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Your Pet's Emotions: There To See

Just because your family pet can't actually speak to you doesn't mean it isn't trying to tell you something. In fact, the body language of most cats and dogs should be enough to present a clear picture of the animal's thoughts and feelings.

Veterinarian Debbye Turner shows The Early Show a number of different positions of both our canine and feline friends, and explains what they mean:

Emotions of dogs, says Turner, are expressed this way:

  • Happy:
    The key identifying features of a happy dog are: ears perked up and forward; eyes wide open; mouth relaxed and slightly opened with teeth covered; body and tail relaxed. A happy dog will not attempt to look you in the eye and will probably go through the typical sniffing pattern. You should offer the dog the back of your wrist to smell before attempting to pet it
  • Submissive
    This includes both "active" and "passive" submissive postures. Most people have seen passive submission - this is when the dog lays down on it's back, belly up. This indicates a pacifying gesture that's offered to a more dominant individual (like the human owner). It seems as though the dog wants to have its belly rubbed in this position. Key identifying features of this behavior are: ears back; exposed belly; tail tucked in; head turned away and indirect gaze.

    Active submission is a pacifying pose used when the dog acknowledges another dog or human's higher ranking, or to inhibit another dog's aggression. The key identifying features are: ears back; tail hangs low or wags slowly; one paw raised; eyes half closed and mouth nearly closed with just the tip darting out.

  • Playful:
    This is the position a dog takes when trying to solicit play. The dog bows down in front, which is a combination of submissive and dominant gestures. This stance is offered to invite another (dog or human) to play or as part of a courtship behavior. Identifying features are: front end of dog lowered, as if ready to leap forward; mouth open and relaxed with tongue exposed; ears up and tail up, loosely wagging.
  • Aggressive:
    This includes "defensive aggressive" in addition to aggressive. In a defensive aggressive posture, a dog is fearful and is giving warning signals to indicate that it does not want to be approached, but if it is, it will attack to protect itself. The key features of this pose are: ears back; pupils dilated; mouth is tense, wrinkled and snarling with exposed teeth; tail is down and tense; posture is mildly crouched with the weight over rear legs.

    Aggressive behavior is indicated by: open snarling mouth with exposed teeth; ears up; tail up and tense; eyes making contact; growling.

    Turner says cats, like dogs, express the following emotions through body language:

  • Happy:
    This includes three positions: standing, lying down and cleaning itself. In the standing position, the happy cat is displaying confidence. It's ready to explore its environment and engage those it meets along the way. This cat has friendly intentions. The key identifying features are: standing straight and tall; tail up; ears forward; purposeful walk.

    When the happy cat lies down, it stretches out on its side or lies on its back, exposing its belly. This cat accepts being approached, but doesn't necessarily want its belly rubbed (it might grab your hands and bite you). Key features of the happy, laying down cat are: stretched out body; head and ears up; paws flexed in kneading motion; stomach semi- to completely exposed.

    The third happy cat position is when it's cleaning itself - a cat will not groom itself if it feels threatened. This posture is obvious - the cat is lifting a leg and licking it's stomach, etc.

  • Territorial:
    Territorial behavior is distance reducing for a cat. This encourages approach and interaction and is meant to indicate that the cat means no harm. This is when a cat rubs its face against another cat (scent marking) or a person's hand, etc. to give off pheromones. This action is calming for the cat and essentially guarantees friendly interaction. The identifying features of this posture are: tail up; face rubbing to distribute glandular facial pheromones from the forehead, chin or whiskers.
  • Fearful:
    The fearful cat tries to make itself look smaller by crouching into a ball. Muscles are tensed and the cat is posed to flee, if necessary. The key features are: body hunched and muscles tensed; tail held close to the body; enlarged pupils; ears swiveled sideways.
  • Aggressive:
    Again, this includes defensive aggressive. In the defensive aggressive posture, the cat is preparing itself for an unwanted interaction from a more dominant animal. This occurs when the cat determines that it cannot escape. The cat will roll slightly to one side to expose its paws, so it can protect itself. The key features of this behavior are: ears flat against the head; pupils dilated; body rolled to one side with paws exposed; claws out; facial muscles tense and teeth bared.

    In the regular aggressive stance, the cat is trying to keep others from coming closer. The cat is standing up with its back arched and hair on end - this is the cat's way of appearing as formidable as possible, in order to maintain a distance-increasing behavior. The key identifying features are: arched back; fur standing straight up; ears sideways; pupils dilated; whiskers pulled back; paw slightly raised and ready to swat, if necessary; tail tensely curved and swishing.

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