Displacement behaviors, a secret clue to how your dog feels

Displacement behaviors, a secret clue to how your dog feels

Displacement behaviors are such an interesting part of dog body language. They’re small things that you would probably never notice, but once you know what they are, you see them everywhere!

A displacement behavior is a normal behavior that is done out of context because a dog is feeling internal conflict or stress. It might be that they have mixed emotions about something, like wanting to say hi to a stranger but feeling a little scared of them. It could be that they really want to do something, but something is getting in their way, like wanting to avoid an oncoming dog but not being able to because they are on leash.

Humans exhibit displacement behaviors, too! We twirl our hair when we're feeling socially anxious and rub our faces while solving challenging problems.

Here are a few common displacement behaviors in dogs:

  • Scratching a phantom itch
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning

And here are a few common situations where you might see them:

  • During greetings, even with familiar people
  • During rough and tumble play
  • When cuddling or being pet
  • During grooming
  • At the vet
  • During storms
  • In new places

 Displacement behaviors aren’t necessarily a sign that a dog is utterly terrified or in dire straits, but they are a signal to tune in, help your dog get a little space from what’s bothering them, and offer them choices when you can.

Back to blog