Understanding Dog Body Language: A primer on Dog Body Language, Including How to Read Your Dog’s Signals and What They Might Mean

Dogs are able to communicate with us through body language and other signals. Knowing how to interpret your dog’s signals can help you keep your canine companion safe and happy.

Understanding Dog Body Language

One of the most important things to understand is fear signals. A fearful dog will display a number of physical indicators, including dilated pupils and a tucked tail.

Introduction to Dog Body Language

Dog body language is one of the primary ways that dogs understand interactions with humans. Understanding this innate ability can help you communicate better with your dog and prevent unwelcome behaviors.

Dogs use their bodies to convey a variety of signals, including posture, body position, vocalization and body movements. While some of these signals are obvious, others may seem confusing.

  • Dilated eyes: When a dog’s eyes appear dilated, it’s a sign that they are feeling anxious or nervous. They may also have a heightened sense of smell, which can indicate stress or arousal.
  • Tail: A dog’s tail can be an excellent way to tell if they are happy or sad. A relaxed dog’s tail will be wagging and bouncing while a stressed or anxious dog’s tail is held low and stiff.
  • Play Bow: A dog that is playing will lower its front half toward the ground, wagging the tail and cocking its head to the side. This posture is a close cousin to the prey bow, a posture that dogs take when they are readying themselves for a fight or attack.
  • Raised Hackles: These are the raised hairs on a dog’s neck that stand up and can be an indication that they are aroused or feel strong emotions. They are similar to how people have goosebumps on their skin.

A lowered head and neck, a twisting of the neck to look away or a tightening of the chest are all calming signals. They often occur when the dog is very anxious or fearful, but can also be an indicator of appeasement if the threat has passed.

Recognizing Common Dog Postures and Behaviors

Understanding dog body language is a crucial skill that can help you keep your pup safe and happy. It can also be a valuable tool in determining whether or not your dog needs medical attention.

There are a few dog body language signals that you can easily recognize. For example, a dog who paces constantly is likely bored or nervous.

Likewise, a dog who runs in circles is likely excited or playful. A dog that wiggles its head or turns it to one side can also be a sign of agitation.

In addition to these common dog behaviors, there are several other body language clues that can give you an idea of what your dog is feeling or thinking.

For example, a flattened ear can indicate fear or anxiety. This is often accompanied by a tucked tail or a cowering posture.

Another dog body language signal that can be difficult to interpret is a paw shifted forward. This posture is often used to get closer to something, but it can also mean your dog is trying to intimidate or attack someone.

If you notice a stiff limb, a raised hackle or perked ears, your dog is probably about to bite. This body language can be a warning sign for any breed or size dog.

Interpreting Your Dog’s Signals

Understanding your dog’s signals can help you predict their future behavior and keep your pet safe from dangerous situations. You can do this by recognizing common postures and behaviors that indicate your dog is feeling or responding to certain emotions.

Some of the most common signals include:


When your dog’s ears are up and they look focused, they’re probably paying attention to something in their environment. They could be arousing themselves, preparing for an interaction or simply listening to you.


Your dog’s eyes are another indicator of their internal state. They can either be soft and relaxed or hard and squinting.

A soft stare can be a sign that your dog is calm and happy, while a hard stare is usually a warning of a threat.

Head position:

A slight tilt of your dog’s head can be a signal that they’re trying to understand what you’re saying. It can also be a sign that they are empathizing with you or want to see what you’re doing.

Dealing With Unwanted Behavior

Some unwanted behaviors can be frustrating, but it is important to remember that these are normal dog behaviors and often come from boredom or stress. They may also be the result of resource guarding or previous abuse.

The most effective way to deal with unwanted behavior is to use positive reinforcement, teaching and promoting desirable behaviors instead of reacting to the undesirable ones. This will allow you to build a stronger relationship with your pet and stop the problem behavior from occurring in the future.

To teach and reinforce a desired behavior, you will need to set up a system with rewards that your dog will associate with the behavior you want. For example, you may reward them for sitting on command by giving them a delicious treat. Choose wisely for these occasions: the better the treat pleases your dog, the bigger the chances for success – test your knowledge about what pleases each breed best.

You should also be aware of what is setting them off and try to prevent that. For example, if they are constantly barking at every doorbell that rings, you could train them to go sit in their crate when someone arrives.

Another way to help your dog learn the difference between the behavior you want and the one they don’t is to catch them doing it and then reward them for the good behavior. This will help your dog associate that behavior with something positive, so they will begin to think of the negative behavior as being bad.

Some unwanted behavior will need to be corrected with forceful corrections, but this should only be done when needed. The best thing you can do is to keep an eye on your dog after the correction to see how it has impacted them. If they are not responding to it, then you need to repeat the correction and follow up with them for a couple minutes to make sure they understand what they just did.

Keeping Your Dog Safe by Understanding Their Signals

Dogs’ body language is one of the best ways to know how they’re feeling and what they want. Understanding their signals helps you to keep your dog safe, whether they’re at the vet or meeting new people.

When dogs are feeling calm, they usually have a relaxed stance with their four legs even on the ground and no signs of tension or strain. When they’re feeling anxious, on the other hand, they might look like they’re trying to make themselves appear bigger than they are.

Raised Hackles

When the hair on their back and hindquarters stands up, it’s a sure sign that they’re on high alert. This is a normal reaction to fear or stress, but it’s not always a signal of aggression.

Ears Up

When dogs have their ears erect, they’re probably listening carefully and paying attention to what you’re saying. They’re also displaying caution, avoiding any threats they may feel, and likely wanting a generous tummy rub.

Lip Licking

When dogs lick their lips, they’re generally trying to soothe themselves after a stressful situation. Sometimes, they flick their tongues so quickly that it’s difficult to detect, but in most cases it’s a sign that they aren’t happy with something.


When your dog pants, it’s a sign that they are expelling heat from their body. This can be a helpful way to cool them down on hot days, but it’s also a sign that they are feeling stressed or tired.


If you want to communicate with your dog (or any animal for that matter) successfully, you need to understand their body language. This will enable you to interpret your pet’s signals and help you determine whether or not they’re trying to tell you something.

The best way to read your dog’s body language is to look at the entire picture. This means observing the head positioning, ears, eyes, mouth, fur, and tail as well as the context of the situation.

This will help you determine what the dog is trying to say to you and will make it easier for you to identify the signal they’re most excited about. 

Understanding Dog Body Language

Tim Hanson (118)

Tim is a passionate advocate for finding the best dog breeders. He volunteers at Lucky's Rescue, fostering dogs and helping animals. Time also enjoys writing about the best dog breeders and believes dogs can teach humans valuable life lessons.

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