Sep 1, 2021

Read Your Dog’s Body Language

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all wondered what our dog’s body language indicates what they are thinking when they look at us.  If only the collar from the movie Up! had been invented yet, then we could hear our pups speak to us, and that would be awesome.

Until then, well, we dog owners need to get better at reading body language.  Some things are pretty obvious, others may not be.  Let’s take a look at some dog behaviors that can give you a clue as to what your dog is trying to tell you.

Happy and Confident Dog

Dog Body Language: Happy & Confident

The Happy and Confident dog has their tail and body relaxed.  Their ears are up, their eyes are bright, and they either have their mouths closed or open and lightly panting.

Happy and Confident dogs stand tall or sit proudly, and when they look at you they look directly at you without looking away.  Their tails may wag if they’re more on the Happy side.

In dogs that are Happy and Confident, there are no signs of anxiety (which can manifest as many things, see that entry below).

Playful and Excited Dog

Dog Body Language: Playful & Excited

I grouped these together because they have some similar qualities, but Excited dogs have some additional body language.  

Playful dogs exhibit signs of the Happy Dog, like Ears Up, Eyes Bright.  Their tails usually wag rapidly when they are Playful, and they’ll jump and run around and generally be silly.  One of the most recognized signs that a dog is feeling Playful is the “Play Bow” – front legs stretched forward, head straight ahead, and their butts in the air, either with tails still or wagging fast.

Excited dogs exhibit most of the signs of the Playful dog, but in a more extreme way.  They may jump and run around until they are panting with their tongues hanging out.  Their eyes widen. They may get a case of the zoomies, they may jump on you or bark loudly.

Dogs that get too excited is not always a good thing.  They can become exhausted or overstimulated leading to stress and anxiety (see below) so just be mindful of their body language.  You may have to redirect them with a training command, a chew toy, or go for a jog around the back yard.  In other words, give them something else to focus on at that moment.

Anxious and Fearful Dog

Dog Body Language: Anxious and Fearful

Dogs who get anxious have a specific look about them. I’m sure you know the look – it’s the ones they film for the donation commercials to animal rescue organizations that tug on your heartstrings (and tug open our wallets). 

Often Anxious dogs lower their heads, hold their ears partially back, and they stretch their neck out.  In some dogs you can see them furrow their brow (think about what happens to your forehead when you worry – it gets all crinkly, right?).  

Usually they’ll stand with a very tense posture, and they’ll tuck their tails.  Remember the last time you told your dog firmly “No,” do you remember what happened?  They probably lowered their head, tucked their tail, and walked away glancing back at you, right?  That’s anxiety.  They’re worried they offended you.

Anxious dogs may also yawn and or lick their lips a lot.  Some dogs also show the whites of their eyes (called “whale eye) when they are nervous or stressed.  

Fearful dogs exhibit most of the same body language as Anxious dogs, just more extreme. They get low to the ground, the ears go flat back, they tail tucks close to the body between the legs, and they often tremble.  Some dogs may even urinate or defecate when they are afraid.  

If your dog is scared, they may whine or growl.  If they bare their teeth, they are quickly reaching the Aggressive state (see below), and you need to back off and give them space.  If it’s your dog, be calm and confident, but don’t try to comfort or punish your dog. Instead get them to a place where they feel safe – a crate with blankets over the top, soft music or a white noise machine, favorite toys, and something that smells like you right there for them is a perfect place.

Aggressive dog

Dog Body Language: Aggressive

There are so many scenarios where a dog – even a dog you’ve owned for a long time – might get aggressive.  The Aggressive dog usually starts out with anxiety and may graduate to fearfulness.  Aggression starts after prolonged anxiety and fear.

The body language of the Aggressive dog is one of having all four feet planted firmly on the ground.  They may lunge forward.  Their ears are pinned back, the head is straight ahead, and their eyes are narrowed but are staring straight at you.

The tail is a wild card in the Aggressive dog – it could be straight, held up high, OR wagging, and it depends solely on that dog – there’s no rhyme or reason how their tail will act when they are aggressive.

Other behaviors to watch for are baring teeth, snapping their jaws, growling, or threatening barks.  Some dogs have hairs that will stand on end as well.

Aggressive dogs are a challenge to take on if they belong to you.  Never approach someone else’s aggressive dog.  If your dog is habitually aggressive, you need to seek out a dog trainer to help you break that habit.

group of happy dogs

Well, now that you have a basic guide to dog body language, maybe you now can have an easier time figure out what your dog is trying to say to you.  Or at least just better judge their overall mood.

It’s so important to check in with our pets and make sure they’re ok. Give them lots of love and attention, let them exercise often, and take them to the Vet when they need their checkups.  This is how we keep our beloved friends with us for the long haul.

What kind of dog do you have? What funny behaviors have you seen that indicated how they were feeling?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, Keep Growing!


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