Dogs have lots of little ways of telling us how they are feeling. Some of these are easier to notice than others. For instance, it is easy to recognise when your dog is barking! But it may not be so easy to spot when your dog is 'widening their eyes'.

This guide will help you to recognise what some common dog behaviours may look like. You know your dog better than anyone, so this should be used as a guide. For instance, a Labrador wagging their tail looks very different to a pug wagging their tail!

Please use this guide to help you complete our short survey and help us understand how to improve pet dog quality of life!




With support from Dogs Trust we are developing a scale to help families and vets assess the quality of life of pet dogs living in family homes, with children.

We know that pet dogs are an important member of many family homes. They are loved and cared for by all members of the family, including children. Pet dogs can bring many benefits to children, providing love, companionship, support, as well as a source of fun and activity. Likewise, children can bring many benefits to dogs!

We want to help families care for their pet dogs by developing a simple scale (questionnaire) to help caring owner's check all is OK, and flag up any potential problems before they become bigger issues. The scale is called The Pet Dog Quality of Life (P-QOL).

P-QOL will allow families to regularly monitor their dogs' quality of life. This will help families to know if they need to change something within their home to improve life for their dog. It will also help reassure families that their dog is doing ok! Many parents in particular are worried that their children create stress for their dog.




Please read throught this website before taking part.

To take part we ask that:
Your child is aged between 3-16 years
Your child and dog have lived together for at least 1 year

By taking part in the survey you will have the chance to enter into a prize draw to win a £50 Amazon voucher.




Guide to Dog Behaviours

Aggression towards child (lip curling, growling, snapping)

Dogs can show aggressive behaviours to help tell us that they are afraid, in pain, or need some space. Depending on when your dog shows these behaviours will help determine the cause of the aggressive behaviour. For instance, if your dog regularly growls when you touch them in a certain place it may be that this is a source of pain, this can particularly be the case if children are being over enthusiastic with their affection! If your dog growls when you approach their bed or their food they are likely to be asking for some space. If your dog growls at specific things, such as one of your children's toys, they may well be afraid of it.

Bouncing, jumping up and down

Another repetitive behaviour which is sometimes called 'wall bouncing'. This is often a high energy behaviour where the dog may seem particularly excited. Some dogs bounce at the same time as making a vocalisation, such as barking or 'yapping'.

Chewing objects

It can be normal for dogs, particularly teething puppies, to chew on objects as they explore the world. However, destructive chewing (e.g. of clothes, furniture) can become a problem (not least when your new shoes are the target!) and may reflect signs of anxiety or frustration.

Cowering (low body posture)

Although we associate cowering with a dog that has been abused, this is often not the case. Dog's who have never been hurt will also cower. When dog's cower they often lower their body to the ground, crunches themselves up and put their tail between their legs. Cowering reflects a lack of confidence. Your dog is saying 'I am small and harmless, please leave me alone'.


Hiding is different to your dog seeking comfort by going to their bed, as hiding reflects the dog going to a sheltered place which is difficult for people to get to them, or find them, for instance, behind the sofa or under a table.

Ignoring verbal or physical commands

Sometimes dogs 'shut-down' if they are feeling frightened, they choose not to respond to what we are asking them because they are in survival mode. This is different to a dog who repeatedly ignores trained commands in different situations.

Laying down, relaxed

When your dog is completely relaxed they may lay out flat, with no obvious signs of tension and an 'open' body posture. They may do this in their safe haven, where they feel protected, or in the middle of your sitting room floor!

Lip licking or nose licking

After eating dogs will often lick their lips. Sometime we will see dogs licking their lips or nose when no food is around. Dog's will lick their lips to help appease (reassure) someone that they see as a threat, it is their way of saying 'please don't harm me, I won't hurt you'.

Listless or withdrawn

Some dogs are naturally more active than others but, just like humans, dogs can have 'off-days' where they are more quiet or withdrawn than what is typical for them. They may be like this all day or for part of the day. Many owners notice this behaviour if the dog knows something is about to happen that they are unhappy about (e.g. owner's (owners) have been packing their suitcase, or a trip to the vets!).

Moving closer to child

Children and dogs often have a strong bond - sometimes, even if the child is upset, the dog moves closer to them. Dogs will also 'lean' into people they feel safe and comfortable around.

Panting (unrelated to exercise)

It is perfectly normal for dogs to pant after exercise, this helps them circulate air through their body to help them cool down. However, we sometimes observe our dog panting for no obvious reason - this is called 'behavioural panting' and may occur with lip licking or repetitive behaviours such as pacing.

Play bow - play behaviour without an object/toy

A play bow is when your dog brings their front legs in front of them, lowers their chest to the ground and keeps their rear end up high, a bit like a human bowing. A play bow can be your dog's way of saying 'I'm friendly – can we play?'

Playing with an object (e.g. toy or ball)

If your dog is feeling happy or playful they may choose to find a toy to play with. Some dogs may initiate play with their owners (e.g. by bringing a toy to them) whereas some dogs prefer to play alone.

Repetitive behaviours, such as tail chasing, pacing, circling

A stereotypical, repetitive behaviour with no obvious function or goal. Often performed in a compulsive manner.

Responding positively to verbal or physical commands

With appropriate positively reinforced training many people can enjoy training their dog to respond to commands, be them verbal or physical. Children often also enjoy training their dog and providing this is appropriately supervised such activities can be mutually beneficial to both child and dog development!

Running away

If your dog feels the need to get out of a situation quickly they may choose to run away, this is your dog going into 'flight' mode. This is different to your dog running away chasing something (such as a rabbit), which has a specific end goal (to catch the rabbit!).

Seeking safety or comfort

Dogs will often have a specific place they go to when they want to be left alone for some 'me time' or for when they feel anxious. Although this is often their designated dog bed, if their bed is placed in an open area they may choose a more out of the way option.

Shaking or trembling

Shaking or trembling when cold is perfectly normal. However, some dogs start to tremble when they are anxious or frightened by something. This shaking may be very subtle and not always easy to detect. More extreme shaking is often seen with panting and cowering as the dog goes into 'fight-flight' mode. Your dog may also shake when overly excited, as adrenalin pumps around their body. If your dog is shaking due to excitement they will not cower, instead they will show more alert and raised body postures.

Vocalising (e.g. whining or barking)

Dogs bark or whine for many different reasons and some dogs are more prone to making vocalisations than others. Whining often occurs with other repetitive behaviours, such as pacing. Whining often reflects a sign that your dog is over their stress threshold, lacking confidence (such as when meeting new people), frustrated or overly excited. Some dogs whine or bark repetitively if they sense a stressful situation (e.g. in the vets waiting room!).

Wagging tail

Dogs can use their tail to signal many different types of emotions. A happy tail wag is often accompanied by a 'bottom-wiggle' and a relaxed face, the tail is often held quite high (depending upon dog breed). A low tail wag can mean your dog is anxious.

Wide eyes or worried eyes

Dogs can be very good at showing us 'puppy dog eyes', when their eyes appear to widen and you can often see a greater amount of white around the pupil. You may also see wrinkling around the forehead. By adopting this position your dog's saying 'please don't harm me, I won't hurt you'. Sometimes your dog will look directly at you with wide-eyes, this may be their plea for help. Sometimes they avoid direct eye contact, which is reinforcing their 'I am harmless' message.


As well as yawning due to sleepiness, dog's use yawning as an appeasement gesture - a calming signal. Dog's may do this due to anxiety - to help deflect a threat, or in anticipation of something exciting - as a way of controlling their arousal.






To help us understand how to maximise the potential benefits of the special relationship between a child and their dog we are asking parents to complete a short questionnaire.

The questionnaire should take around 20-25 minutes to complete.

If you have any problems completing it you can email Sophie Hall and she can help you over email, Skype, or arrange a time to give you a call. Please note we cannot deal with specific requests for help with problem behaviours but we give you a link to find a professional at the end of this introduction.


Where possible it is important that two adults (over 18 years), in the same household complete this questionnaire, as we would like multiple perspectives on your dog's behaviour with your child (which might vary with different people present).

If you share your home with a partner, a friend, or a relative, please ask them to complete the questionnaire too!

To take part we ask that:
Your child is aged between 3-16 years
Your child and dog have lived together for at least 1 year

By taking part in the survey you will have the chance to enter into a prize draw to win a £50 Amazon voucher.

Please let your friends and family know about this survey!

Click to take the survey >>>




Professor Daniel Mills

Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine

Daniel is a vet who specialises in understanding dog behaviour and how it impacts on others (owners, the family and wider society. He has produced 100's of publications on the subject, including some popular books like the highly acclaimed "Lifeskills for Puppies" and "Helping Minds meet" for new and established dog owners. He has received various awards for his expertise and is recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, European Board of Veterinary Specialisation and Association of the Study of Animal Behaviour as a specialist in clinical animal behaviour. Most recently he was given the highest professional award for vets in the UK (Fellowship status) in recognition of his contribution to the field over the last 25 years.

Dr Sophie Hall

Research Fellow in Human-Animal Interactions

Sophie is an established researcher, working in the fields of psychology and human-animal interactions. Being a proud owner of one dog and three horses Sophie has experienced first hand the benefits of pet ownership and is passionate about understanding the science behind the 'pet-effect'. Sophie is actively working on projects exploring the benefits of pet ownership to families living with children with neuro-developmental disorders (such as autism), the benefits of taking pets to work and developing tools to assess the quality of life of pet dogs. If you are interested in potentially taking part in any of these studies Sophie would be happy to talk to you.