiety. To prevent this, introduce your dog to the idea of being alone. If your dog can stay home alone for at least 30 minutes, it’s usually easier for them to be left for longer periods.

This can be due to boredom or curiosity; however it can sometimes be associated with specific diseases and if you are concerned about your puppy’s behaviour you should consult your vet.

This could be a sign of loneliness, anxiety or boredom, so it’s essential to provide chew toys and plenty of exercise. Prevent chewing behaviour by re-directing their attention to a toy, and never punish your puppy as this can sometimes increase the bad behaviour.

If your puppy hasn’t had enough exercise, they could be trying to burn off excess energy through digging. Your puppy may also be inclined to bury their toys or chews, so keep an eye if they're taking these outside with them. They might also be trying to cool off by lying in freshly dug soil if they are too hot.

Excessive panting is possibly a sign they’re too hot, however it can also indicate stress if they’re in an uncomfortable situation. Excessive panting can be a sign of disease, so always consult with a vet if you're unsure.

Some suggest puppies roll in poo because it helps to disguise their scent, and this spans back to a time when dogs weren’t domesticated. Others say dog’s do this simply because they like the smell!

Dog’s noses are cold because of the moisture which evaporates off it, so if there is no evaporation their nose will feel warm. Your puppy’s nose should never be dry or chapped though, so you should consult a vet if you are concerned.

Puppies only have a short attention span when learning new skills, so it’s possible your current training sessions are too long if there's too much distraction. Try and keep sessions to a maximum of five minutes, choose a quiet and familiar training location and make sure your puppy is not distracted.

This is more likely to be a more common problem for puppies under six months of age. Some people suggest they do this if they have a vitamin deficiency, internal parasites, or simply when they’re bored.

Your puppy could be upset for a number of reasons, including hunger, loneliness, injury, boredom, or because they need to go to the toilet. Reading the context and their body language using our tips above could give you an insight into what they want.

It was previously thought dog’s eat grass to induce vomiting, however, a more likely explanation is that they simply like to eat it.

This could be a sign your puppy is trying to communicate something, such as affection. In new situations, they might lick the face of a stranger to try and figure out their intentions.

First, it's important to rule out medical issues, so contact your vet if you’re concerned. Other reasons for shaking can include stress, fear, excitement and cold temperatures. Try to remember what was happening before your puppy started shaking to figure out the cause.

If you are concerned your puppy’s behaviour is not normal, it is always advisable to speak to your vet.

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Jack Russell Terrier puppy sitting in black and white on a white background

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