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dog body language

Have you ever heard anyone say, “That dog is red” or “Wow! That dog is really green” or “That yellow dog just turned red”? These colors have nothing to do with a dog’s coat. They are terms to define a dog’s body language and how that translates to the dog’s state of mind.

Green dogs equal “go” — you can approach these friendly dogs. Yellow dogs equal “caution” — these dogs may be fearful or stressed. Red dogs equal “stop” — these dogs may be reactive.

Green Dogs

Green defines a dog that is friendly and sociable. This dog is relaxed. He may get up, stretch, and readily come toward you and/or the front of the enclosure or yard. If excited, he is likely to be wagging his tail in a fast, back-and-forth and extended manner. The dog has his head up, ears forward, mouth slightly open, and a glimmer in his eyes.

A green dog’s feet may be dancing up and down or he might be jumping if he is behind a gate or fence. This dog’s eyes will be focused on the object of his desires, as if to say, “Please pet me!” or “Come over here.” If there are toys in the enclosure, he may bring one to you. He might display a play bow, which is a dog’s way of asking you or another dog to play. A green dog will take a treat from a human, including strangers.

Green dogs are often easy to train. You can take advantage of that biddability to teach basic manners, such as sitting to be petted. Some green dogs will flip on their backs to ask for a tummy rub. This can be confusing, as this behavior can also be associated with the less social yellow and red dogs, when it is usually accompanied with submission and/or fear urination. Look at the whole dog and the situation to help you determine what that dog’s body language is saying.

dog body language
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Yellow Dogs

Yellow dogs are shy, wary, and unsure. These dogs are likely to be at the back of the enclosure or behind other dogs in the enclosure. Often, these dogs will use the other dogs to block their contact with people. Most of the time, they will have their tails tucked between their hind legs. The tails might be moving slowly and hesitantly.

These dogs’ heads are held down below the level of their backs, and their eyes are diverted. Yellow dogs may not accept a treat or may stretch their heads as far as they can to take a treat while keeping their feet and body as far back as possible. Yellow dogs may bark when people approach because they are frightened, not because they are excited to see them, like a green dog would be.

A yellow dog or even a green dog that is unsure of something new may exhibit stress signals — which are behaviors to relieve stress — by seeming disinterested.

Stress signals include yawning, lip and nose licking, shaking, and sniffing. These behaviors provide ways for dogs to avoid contact or confrontation with people and other dogs. Sometimes you will see a dog that turns its head away or lifts a front paw. These are signs of respect and peace.

Red Dogs

Red dogs are very fearful of people, other dogs, noises, and/or new situations. Often you will not see the red dog. If you are in the kennel, he is outside the kennel. If you are outside, he will be inside the kennel. He will go to extreme lengths to avoid human contact.

If the red dog is in an enclosure and cannot flee when approached, he may lie down as far away from you as possible and show a “whale eye,” not making direct eye contact and looking out of the corner of his eye. The eyes are often dilated and can be protruding or bulging with fear. In extreme cases, the dog will not even look at the observer. If a yellow or red dog is backed into a corner, he may turn his back to you. But use caution as you approach, especially if you are not familiar with the dog. These dogs may be frozen in fear and may not move, or they may attack.

Know your dogs, know their individual personalities and quirks, and control the future of your kennel. You will enjoy your kennel more, and you will catch the moment a dog is not feeling well or something is “off” or just not right in the kennel.

Illustrations by Lili Chin:

Thank you to Purdue University, Dr. Candace Croney, and Traci Shriver for sharing their method of explaining and identifying red, green, and yellow dogs.