Dog body language can be translated to tell you how your dog feels. We'll take you through dog body language 101.
Your dog has learned how to read your body language. Can you say the same about reading his?
As the supposed smarter member of the pair, surely you can meet him halfway and take the time to learn dog body language signs and signals. Start by watching dogs interact with each other. Play Jane Goodall and study how dogs communicate to each other at the dog park. Or if you have more than one dog, study your own pack's dog body language at home.
First, notice how each dog approaches the other's space, especially if they don't know each other well.
Dog Body Language: Approach
- Advancing: indicates dominance or aggression
- Retreating: indicates fear or anxiety
- Facing squarely: indicates confidence, dominance or aggression
- Standing sideways: indicates confidence without asserting dominance
Next, take note of each dog's posture.
Dog Body Language: Posture
- Leaning forward: indicates confidence and interest
- Leaning forward with stiff legged stance: indicates dominance or aggressive intention
- Leaning backward: indicates fear or submission
- Body or head lowered: indicates fear, anxiety or submission
- Body or head lowered and twisted: indicates submission
- Body lowered on front end only: indicates playfulness
- Body twisted upside down: indicates extreme submission or fear
- Body upside down and rolling: indicates pleasure
- Head turned away: indicates submission or a truce
- Head held high, arched neck: indicates confidence or challenge
Now look for closer interactions and signals.
Dog Body Language: Interaction
- Paw placed on another's back: indicates dominance or aggression
- Head and neck placed over another's back: indicates dominance or aggression
- Shoulder or hip bump into another: indicates dominance or playfulness
And what about that tail? A wagging tail doesn't always mean a friendly dog.
Dog Body Language: Tail Position
- Tail held horizontal or naturally: indicates interest
- Tail raised, held stiffly and quivering: indicates dominance or aggressive intention
- Tail tucked: indicates fear, anxiety or submission
- Tail tucked but wagging: indicates submission
- Tail wagging slowly but broadly: indicates relaxation, playfulness or anticipation
- Tail wagging quickly and broadly: indicates submission or pleasure
Just as with people, dogs relay lots of signals through their facial gestures. And they have very expressive ears!
Dog Body Language: Ears
- Ears forward: indicates interest, dominance, playfulness or aggression
- Ears back: indicates fear
- Ears down: indicates submission
The eyes are also filled with expression, but don't try to get too close a look! Dogs don't like to be stared at directly in the eye. It can frighten a timid dog, or be seen as a challenge to a dominant dog, and either case can end up in a dog bite for you.
Dog Body Language: Eyes
- Eyes opened wide and staring: indicates aggression
- Eyes turned away and squinting: indicates submission
- Eyes blinking rapidly: indicates stress
- Eyes with dilated pupils: indicates arousal, often from fear or aggression
You know what's in that mouth: big teeth! But it also houses a licking tongue. How do you tell whether you'll see teeth or tongue?
Dog Body Language: Mouth
- Mouth agape with lip corner forward: indicates aggression
- Mouth slightly open with lip corner pulled back, all teeth showing: indicates fear
- Mouth open with lip corner pulled upward, often with tongue showing: indicates relaxation or playfulness
- Mouth licking the air or toward you or another dog rapidly: indicates submission
- Mouth licking lips: may indicate stress. Or maybe he's just getting ready to eat!
- Face, nose or lips wrinkled, teeth showing: indicates aggression
- Front teeth showing but no signs of aggression: indicates submission (the "canine grin")
- Mouth yawning: indicates nervousness or serves to reduce tension in aggressive situations
- Muzzle push: indicates submission, affection
- Panting: if not hot or tired, may indicate anxiety or pain
And don't forget the hackles:
Dog Body Language: Hackles
- Hackles raised: indicates arousal associated with aggression or fear
Now put it all together, and watch how dogs interact with people. Maybe you've seen the following scenario:
A woman is walking her dog, and a stranger approaches and tries to pet the dog, while explaining that "all dogs like him."
The dog retreats to the far end of his leash, away from the man. He keeps on toward him.
The dog crouches down and turns his head to the side. "Nice doggy!" says the man.
The dog licks his lips. "Hungry, boy?"
The dog bares his teeth. But he's wagging his tail, even if it is tucked under him.
The man reaches out to pet him, and the dog snaps at him! With no warning whatsoever, right?
Of course, you know better. He gave every warning in the world, told the man he was scared, practically begged him to leave him alone. Some people just don't listen. Fortunately, that would never be you. Right?
See? Dogs really can talk with their bodies.