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Fact vs. fiction: Strange dog rituals and their true meanings

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By Carol Bryant

From The Dog Daily

Does a tail wag always mean a happy dog? Are a dog's sloppy kisses a surefire sign of its affection? Since dogs are unable to verbalize what they are really thinking, there are nonverbal cues that we can learn from and respond to accordingly. We separate the facts from the fiction.

1. A wagging tail indicates a happy dog.

False. 

Not always. A friendly wag is generally wide and sweeping for long-tailed dogs, and rapid and joyful for smaller breeds. Pay attention to other nonverbal cues: Ears tend to hang low and eye contact is remiss in a happily wagging dog. When a stiffly wagging tail that is held higher is coupled with a glare, this might indicate trouble, so keep your dog clear of any other dogs that are exhibiting that behavior.

2. My dog kisses me because it loves me.

Partially true. 

Dogs like the taste of salt, so it may just be that human skin tastes good to them. Other factors are probably at play too. For example, mother dogs lick their newborns from the start. Pups from an early age then learn to associate the licking sensation with something positive, welcome and comforting. In the dog world, it is therefore often a gift to be licked! So consider those poochie smoochies to be a sign of devotion and loyalty.

3. Dogs yawn because they are bored.

False. 

Though often considered a sign of boredom, yawns may indicate tension or anxiety in a dog. Yawning may occur when being hugged or petted or even upon being approached by a stranger. Of course, your dog may simply be yawning because it is sleepy and/or relaxed.

4. Dogs roll over and expose their stomachs for a belly rub.

Tralse (a little true, a little false). 

A sign of submission, dogs will roll over to show another dog or person they are not a threat or to indicate they are not interested in performing a certain behavior. True, it can mean "Rub my tummy" as well.

Though unable to verbalize, our pets have been communicating their wants, needs and moods for thousands of years. So keep your eyes on your dog. It's probably trying to tell you something important.

Carol Bryant is the Social Media and PR Director for Fido Friendly magazine. A frequent media contributor, Carol is a two-time nominee from the Dog Writers Association of America, and she maintains her own dog blog, Fidose of RealityHer articles have previously appeared in The Dog Daily.

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