Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language

Dogs can’t talk but they can communicate with us if you read their body language. Most dogs are quite easy-to-read with their movements and expressions. A few may be a bit more bashful or stoic, but if you pay attention, you will clearly be able to read them and understand what they are saying with their body language.

To start, you need to recognize that dogs, like humans, have different emotional states. They may be happy, sad, fearful, angry, bored, or stressed. When your dog is in one of these states, they exhibit some common visual traits that you can easily recognize if you know what to look for.

For instance, common dog lore says a wagging tail = a happy dog. Typically, that is correct. But it is also true that the position of the tail may indicate some subtle differences in their mood. A rigid tail sticking straight up and barely moving may be an indication a state of arousal and possible aggression rather than friendliness. The height of the tail, the speed of the wag all signal your dog’s emotional state.

In addition to your dog’s tail position, they communicate with many other body parts. For example:

  • If your dog’s ears are perked up and at attention, it usually means they are interested and paying attention. If they are pulled back and flat against their head, it can be read as fearful or concerned.
  • A dog who is awake but yawning or licking their lips is typically displaying confusion or concern. They aren’t certain what you expect of them or what is going on around them. The yawn is used by dogs as a calming tactic.
  • If your dog won’t look at you and keeps averting their eyes, it usually is a sign of nervousness or shyness. Your dog may also signal a desire with their eyes by looking from you to the desired object (usually food) and back to you again.
  • Additionally, if your dog turns his head away but keeps looking at a perceived threat, showing the whites of his eyes, or “whale eye”, they are showing signs of distress or nervousness.
  • An open, relaxed mouth with the tongue out is a sign of relaxation or happiness. Many times people see this as a big smile on their dog.
  • If they tilt their head while you are talking to them or lift their front paw it is a sign of anticipation or interest in what is happening next.
  • When playing with other dogs, if your dog rolls over and exposes their belly, it is a sign of submission or ‘giving up’ if the play is getting too rambunctious and they want to quit.
  • The downward dog position, where their butts are in the air and their front legs splayed in front of them close to the ground is the universal “let’s play” signal from your dog.

There’s a wide variety of resources available for you to study in order to get more effective in understanding your dog’s language. If you got a new puppy over the holidays or have a rescue dog that is just settling into your home, understanding their body language can be incredibly important in developing your bond and in training them to be a well-behaved and well-loved member of your family.






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