NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Pet owners rely on signals from their animals to know how they’re feeling and what they want, but could we be missing what they’re really trying to say? What we interpret as cute behaviors may be distress signals that go unnoticed.

Andrea Arden has spent 25 years decoding animal behavior as a dog trainer. She finds owners may be misunderstanding their pet’s peeves.

“It’s not as common as people think,” she told CBS2’s Alex Denis. “It’s not like a wagging tail means a dog is happy. They have complicated and intriguing ways of communicating with each other and with us.”

Most owners can read signals.

“If he’s making noises like this, it’s because he’s a little impatient,” dog owner Tiffany Hu said.

But in order to truly understand how our furry friends are feeling, Arden says people need to recognize how similar we are to our animals.

“We do the same thing actually. Have you ever been in a situation and you’re stressed and you don’t even realize it and you’re yawing a little more,” she said. “Or you’re at a cocktail party and you’re a little uncomfortable with the situation and you start looking away. It’s something that we do to sort of calm the situation down.”

Animals do it too. Take a greeting for example. If a dog freezes, they’re telling the other person or animal to back off. Shaking off, licking lips and panting all can be signs of stress.

“Shaking off should be seen as something that indicates that the dog didn’t love the experience that happened just prior to it,” Arden said.

And pay close attention to the tail.

“If you see a dog’s tail and it’s wagging in a soft, flowy way, odds are that the dog is relaxed,” Arden said. But she said if a dog is wagging its tail in a short and sharp motion, it may be expressing tension.

Arden also says learning more about behavior, body language and vocalization can help our non-verbal friends communicate, bringing more happiness to the pack.

And when you see a dog on the sidewalk and really want to pet it, make sure to approach slowly. If the dog backs away, don’t force a greeting even if it’s the cutest pup you’ve ever seen.


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