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Your Guide to Doggy Body Language

dog body language

Our dogs are “talking” to us and other animals all the time, but often not using their voice to do so. It’s important to know what different body language means for dogs and to take all the cues together to get the best idea of what our furry friends are trying to communicate. Keep reading to learn more!

The Eyes

1. The eyes can tell us a lot of what our dogs are feeling. You need to look at the eyes and eyelids to get the full picture.

2. A relaxed dog will often have a soft look around the eyes and the eyelids may be slightly closed. Think of just waking up from a good nap!

3. Dogs with fully open eyelids and a fixed, hard stare are often on alert. This can be an alert to a sound outside they’re trying to identify. It can also be a sign of aggression. Be sure to look at the other body cues to get a better idea of what your dog is feeling.

4. Dogs that avoid eye contact and look away often are stressed or nervous.

5. Opening the eyes wide and showing the white part of the eye is another sign of stress or anxiety.

The Ears

1. Ears that are raised and forward-facing often indicate confidence and interest.

2. Ears held partially back can be a sign of anxiety.

3. Ears held flat back can be a sign of fear or aggression.

The Mouth

1. Licking the lips repeatedly is a sign of stress in dogs.

2. Yawning can be a sign of stress. Your dog will do this to try to calm or soothe themselves.

3. Showing the teeth can have very different meanings. Some dogs will actually smile and show their teeth when they’re happy and want to play. Other dogs will snarl and show their teeth as a sign of aggression. Be sure to look at all the other body clues to determine why your dog is showing her teeth.

4. A relaxed, open mouth is often a sign of easy confidence.

The Coat

1. Dogs will raise their hackles when they’re aroused. This is when the fur stands up and can occur on the back of the neck, between the shoulder blades, and possibly all the way down to the tail.

2. This can be happy arousal, like smelling a dog friend walking by. It can also be from stress or uncertainty. Raising the hackles is a completely involuntary response, just like when people get goosebumps.

The Tail

The tail can tell us so much about how our dogs are feeling!

1. A slow tail wag from side to side is a relaxed dog.

2. A faster tail wag from side to side can indicate arousal, which can range from happy excitement to being on high alert for a possible threat.

3. A circular tail wag, like a helicopter, is a happy wag.

4. Tucking the tail down or between the legs is a sign of stress or fear.

5. Holding the tail up high like a flag is a sign of confidence and assertiveness.

The Body

Body posture is very important for understanding your dog’s emotions and can help put the other cues together to know what your dog is communicating.

1. Cowering down to the ground or getting really low is a sign of fear or stress.

2. Rolling on their back and going belly up can be a sign of stress, anxiety, and submission, especially if they also urinate on themselves. A happy dog will also roll on their back to try to get belly rubs, but these dogs will be wagging their tail and giving other happy cues.

3. Bowing position, where the bottom is up and the chest and head are down, is a happy dog trying to initiate play.

4. Shifting the weight forward can indicate high interest or aggression. Look at the eyes, tail, and hackles to put a more complete picture together of what your dog is trying to tell you.

*For example, a Doberman Pincher runs up to you and your dog at the park, is baring her teeth, eyes are open but relaxed, ears are forward-facing (may be hard to assess the ears if they have been cropped), the tail is wagging quickly from side to side (assuming tail has not been docked) and she goes into a bow position, she is smiling and looking for a playmate.

If she approaches and is baring her teeth, eyes are hard and fixed, hackles are raised, and she is rigid with her body posture forward and the tail help up, this is a confident and possibly aggressive dog and should be avoided.

Read more:

Puppy Training Toolbox

Training a Perfectly Polite Puppy

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