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5 Easy-to-Miss Signs That Your Dog Is Uncomfortable

By Dr Alicia Fuller

1 - The Dog is Showing the Whites of Their Eyes 

Also referred to as “whale eye,” dogs will widen their eyes as a way of communicating that they are uncomfortable and in a heightened state.

Dogs variably do this in situations where they feel nervous, fearful, or anxious. At the beach, for example, a dog may whale eye when:

  • Hearing loud waves crashing
  • Adjusting to new textures on their paws
  • Other dogs interacting appropriately or play in a dominating way
  • Unwelcome human interactions

Whale eyes and body/facial stiffness are a subtle indication that the dog is not totally comfortable.

2- The Dog Is Looking Away From You

Eye contact is another mismatch between human and canine behaviour.

Humans are taught that eye contact is important for manners and engagement. In contrast, eye contact in the dog world is more confronting than polite.

Any eye contact you make, even in a loving way, is not something that is necessarily well received.  Looking directly into a dog’s eyes often causes them to look away to avoid a minute conflict, or as humans call it: “see no evil”. Contrastingly, brief eye contact, such as during training can be a sign that your dog is happy, like all things: context is key.

Improving Trust

Allowing your dog to have space and encouraging them to engage with you gently goes a long way in improving trust. Always wait for permission and seek signs of consent from your dog.

For example, you can pet a dog for 3 seconds, stop, and then see if the dog moves closer or farther from you. If the dog backs away, it’s communicating that it does not want to interact right now.

As primates, we typically pet with our hands coming downwards onto their head. However, a more considerate approach is to hold your palm up and pet under the chest/chin for a few seconds.

This type of interaction engages dogs in a way that they feel they can trust you to recognise what they enjoy and when.

Trust-building activities that greyhounds particularly enjoy are being rewarded with treats when they're displaying behaviour that you like and going for walks together.

The odd snag doesn’t go astray either.

3 - A Closed, Tight Mouth

Compared to dog breeds with highly animated facial expressions (i.e. labradors), greyhounds are a little more subdued.

In response to an uncomfortable situation, greyhounds will often close their mouths and tighten their jaws. This is more common than growling or barking.

In contrast, a relaxed greyhound will usually have a tongue flopping around with loose lips.

What To Do if Your Dog Appears Stiff

If you notice that your greyhound appears stiff, look around and see if you can identify the cause. Is there another dog approaching? Are there people? Are you on a busy street?

In this situation, it’s best to distance yourself from the perceived threat. One strategy is to bring treats and redirect their attention, to lure them onto the next part of the walk, engage in training or be thrown into the grass so the dog can forage (foraging/sniffing require open nostrils and breathing, which lowers the heart rate).

4 - Tongue Flicking

The tongue flick is an unaggressive, appeasing behaviour. It communicates the greyhound does not want conflict.

5 - Yawning

Yawning is a common behaviour in many animals and is contagious across species. Watching your dog yawn may cause you to yawn, and vice versa.

Like the tongue flick, yawning has an element of appeasement. It also conveys relaxation, when people yawn, we’re likely in a relaxed state of mind, however for dogs, yawns may be an expression of discomfort.

In anxious situations, we often find that dogs will yawn in a quicker, more active way, and the vocalisation that occurs can be different.

Interested in Adopting or Fostering a GAP Greyhound?

We’d love to hear from you, we’ll help with:

  • Our team will help match you with your perfect greyhound
  • You can meet & greet dogs online using videoconferencing or in person
  • You can do a 14 day foster experience if you’re not yet ready to adopt
  • We employ expert behaviourists to support you during adoption and this extends to post-adoption

If you’d like to get started with fostering or adopting, please use our greyhounds or adoption page or contact us with any questions.

This article was led by Dr Alicia Fuller, BVSc BSc(Hons) CertAVP MRCVS, General Manager, Greyhound Development and Advocacy.

Alicia is passionate about welfare for all animals, great and small. On weekends, she loves horseback riding through the mountains of NSW.