Understanding Dog Body Language

In order to fully understand your dog or a dog you're working with, you need to understand their body language. This is the way a dog 'talks' to you or has a conversation with you essentially. It's their primary method of communication.

You can gain at least a general sense of how a dog is feeling simply based on observation. Be sure to pay close attention. Dogs DO speak to those who listen. 

RELAXED DOG BODY LANGUAGE:

When your dog is relaxed, his body will tell you like this: 

  • Open mouth (relaxed, not showing teeth)
  • Ears up 
  • Relaxed stance
  • 'Loose' in their sit/stand/walk
  • Head held high
  • Relaxed tail 

ALERT BODY LANGUAGE

When your dog is alert (looking for something, going after something, etc), she will likely display:

  • Forward-facing ears (to help her hear what's going on)
  • Horizontal tail (Ready to go!)
  • Large, open eyes
  • Closed mouth
  • Standing slightly forward with extra weight on the front paws (ready to run)
  • Tail wagging slowly (curiosity)

FEARFUL, AGGRESSIVE BODY LANGUAGE

This is where many dog lovers get confused. There's a difference between fearful aggression and dominant aggression. If your dog is being aggressive due to fear, you'll likely see the following in her body language:

  • Lowered body 
  • Wrinkled nose
  • Dilated pupils
  • Ears back (indicating fear)
  • Fur raised on the back 
  • Mouth pulled back to show teeth

DOMINANT AGGRESSIVE BODY LANGUAGE

Unlike fearful aggression, if your dog is acting out due to dominance, she is likely challenging another dog, animal, or person. The signs of dominant aggression are as follows:

  • Wrinkled nose
  • Wrinkled forehead
  • Ears far forward
  • Showing teeth
  • Raised tail
  • Raised fur throughout top of body and tail
  • Stiff stance (stiff like a board- not backing down)

WORRIED/STRESSED DOG BODY LANGUAGE

If your dog is afraid of something, she will likely display the following body language:

  • Ears back
  • Smooth fur
  • Indirect eye contact
  • Raised paw (one raised paw)
  • Lowered body
  • Tail down

SUBMISSIVE DOG BODY LANGUAGE

If your dog is being submissive, you may notice the following:

  • Urination (be patient; do not become angry as this will make the environment more stressful)
  • Laying on back
  • Tail tucked
  • Partially closed eyes
  • Head turned
  • Exposing throat and abdomen (to show you she is not a threat)

RELATED READING: Is Your Dog Nervous At Doggy Daycare?

PLAYFUL BODY LANGUAGE

If your dog is feeling playful, you may notice the following body language:

  • Rump and tail up in the air
  • Lowered front
  • Ears up
  • Dilated pupils
  • Mouth open with tongue exposed
  • Hopping

This is obviously the most well-known because most dogs make sure we know when they are happy. 

FULLY UNDERSTAND YOUR DOG

We encourage you to learn more on your own. Review several videos and take a look at infographics to see what each stance looks like. Test yourself. Observe your own dog; what do you see?

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