Dog Body Language

When we share our homes with animals who speak a completely different language than we do, misunderstandings can happen so easily and with misunderstandings stress, anxiety and even aggression can easily erupt. I spoke with residents yesterday of a local retirement community where many people share their apartments with furry companions and much of that discussion ended up focusing on how dogs share their feelings. It is so important that I wanted to share it here also. Below is a description of some dog language.

understanding dog body languageHappy

Relaxed body muscles are a sign of a content dog. On its face, the corners of its mouth may be open or turned upwards slightly and it may be panting; its ears will be held neutrally; and its eyes will be normal shaped. While dogs perceive looking directly into each other’s eyes, they have often learned that looking at humans is a good thing (because we teach them positive outcomes occur when they do) so a happy dog may look at your with relaxed muscles. As for its body posture, a content dog will have overall loose muscles and be balancing on four legs. (Note that if it is happy AND in a playful mood, it will not be balancing on all four legs, but rather may have exaggerated movements WITH loose muscles.) Its tail may sway gently from side to side, curl loosely, or be held neutrally.


An excited dog will be alert and focused. Its eyes will be directed toward the stimulus it has detected. Its body will be natural in size but its weight may be centered over its rear or front legs as it readiness itself for movement. Its ears will be up, tail will more than likely be held high (with or without a wag), and mouth will often be open – even barking.


An aroused dog is intensely focused on something and ready for action. Signs to look for include:  ears forward or flattened, a closed or tense mouth, body weight on all four legs, a tail held high or a low, a very deliberate tail wag, tense eyes directed at what it detected, and raised hair on its back. Arousal can indicate alertness, excitement, fear or aggression; and body language will differ depending.


A fearful dog will try to look small, and may hunch over or cower close to the ground. Its tail will be held low or will be tucked between its back legs; and it might have its weight on its back legs to be ready for a quick escape or on its side legs to recoil; or it could either be moving quickly back and forth in hyper vigilance or moving slowly.  Its muscles will be tense. It could either look away from the aversive stimulus or look at what is scaring it. On the face, its ears will probably be flattened; its eyes may be smaller than usual or may show the whites of its eyes; its mouth will probably be closed and its lips may even be pulled back slightly. It may also flick its tongue or do an exaggerated yawn. The dog may also exhibit displacement behaviors – behaviors that are normal except at a time of conflict – such as yawning, licking of lips, sudden scratching or sniffing of ground, wet dog shake.

A fearful dog could escalate too to a growl, bark or worse if there is no escape. A fearful dog is more likely to try to get distance when possible, but if that is not possible, may snarl, growl, snap or bite. Sometimes that dog will wait until the animal or person is moving away, before quickly darting out to nip them from behind.

Imminent Bite

If the dog freezes and becomes stiff, stands with its front legs splayed and its head low (or could be held high) and focused on you, shows its teeth and growls – stop interaction immediately, look away and give the dog a chance to leave. Do not approach the dog, talk to him or make eye contact. If you are trying to get something the dog has, it is best to let it go. Among other warning signs of aggression:  raised hackles (fur along its spine), possible wrinkles around its mouth, tail tucked and stiff or held high and stiff, mouth corner pulled back, its body weight could be over his front or rear legs depending on the situation; and it will usually growl, snarl or bark.

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Rescue Dog Finds Forever Home After Nine Years

Most of my posts have to do with pet behavior but this story is one that I really wanted to share.

This sweet little girl named Bridget (the dog on the left) called the Animal Care Society of Westport Rd in Louisville home for nine years. Through time she grew shy and hesitant, and kept getting overlooked by potential owners..until a woman with a heart to see past what others viewed as weaknesses came by. Sherrie and her son, Ryan, came to visit Brigett for several After spending 9 years at the Animal Care Society of Westport Road in Louisville, Kentucky, this dog was adopted and found her forever home.weeks.

Bunny Zeller of the Animal Care Society told KPHO Wave 3 News: “She (Sherrie) was coming constantly and spending time with her. She walked her some to where she built Bridgette’s trust up of her. By the time they left, Bridgette was all over her, kissing her and licking her,” Zeller said.

Bridgett officially found her forever home on August 27, 2015. “It just makes me want to cry because you think how many times someone walked by her to get a younger dog,” Sherrie told KPHO.

Here is to happy endings!

Pet Therapy Makes For Special Friendships

I’m going to break the number one rule of blogging, that is to keep posts short. But, hey, this is my blog and sometimes it takes more than a few paragraphs to make a point. Below is a story I had written for my Hyde Park Living pet column about 3 1/2 years ago (with permission). It has special meaning to me and I wanted to share it. (Both of my friends, Chester and Bill have since passed. I have changed Bill’s name for privacy.) Maybe it will inspire you to make friends at a nursing home too.


It was close to dinner time last Sunday, and, as has been the pattern for many a Sundays over the past several years, I was sitting beside a man who I’ve grown to care about very much. We weren’t really talking about anything of great substance. Mostly actually, I was filling him in on my weekend, describing Barnaby’s newest phrase and reminding him of all the people who care about him. Love was surrounding him on that day and for the past several weeks. The birthday cards placarded on walls and shelves in every space, and a flower bouquet from his son and grandsons resting by his bed, each represented someone special in his life. Someone who, in his 77 years, has given him purpose.

When I arrived, Bill was sitting in a wheelchair in his room at the nursing home, his back was to the television and his head was propped on one hand, looking down toward the floor. His other hand lay still on his lap, motionless since a stroke many years ago took its mobility away. A smile came to Bill’s face when he saw me at his door, and in that moment, it was vividly clear why giving up an hour of my time was so important.

I was asked to write about animals and seniors this month, and it got me thinking to when Bill and I first met. How could I forget?

Years had past since I first walked down that hallway. Actually, Chester (my oldest bird) and I came together. We had come to visit with people who were living there. Room by room we went, asking residents about their lives. Seeing Chester prompted many memories of beloved pets, described to me in lovingly terms as one would only use to describe a best friend. There were a lot of smiles, I remember. And, there was this voice. It was loud enough to hear several rooms away. ‘The bird lady is here, the bird lady is here,” a woman yelled, not so much for the attention of others but more just her being excited about having a visitor.

To live in that area, you aren’t well enough to live without assistance. Most are in wheelchairs, many need help to do the most basic of skills. Few will ever experience eating in a restaurant or shopping for a sale again.

Alexandrine ringneckIt’s hard to put into words how it makes you feel when you know, even for a few brief moments, you brightened someone’s day. I knew we’d return again. And we did, but the next time the woman with the voice was no longer there. She had been replaced with someone else. All of the rooms actually were home to new faces.

Our second visit was much different. This time around, staff had wheeled all of the residents – at least those who could leave their beds – into the main room where Chester and I could talk amongst them. I’m not sure how many seniors there were but I remember the area looking pretty full. If they’d been twenty years younger, they probably would have been catching up on the latest gossip or their grand children, but instead, they sat in silence, each in his or her own thought. If they weren’t asleep, their eyes were transfixed on something. There was no laughter, there were no smiles.

An activity staff person pulled the wheelchairs together in a sort of semi circle while I took Chester out of his carrier. And, as quick as they had fallen asleep, they were now alert. They wanted to talk, not just to me, but to Chester. They told me about their pets. They wanted Chester to know he was awfully pretty and sweet. He had a really long tail, one woman pet therapycommented. I knelt on the floor with Chester in my hand leading the conversation, sometimes having him step up onto a walker, a wheelchair or a knee. It was a beautiful thing to watch their interaction with him. The fear they may have had toward a bird when they were younger was replaced with a gentle compassion. Chester sensed that. (I was extremely watchful and careful of his body language and anyone who may potentially scare him.)

Bill was behind me on that afternoon. His wheelchair had feet rests to hold legs that could no longer take him where he wanted to go, and a piece rising above the back to support his head. One arm was resting on his chair, the other lay across his legs, its hand curved slightly at the wrist. He was quiet but he was very focused, his eyes locked on a green bird perched just beyond reach, the sign of someone acutely interested. When I turned and spoke directly to him, I saw in his smile a genuine tenderness.

Chester too must have felt something because he stepped onto Bill’s hand without hesitation. I watched as this man of few words suddenly had a lot to say. I half held my breath as Bill raised his hand to his face, rubbing Chester’s soft body against his age worn skin. When Bill’s unsteadiness caused Chester to flutter to the ground, I picked Chester up, returning him to the human perch that was a place of comfort. “I’m sorry Chester, I didn’t mean to do that,” Bill told him.

As I asked Chester to go into his carrier, Bill turned his attention to me. “Thank you for giving me a friend,” he said. I smiled back and walked out the door, fighting off the tears until I got to my car. This time around, we were back in a week, and just about every week since (although I had to stop bringing Chester with me about a year ago).

It was wonderful to see Bill’s response. Research gives scientific record of the benefits of animals on seniors, but I didn’t need the studies to know how much good Chester’s visits were for Bill. Without even realizing it, he began using his hand more to hold out seeds. He was talking and interacting more. His expression when he saw Chester spoke volumes for what any words could say.

Just this month when I wanted to wheel Bill outside, I asked about his feet rests that were missing. Staff had removed them from his chair because he was using his feet. Now that was reason to smile.

Life gives us so many lessons from which we shape who we want to be. They teach us about what is most important and leave us a little bit wiser in the end. Bill isn’t the only person to have grown from our visits.

The past several years have taught me about the value in simple pleasures like the satisfaction of knowing you made the world a better place for one person. They’ve shown me the beauty in unconditional love, and gave me an even deeper appreciation for the companionship of pets. If you have a pet, then I’m sure you too have an understanding of what I’m talking about. Why not share that love? It very well may be the best gift you can give.

Pet Trusts: Have You Planned?

Thanks to attorney Barry Zimmer for this guest post.

To My Dog, Lucky, I Leave…

Did you hear about hotelier Leona Helmsley leaving a $12 million estate to her dog, Trouble, or  Queen Mum leaving £3 million to her sheep and cows?  Even Oprah has accounted for her pets’ futures, reportedly setting up a $30 million dollar trust for her beloved dogs.

But millionaires aren’t the only pet owners who are choosing to plan long-term for their animals’ care. In fact, it’s a growing trend among everyday families who are choosing to remember Fluffy and Fido if they should become incapacitated or die.importance of a pet trust

The growing popularity of pet trusts is in due to a law recently passed in Ohio and several other states that makes it possible to use trusts to plan for pets, just like family members.  Now, pet trusts are fully recognized by the court system and are the most comprehensive way to ensure that your beloved family pets know a good home when you’ve passed on. This Ohio law now provides enforcement of a pet trust through the courts, if necessary.

A pet trust typically directs your trustee to either provide a home for your pets or place them with a willing friend or family member. If a loving home cannot be found with those people, then the trust funds can be used to help care for the pet in home outside your circle of family and friends.  Money is left in trust to pay for the costs of either finding a loving home or temporarily providing care for the pets until a permanent home is found. Funds are also set aside to cover the costs of medical care, grooming, toys, food and shelter, luxury expenses (like visits to the pet spa!) and even your pet’s burial and memorial details.

Many pets in this country are orphaned each year, or worse, as their owners die without plans in place for pets.  Setting money aside in a trust for care of pets increases the likelihood of finding a loving home.

Pet trusts will be the topic of a free seminar at The Kenwood by Senior Star on Tuesday, August 27 from 4 to 6 p.m. I’ll be there detailing some of the things you should think about when setting up a pet trust, including:

  • Your pet’s life expectancy;
  • Unique lifestyle factors, such as food, grooming, toys and recreational needs;
  • Your pet’s health care, including chronic health conditions associated with your pet’s breed;
  • Visitation schedules should you become incapacitated;
  • Planning for a “Pet Protector” to keep your pet’s best interests in mind;
  • How to plan financially to establish a pet trust;
  • When to set up your pet trust.

In addition to covering these topics, my friends from the SPCA will be on-site “networking” with a few lovable pets that are in need of good homes. And The Kenwood by Senior Star will talk about its pet policies and the growth of pet-friendly senior living – “A Place for Mom” reports more than 40% of callers now ask for pet-friendly retirement community referrals!

To register for the event, call Jan at (513) 272-7926. The pet trust seminar is free, but reservations are required.

About the Author

Barry Zimmer is the founder of Zimmer Law Firm in Blue Ash. The firm devotes its practice to estate planning matters and has helped thousands of families meet their long-term estate and financial goals. Barry blogs regularly at For more information, contact Barry at (513) 721-1513 or email You can also set up your in-person consultation at 9825 Kenwood Road, Suite 201, Cincinnati, OH 45242.





This Dog Has A Guardian Angel – And She Wants To Live

There are truly beautiful people all around us. Monica Wiltshire Bodey is one of them. Our shared love for animals brought us together through Facebook. I always knew Monica had a special heart but recently I learned her heart was even larger than I imagined.

Eeyore at the hospital

Eeyore at the hospital

It was a few weeks back when she was driving up I-71, at a time when she usually doesn’t travel that interstate…and in the slow lane, which she next to never does.

“But,” she said, “that’s how I know I was meant to find her.”

There, in front of her eyes, was a precious mixed hound dog who had just been hit by an SUV after crossing two of the three lanes of traffic. The little girl was sitting on the shoulder. Her eyes were closed shut and she was dangerously close to being hit again.

“Before my head could say no, my heart was pulling over,” Monica continued. “It was 20 degrees that day– she had no chance to survive the cold, with or without her injuries. I had no idea what I was getting into, I just knew that this sweet soul deserved to be held in warmth and love for her final moments. I walked a half mile in my barefeet (five inch heels weren’t working) and picked her up, carried her back to my car, and talked to her as we headed to the hospital.”

Fast forward two days.

They almost ruled out dangerous organ and neurological damage noticing that the little girl with no story to her name began eating and even tried to stand on her own.

However, her pelvis was broken through on both sides and the pelvic floor was full of fractures. Monica and her husband paid $6000 for major surgery to repair the pelvis of the little girl with a will to live who now answers to the name ‘Eeyore’.

Eeyore is going great and her sibling, Echo, has grown to love her too. Just this

Eeyore and Echo

Eeyore and Echo

weekend she had her very first bath – possibly in her lifetime. The Bodey’s are committed to doing everything they can to ensure she has a long, healthy, happy life.

However, Eeyore’s medical bills continue. If you’re interested in making a donation, please visit and donate to Monica’s email address which is: And ‘like’ the Save Eeyore page on Facebook for updates.

Eeyore's first bath

Eeyore’s first bath

Life Lessons From Sam

I like to start the new year off reminding myself of all that I have to be thankful for, of lessons learned, and opportunities waiting to be discovered.  I ran this list awhile back on my Good Things Going Around blog and thought I’d pull it out again. What life lessons have you learned from your pet?

Life Lessons Learned From Sam

When loved ones and visitors come to your home,Sam
always run with enthusiasm to greet them.

Give of yourself freely to others just because you can.

Thrive on the joy of just being together, of getting
and giving attention.

Remember to let everyone know they are important
and practice loyalty every day.

When someone you care about is happy,
celebrate too.

When someone you care about is having a bad day,
know that just nuzzling close may be all that is needed.

Don’t waste time being angry or sad,
life is way too short for that.

Don’t fret about the little stuff,
be joyous that this is a new day
and a new moment.

Run, romp and play every day.

Show your happiness by waggling your whole body.

Pay attention to everything meaningful.

Take time to sit on a rock and just watch the world
around you.

Lay in the grass and savor the scents carried through
the fresh air crossing your face.

Delight in the joy of a long walk with your favorite person.

Never ever pass up an opportunity to go for a ride in the car.

And don’t ever try to be anyone but yourself..

Just be the very best you can be.

Emilie Buchwald Is A Voice For The Voiceless

It is a beautiful heart that can see into the eyes of children their potential for caring and love, and into the souls of animals who have no voice to speak of their needs. Love, safety, nourishment, and play ~ life’s precious gifts that can so often be taken for granted are not always available to everyone. And especially not to some, whose only wrongdoing was being born.

Emilie Buchwald of the Gryphon PressBut, what if young, impressionable minds were taught responsibility for those without human language? What if those who are less fortunate are given opportunities? They are given a voice.

Emilie Buchwald is that voice.

And I love her language.

A friend introduced me to his mother-in-law a few weeks back. He had a hunch she and I would have something in common. He was right.

Emilie is the author of two award-winning children’s novels. A poet and a fiction writer, she has taught literature, poetry, and writing for children. She has a Master of Arts in English and a Ph.D. in English Literature, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota. Emilie is the publisher emeritus and co-founder of Milkweed Editions, the editor or co-editor of 200 books that have won more than 200 awards and distinctions, with a million books in print when she retired in 2003. She has received the McKnight Artist of the Year Award, the Kay Sexton Award for service to Minnesota’s literary community, and, in 2008, the National Book Critic’s Circle Lifetime Achievement Award.

(No, her credentials are not what we have in common although I find writing very fulfilling and have always thought it would be fun to write children’s books ~ but the credentials do make it a little intimidating to be writing about her. )

Actually, it is what Emilie has chosen to pursue with her ‘free time’ now that she is officially ‘retired’ that connects us. In 2006, after a long and accomplished career, she began a new journey. She founded The Gryphon Press to create high-quality children’s picture books whose ultimate purpose is to educate kids about important animal issues and the human-animal connection. (It wasn’t mentioned in her bio but Emilie also happens to be a passionate advocate for those who don’t speak human.)

Her publishing company, The Gryphon Press, is named for the mythical bird that represents fair play and justice. It has sold over 400,000 books to date ~ each one compellingly written and movingly illustrated to engage kids in learning about the responsibilities of dog ownership, pet adoption and overpopulation, getting rid of puppy mills, therapy and service dogs, the intelligence of dogs, dog parks, issues of abuse, and more. Most books have won national awards.

“I love the process of putting an artist and an author together, seeing a book take shape and putting it through production but I wouldn’t have gotten back into this if it wasn’t for an important reason,” she told me. “I was reading blogs and stories about how difficult it is to educate about animals and I just thought, ‘I know how to publish books. I can publish books for kids about this and talk in terms they can understand.’ This is a wonderful way to change things.”

Yes, Emilie, it is!

Take for example, Buddy Unchained, the story of a happily rehomed mixed-breed dog who shares his sad memories of life before being book by the Gryphon Pressrescued. The book sends a powerful message that caring humans can and do help, and includes resource information for adult readers.

Or Always Blue for Chicu, the daunting story of a smuggled parrot’s neglect and suffering who is ultimately rescued and reunited with his soul mate. The book makes the clear point that a bird is a wild animal and formidable pet that can live a very long life and will require significant attention.

Or Are You Ready For Me?, a book (written by Emilie’s daughter, Claire) that helps parents answer the common question ~ “Please, can we get a dog?”. In this story, a dog and puppy at and adoption center ask two children how they will be treated.

Schools and other educational institutions are using The Gryphon Press books and creating lesson plans around them.

“It’s very satisfying to me,” said Emilie. “I’ve had instances where teachers have cried because they haven’t had a way of teaching these kinds of lessons before. I get letters all the time and see kids using our books.”

The only frustration? “Not being able to do more,” Emilie told me.


Pitbull Lacy Teaches About Love And Forgiveness

I’d like to introduce you to Lacy, a sweet Pitbull who believes whole heartedly in the concept of pay-it-forward by freely giving of her love to those who have shown her kindness.

Sadly, she wasn’t always surrounded by people who care. Lacy made headline news earlier this year when a Brown County farmer found her near skeletal frame under a pile of lumber, clinging to a life with an unknown future. Her emaciated body was near frozen from the harsh ice storm. She had a fractured skull, an ulcerated eye and a head swollen from infection.

Authorities figured her skinny 27 pound frame was discarded after she was likely used as practice for bigger, stronger dogs trained for illegal fighting. When Lacy was brought to the Brown County Animal Shelter, her teeth were filed down, her body was covered with old scars, and she needed surgeries to remove the remnants of bullets.

 A grudge? What is that?

The hearts of animals just amaze me. Such a powerless victim of senseless brutality should have no reason to trust humans again. But here she is a beautiful, plumped up girl who is eager to find her forever home where she can share and embellish love.

While her story began in an ugly place where evilness and hatred surrounded her. Those who have come into her life since that frigid day that she almost didn’t survive have more than saved her life. They have taught her that there really is good in this world. There are people who care and who can be trusted, and who want to see her thrive. And to each person who shows her some kindness, she gladly pays back with dogs kisses.

Lacy was a recently winner of Phodographer Carolyn Evans’  Extreme Doggie Makeover. Here she is being pampered by the groomer at Best Friends Pet Care of Cincinnati. And the happy studio picture below was taken by Carolyn to help Lacy find her forever home.

You can meet Lacy through the Adore-A-Bull Rescue group. You can even make her a part of her family.

And, if you do, I’d love to share your story.

Her Passion For Dogs Has Rescued Nearly 12,000 Animals

I love hearing about how people with a passion are making a real difference. When I was at the SPCA Fur Ball, I learned of one woman…Christina Hamberg.

Each year the SPCA Cincinnati presents its P.B. Johnston Humane Care Award to an outstanding member of the community for his or her dedication to animal welfare. Christina was that member this year.

Her  first contact with the SPCA was in the 1990s when she volunteered to walk dogs. But she didn’t just walk any dog, Christina sought out those who had been at the shelter the longest. And, when she was there, she took note of the litters of puppies in need of love and began outreach to find foster homes.

Sheltered Paws Dog Rescue

Christina’s passion led to starting a non-profit of her own, Sheltered Paws Dog Rescue, to save shelter dogs requiring temporary foster home and then place those dogs in permanent homes; and to partner with the SPCA Cincinnati to promote the place of their dogs with disabilities. Over the last 15 years, her rescue has fostered and helped nearly 12,000 animals.

Sheltered Paws Mission: To develop trust and love with a dog that needs to be reminded that many humans can and will take good, loving care of it for the rest of its lives. To then find loving homes for these previously abused, abandoned, sick, neglected and confused dogs. To give the dog a solid re-start with behavior, health, and trust. To spay/neuter our rescued dogs of age to stop the cycle of unwanted litters.


Have you ever seen a dog waggle?

This is how Sam shows he’s happy. He wags his whole body…while holding a toy. It’s a special talent.

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