We often look at our dogs and wonder “what would you be saying if you could talk?” They would probably be asking “why don’t you understand me?” The truth is our dogs are “talking” to us all day long!
Dogs, cats, and most other animals communicate through elaborate body language. Humans do too, even though we don’t always realize it. Discomfort, happiness, fear, and other emotions… we often express these things unconsciously through the way we position our bodies.
If you want to know what your dog is saying to you, you need to learn to understand their body language. You will be amazed at how much you will learn about your dog and how much stronger your bond will be once you understand their body language. We're going to help get you started in learning what your dog is communicating to you. We’ve put together a list of common body signals dogs use that are important for you to know. Let’s get started!
The Tail Says It All
You’d be surprised at how much your dog is telling you just by the way they hold their tail. Dogs communicate a lot of things through their tails, and the differences can be so slight that it's important to know what you are looking for.
The way a dog holds and wags their tail can tell you if they are relaxed, fearful, nervous, aggressive, or wary.
High arched tail- Something is making your dog feel aggressive and the arched tail is a warning.
Raised tail with perked-up ears- Something is happening, and your dog is on the alert.
Tucked tail- Classic sign of fear and submission.
Fast tail wags with a tail in its neutral position- That’s a happy, happy dog!
These are just a few of the things your dog can signal with their tail. To learn more about your dog’s particular “tail language”, watch the way their tail responds when you know they're happy, scared, or when they see something new. This will really help you tune into your individual dog and their tail’s nuances.
It's important to look at their tail but also look at the rest of their body! This will give you a bigger, clearer picture on how they are feeling overall. Remember, a wagging tail does not automatically mean a happy dog. Look at everything your dog is doing with their body to understand what they're trying to convey.
Ears Give It Away
Ears are another good indicator of how your dog is feeling. Make sure you have a good understanding of what your dogs ears mean!
Upright ears- If your dog's ears are sticking straight up, it's likely that they are alert and curious. They may have heard something and are trying to gather more information. While alertness isn't bad, it's important to look at their other body cues to understand exactly how your dog is feeling.
Pinned back ears- Dropped or pinned ears can indicate a happy or scared dog. It's important to read their other body language clues to determine where they stand.
The Eyes Have It
Your dog’s eyes are another tool your dog uses to express themselves. We all know where the expression “puppy dog eyes” comes from. But dogs use their eyes for more than just trying to scam a treat out of us.
Narrowed eyes with a fixed stare- Your dog is communicating that they are a threat. Combined with lips pulled away from the teeth in a snarl, this is a sign of danger.
Large wide-opened eyes with the whites showing- This is called “whale eye”. It’s a sign that your dog is uncomfortable and feeling very stressed. You often see it in pictures with small children crawling on an otherwise calm seeming dog. The dog’s eyes are expressing that it is not calm but that, instead, it is in a stressful position and doesn’t know what to do.
One of the most important things you need to be able to identify in your dog is if they are stressed or worried. They can express this through their eyes, tails, and through some other things as well.
Yawning- Context is important here. Dogs also yawn when they are tired. But yawning during a seemingly stressful situation is likely a stress response.
Licking the lips- If your dog is not munching on a treat and is licking their lips, this is a good indication that they’re stressed. Lip licking is a common nervous behavior that is also seen in humans.
Shaking- You may notice this during a car ride or in the vet's office. If your dog is trembling, they are certainly not feeling their best and are likely uncomfortable with whatever situation they are in.
Panting- This is another behavior where you need to consider the context. Is your dog hot and trying to cool down, or could something be causing them stress?
Hugging- Your dog may press up against you if they’re feeling stressed. This is sometimes accompanied with whining.
Freezing- A stressed or scared dog may freeze in the hopes of diverting attention away from them.
Aiming To Appease
In social situations with other dogs, and sometimes with people, you may notice your dog using their body to express themselves. Many of these behaviors are an attempt to show other dogs that they’re harmless. They’re just trying to make friends!
Muzzle licking- A less dominant dog meeting another dog may lick the other dog's muzzle. This is a behavior left over from puppyhood where licking their mothers resulted in a care response.
Play bowing- A play bow is when your dog’s front half dips down and their back half sticks up… like they’re taking a bow. You may be very familiar with this signal because our dogs use it on us as well. This is how dogs signal to each other that they’re harmless and just want to play.
Chattering teeth- This is another sign of excitement and eagerness to play.
The Importance Of Understanding Dog Body Language
There are a lot of reasons why it is important for you to understand dog body language. It helps you understand your individual dog and ensures you’re responding to them and addressing their needs appropriately.
With an understanding of their unique body language, you will be able to remove your dog from stressful situations. Too many times you hear of dogs snapping in a stressful situation and people responding with the excuse “there was no warning”. Whale eye, tail position, freezing, all of these are subtle signs that can be overlooked if you don’t know what to look for.
It also helps you understand other people’s dogs. You will be better able to read a situation and determine if another dog is a threat to you and your dog or if they are friendly and want to be part of your dog’s social circle.
Understanding your dog on every level possible is an important part of dog friendly living. Have you noticed any body language in your dog that you think is interesting or unique? Leave a comment below!