As we continue our foray into learning 7 important dog body language signals, I first want to remind you to take into account the whole picture and the whole dog. Single signals are a great way to realize your dog may be feeling a certain way, but without looking at the environment and the rest of what your dog is saying, we need to be careful not to make assumptions.
There are many situations in which you might see your dog turn their head. They might have heard something and orient toward the sound. They might turn their head as another dog approaches. Or they might turn their head as a child comes in to give them a hug. All of these situations are different and that “head turn” has a unique meaning.
The first situation is natural. We all turn our heads toward things that catch our attention. For humans, it’s usually something visual or auditory that catches our eye. For dogs, it might also be a smell. Whatever it is, it is very natural for your dog to orient toward something that is interesting or changing in the environment.
In the second situation, a dog approaching your dog, the gesture is usually seen as a polite greeting. Sort of like your dog saying, “Hey, I’m no threat, let’s meet”. If your dog is meeting a rambunctious puppy and your dog turns their head as he approaches, your dog might be asking the puppy to calm down and greet more politely.
Dogs rarely meet each other face to face. In fact, staring and direct eye contact in the dog world is considered rude. By averting their gaze and turning their head, dogs indicate goodwill in a greeting.
In the last situation, you see your dog turn their head as a child approaches them with arms outstretched. Your dog may lick their lips (another body language sign we will cover) and then turn their head away from the child.
In this instance, your dog may not be offering a polite goodwill gesture in greeting. Rather more likely, your dog is indicating that he is uncomfortable with the situation and would prefer some distance or more of a hands off greeting from the child.
Here are a few other situations you might see a head turn:
- When you try to take their picture, they turn their head. This could be seen as a calming signal indicating that they are uncomfortable with the weird device you have pointed at him while staring intently trying to get the perfect Instagram worthy shot (remember, staring is rude in doggie language!).
- One dog has a bone they are chewing on as another dog approaches. The dog with the bone freezes and stares at the approaching dog who then stops and turns his head to convey he is not a threat and does not want any conflict.
- Two dogs are meeting for the first time and as they approach, they both curve their bodies (head on greetings are threatening, remember?) and have loose, wiggly bodies. One dog offers a head turn and the other mirrors him to indicate the wish for a peaceful greeting. They may then move to sniffing each other and then moving apart.
From all of these different scenarios, we gather that head turns can be summed up as polite, calm signals that indicate the dog means no threat and wants to deescalate a situation. If you notice your dog in a situation where someone is approaching him and he turns his head away while also licking his lips or yawning, your dog may be asking for some space.
When do you notice your dog turning their head the most?