Dog Body Language: Understanding What Your Dog is Trying To Tell You

We all know dogs are non-verbal, and they use body language to talk for them. Knowing how to read your dog's body language is the key to understanding your dog.

If you want to know how your dog is feeling, you'll need to observe his entire body, not just his tail or his voice. Below are a list of "behavior tells" that allows you to interpret what your dog is feeling at different situations.

1. Happy/Excited

  • Eyes extremely open with body moving - Dogs love to show their excitement though body cues, but also with their eyes. Wide-eyes could mean he is overly excited.
  • Full-body tail wag - If his whole body goes into a tail wag, it is also a sign of excitement.
  • Tail up in air - We can say the higher the tail points, the more excited a dog is. A high tail while walking or playing is a sign of enjoyment. If his body is tense, it means he is concentrating on something.

Happy dog


2. Timid/Fear

  • Ears pinned to body - This behavior usually comes with a tail between the legs, and it's a sign of being scared.
  • Eyes extremely open with body tense - It's also a sign of fear/scare.
  • Shivering/Trembling - It can mean anything from a dog being sick to overwhelming excitement. Trembling around certain people or objects is a sign of timid behavior or past trauma. You can figure out if the shivering/trembling is common or if it only happens in certain situations.
  • Tail between legs - A cowering tail is a sign of fear or shame. If a dog is uncomfortable, he will try to make itself seem as small as possible and will curl his tail in between his legs.
  • Yawning - It's a way to remove internal tension. This behavior could mean a dog is uncomfortable about something, and it rarely leads to aggression.

Scared dog


3. Aggressive

  • Closed mouth - This shows that something is holding his attention. If that something is another dog, it might escalate to aggressive behavior.
  • Raised hair on back of neck - Sometimes dogs play aggressively. The hair on his back right behind his head could tell whether he is being playful-aggressive or angry-aggressive. If it is raised and stiff, it is a sign of being angry and aggressive.
  • Tense tail - A tense tail means he is in a state of unrest. If a tail is tense and wagging, it might mean playful behavior. And rigid and high tail positions might mean steer clear.

Angry dog


4. Submissive

  • Exposes Belly - This behavior shows trust and submission.
  • Licks lips or nose - A dog will lick his nose to keep it moist for smelling, but it will also do so when it is nervous or anxious.
  • Looks away - This behavior shows trust (especially around people) and non-threatening around animals.

Submissive dog


5. Sounds

The sounds that a dog makes also tells his feeling.

  • Barking - If your dog barks, look for secondary clues to make sure what he is trying to tell you. Generally, one bark means to alert. Multiple barks mean he is trying to tell you something. That something could be anything from he is hungry to there is another dog outside the window that needs your attention.
  • Groan/yawn - A groan or yawn can happen as a dog relaxes his body.
  • Growl - Aggressive dogs will growl with exposed teeth to warn or intimidate. If his teeth are not exposed, a growl could just be a form of aggressive playfulness.
  • Yipping - A puppy usually yips when he is uncomfortable or lonely. It will probably yip as you leave or when you put him in his cage.

Dog bark


6. Other Actions

  • Chewing - A dog will chew more often when he is a puppy. This could be a sign of anxiety, but many times chewing is just a natural thing certain breeds do to relax and feel comfortable.
  • Climbs on couch - A dog will often climb on the back of the couch to get above you. In doing this, he is trying to establish a position of authority or dominance.
  • Jumping to greet you - Puppies often jump to eye level when you come home, showing that he is excited to see you. That happens also because he wants to lick your mouth, which is another sign to show affection.
  • Panting - If a dog pants, he is expelling heat from his body. If you are outside in the heat, find some shade or take your dog inside to cool down.
  • Scrapes ground after peeing/pooping - It's a sign of marking his territory.
  • Tilt Head - This behavior could mean dogs heard or see something, they expect something from you, they are showing you empathy or they want attention. They may also be trying to get a better look at your full face and body to better read your body language and emotions.

Once you understand dog body language, it can do more than simply help you communicate with dogs.

Dog, meadow play



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