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How to Read Your Dog’s Body Language When Traveling Somewhere New

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If your dog shares an adventurous personality with you, nothing may be more enriching for them than the chance to travel the world by your side. This may be a golden opportunity for them to see and smell new things, find new forms of physical and mental stimulation, and perhaps even socialize with other canines and humans. 

But some dogs won’t be readily excited to be brought to a place they’ve never been to before, and the sudden change in their routine can stress them out. When you’re out traveling, you’ll want to pay special attention to your furry friend’s body language to determine whether they’re having a good time or not. 

Here are some things you should take notice of when reading your dog’s body language so that you know whether to leave them be in their new environment or do something to comfort them, like letting them wear one of their favorite custom branded dog bandanas

Tail

The tail is one of the most expressive parts of a dog’s body, providing clear signals about their emotions and comfort levels. As such, paying attention to your dog’s tail can often help you gauge their response to new stimuli and decide whether to let them continue exploring or take a step back. 

Below are some common tail positions and what they typically indicate about your dog’s state of mind:

  • Wagging tail. A wagging tail generally indicates happiness, but the context and manner of wagging matter a lot. A broad, relaxed wag often means your dog is excited and enjoying their new surroundings. However, a stiff, high wag can suggest alertness or agitation, indicating your dog might be on edge.
  • Tucked tail. If your dog’s tail is tucked between their legs, it’s likely a sign of fear or anxiety. In a new place, this could mean they’re feeling overwhelmed or threatened.
  • Low tail. A tail hanging low but not tucked in can indicate uncertainty. Your dog might be unsure about their new environment, but not necessarily scared. 

Eyes

Your dog’s eye movements and expressions can also help you gather important clues about their emotional state. Here are some key eye-related behaviors to watch for and what they typically mean:

  • Wide eyes. When your dog’s eyes are wide open, they’re likely feeling alert and curious. However, if their eyes seem overly wide with visible whites (commonly known as “whale eye”), this could indicate fear or anxiety on their part. Your dog may be feeling overwhelmed about being introduced to so many new stimuli or deviating from the routine they typically observe back home.
  • Soft eyes. Soft, relaxed eyes typically indicate that your dog is calm and comfortable. If your dog is happily exploring a new place with soft eyes, it’s a good sign that they’re adapting well and enjoying the experience.
  • Avoiding eye contact. Dogs often avoid direct eye contact as a sign of submission or discomfort. If your dog is consistently avoiding eye contact in your travel location, they may be feeling insecure or stressed and may also be in need of a breather.
  • Staring. A hard stare, especially if paired with a stiff body, can indicate aggression or a strong sense of unease. If your dog is staring intently at something or someone in your new surroundings, it’s essential to redirect their attention and possibly remove them from the situation to prevent any escalation.

Ears

Dogs use their ears to communicate with us and with other animals, so it’s important to pay attention to these signals to make educated guesses about their level of comfort or discomfort. Here are some key ear positions and what they typically indicate:

  • Erect ears. When your dog’s ears are standing up and facing forward, it usually means they’re alert and attentive. However, if their ears are also stiff and their body is tense, they may be on high alert and possibly anxious about something in your travel experience.
  • Relaxed ears. Ears that are held in their natural position, whether they’re floppy or semi-erect, suggest that your dog is calm and at ease. In a new place, relaxed ears are a positive sign that your dog feels secure and not threatened or stressed by the unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Pinned back ears. If your dog’s ears are pinned back against their head, it often indicates fear, nervousness, or submission. Something they’ve encountered could be causing them to feel overwhelmed or scared. If this is the case, especially if their ears remain pinned back for an extended period, it’s important to reassure your dog or remove them from the situation.

Facial Expression

A dog’s facial expressions can be very telling and provide a wealth of information about how they find your travels so far. Some common facial expressions and what they typically signify are detailed below:

  • Relaxed face. A relaxed face—with soft eyes, a slightly open mouth, and a relaxed tongue—are good signs that your dog is being receptive to the experience. Pay attention to which travel activities encourage this state as opposed to activities that make them nervous. 
  • Tense face. If your dog’s face appears tense, with furrowed brows, a tightly closed mouth, and eyes that are wide or showing the whites, this suggests that they’re feeling stressed. This often indicates that your dog is not comfortable and may need some reassurance or a break from whatever you’re doing.
  • Panting. Panting can be a normal behavior for dogs, especially when they’re hot or just coming off a physical activity. However, excessive or rapid panting in a new environment can be a sign of stress or anxiety. If your dog is panting heavily without a clear physical reason, let them rest and cool down with something that gives them comfort, like a treat or their favorite toy.
  • Lip licking and yawning. Dogs often lick their lips or yawn when they’re feeling uncomfortable. These behaviors are calming signals that your dog uses to try to self-soothe. If you notice them doing either of these, pat them gently or bring them to a place where they can further calm down.
Read Your Dog’s Body Language

Posture

Lastly, check your dog’s overall posture for clues about how they’re feeling in your travel destination. Observe the way they carry their body so that you can determine whether they’re relaxed, stressed, or scared of something. Some key postures that you should take notice of are the following:

  • Relaxed posture. When your dog has a relaxed posture, their body will appear loose and comfortable. They might have a gentle sway to their movement, and their muscles will not be tense. This is a positive sign that your dog feels safe and secure in your company, ready to explore your destination without anxiety.
  • Crouched posture. If your dog is crouching or lowering their body to the ground, they’re likely scared or feeling submissive. This posture, in which your dog tries to make themselves appear smaller, is a sign that they’re feeling overwhelmed or threatened. Try to find the root cause and separate your dog from it. 
  • Rolling over. Rolling over and exposing the belly can be a sign of submission and trust. If your dog does this in a new location, it means they feel safe and at ease there. However, if they roll over in a way that seems more fearful or reluctant, it might mean that they’re trying to appease or reduce perceived threats. As always, context is key, and you should figure out if there’s a reason your dog is acting this way. 
  • Freezing. If your dog suddenly stops moving and freezes, it’s a strong sign of fear or extreme caution. Freezing often means that your dog is highly stressed and unsure of how to proceed. Take this as a sign to act quickly and find a way to appease your dog. 

As seen from the points above, your knowledge of your dog’s body language will make a world of difference in ensuring their comfort and safety during your trip. Make your dog’s physical and emotional well-being one of your top priorities for your travel adventure, and you’ll be likelier to have a great time together.

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