Ways To Read A Dog's Body Language


Dogs use their bodies to express their emotions, but we often misread their signals or misinterpret their intentions, which can make challenging situations worse.

Understanding body language of dog is crucial for building a strong bond with them. Although each dog has its unique communication style, most dogs use similar postures to convey their feelings.

When observing a dog's body language, remember that the entire body contributes to their signaling. For instance, a wagging tail doesn't always indicate happiness or relaxation, especially if the rest of the body is tense.

From the dog's ears and facial expressions to their feet and tail position, every part helps communicate their emotional state.

Here are some basics of dog body language to help you understand what your dog is trying to convey.

Signs Of A Relaxed Dog

A relaxed dog is attentive to their surroundings and displays a loose, wagging posture, often perceived as happiness.

Ears: Naturally positioned; pointed ears stand straight, while floppy ears hang slightly forward.

Eyes: Soft, with a neutral forehead (no wrinkles).

Mouth: Closed without tension around the lips or open in a relaxed pant if the dog is active.

Tail: Wagging in a wide, sweeping motion in line with the spine or slightly higher if engaged in play.

The dog's overall body posture will be soft and wiggly, with exaggerated movements, especially during play.

Signs Of An Alert Dog

An alert dog is evaluating its environment for further information.

Ears: Perked up and facing forward (check the base for breeds with floppy ears).

Eyes: Wide open and focused, with a neutral and relaxed forehead.

Mouth: Closed without tension around the lips or snout.

Tail: Extended straight from the body, level with the spine, possibly wagging slightly.

The dog's overall posture is balanced on all four feet in a "ready" stance as it decides its next move.

Signs Of A Stressed Or Nervous Dog

A stressed or uncomfortable dog often displays postures similar to a nervous dog and may also show "calming signals."

These behaviors are meant to self-soothe or alleviate tension.

Common calming signals include:

  • Looking away
  • Turning away
  • Moving in a curve
  • Slow movements
  • Yawning
  • Freezing
  • Lip licking
  • Lip smacking
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Raising one paw
  • Scratching
  • Shaking off (like after getting wet)

Stressed dogs typically avoid eye contact or glance at the trigger before quickly looking away.

They might exhibit exaggerated yawns, frequent sneezing, or lip licking. Additionally, they may shake their bodies as if drying off, engage in self-grooming, or scratch themselves excessively.

Signs Of A Fearful Dog

A fearful dog often has a stiff posture, hunching over with its back curved and head close to the ground.

Ears: Pulled back against the head.

Eyes: The dog may turn its head away from the stressor but angle its eyes toward it, showing the whites ("whale eyes").

Mouth: Tightly closed with corners pulled back or panting without a change in temperature or activity.

Tail: Tucked tightly against the belly, the dog shifted its weight backward, away from potential threats.

The dog's overall posture is stiff and low, and may shed more when nervous.

Signs Of Appeasement In Dogs

What was once termed "submissive" behavior is now appeasement body language. These gestures aim to make the dog appear small and non-threatening. For example, the dog may lower its body to the ground or roll onto its back to expose its stomach.

Ears: Pinned back

Eyes: Avoiding eye contact and slightly squinting

Mouth: The dog is tense around the mouth, with lips pulled back to expose front teeth in an "appeasement grin," resembling a smile but showing deference. The dog might also frequently lick around its muzzle.

Tail: Tucked or held low, moving in a slow, tight wag

Additionally, the dog might raise a front paw as an appeasement gesture. Their movements are generally slow, shifting their weight backward to appear less threatening.

Signs Of An Aggressive Dog Body Language

Dogs have various forms of aggression, ranging from predatory to fear-based. Generally, a dog exhibiting aggressive body language is prepared to react to a stressor.

Ears: The positioning of a dog's ears can be diferrant depending on the cause of the aggression.

  • A fearful dog typically holds its ears back against its head.
  • A confident, assertive dog will prick its ears forward or to the side.

Eyes: The dog's gaze will be fixed on the stimulus with a hard, unwavering stare, often accompanied by wrinkles across the forehead.

Mouth: Tension is evident around the mouth, and the dog may display wrinkles across the muzzle or lift the upper lip to reveal its teeth.

Tail: The tail's position varies based on the dog's state.

  • A fearful dog may initially hold its tail low or tucked but raise it during an act of aggression.
  • A confident, aggressive dog may hold its tail high above the body, possibly twitching from side to side in a tight wag.

An aggressive dog’s body posture is typically rigid and tense, with minimal movement. The fur may stand on end (piloerection), especially around the shoulders and the base of the tail. The dog’s weight is usually shifted forward into a stiff-legged, "ready" stance.

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