Did you know that dogs have a distinctive body language? Our canine companions are verbally incapable to communicate with us. Therefore, dogs use their body language to communicate with humans. 

Their verbal incapacity to communicate with us sometimes becomes a barrier to understanding them. This is also because dog body language is completely different from our body language.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you can no longer understand what your dog’s physical actions suggest?  Has it occurred to you that the way his/her tail wags or ears stand up is different or unusual? 

There are many ways in which dogs try to convey their intentions to us. They wag their tail, use facial expressions, have specific body postures, the upward and exposed belly, and many more. 

However, pet owners often have a misconception that these signs or actions always mean the same. This is not the case always, sometimes their regular body language like, the exposed tummy of your dog, might mean more than him wanting just a belly rub.

A dog’s body language may not always mean the same, but dogs can use the same physical signs to communicate something different. This is the tricky part of canine body language and below are the important things you should know about dog body language.

How to Read Dog Body Language?

Dogs have a unique non-verbal way to communicate with us. They express their feelings and their fears by using their body parts. Dogs use their ears, eyes, mouth, tail, and body posture which together become a dog’s body language to communicate.

For reading a dog’s body language you must understand all signs individually. Once you understand the important signs you can easily understand and read a dog’s body language. Let’s start with the famous and obvious body language trait. 

The Tail Wagging

Dogs and tail wagging are no alien concept. Everybody, even the non-dog lovers know that dogs tend to wag their tails a lot. However, the tail wagging is always considered as the dog is excited. 

Excitement is not the only meaning of tail wagging. It can mean excitement but more than often it means that the dog is emotionally triggered. It can also mean that the dog is frustrated. 

To determine the exact meaning of the wagging tail, you should notice the speed and direction of the tail. A fast wagging tail can indicate that the dog is experiencing emotions strongly. 

A side-to-side sweep that is slow can mean a calm and welcoming feeling in them. This more appropriately means that the dog is relaxed. Whereas a fast-moving tail can also mean the dog is at alert.

The direction of the tail when wagging also has meaning and intentions behind it. When it moves to the right, it can be a positive attitude while the left can be a negative indication.

You can consider that the dog is showing excitement when they start to wag their tails in a speedy and quick motion by sweeping the tail side-to-side.

The Eye Movement

Eyes can be a mirror to what goes on in the brain. Like humans, even dogs express a lot through their eyes. Your dog’s eyes on you and the look on their face can say a lot about their feelings.

Dogs make the ‘soft eyes’ or relaxed face when they are feeling happy and content around their humans. Similarly, a continuous long gaze or stare may suggest that the dog is angry or wants to be dominant. 

Likewise, dilated pupils or large ones can suggest that the dog is experiencing either fear or aggression. This also happens in case the dog is stressed out. When the dog is relaxed and comfortable its eyes often look almond-shaped. 

Dogs do the popular ‘Whale Eye’ when feeling threatened, which means they turn their pupils inward and only the white part of the eyes is visible.

The Mouth Language

When a dog is at ease or relaxed, they happen to keep their mouth open and pant. At the same time, a fearful dog will close its mouth or even pant heavily. Facial expressions are also important to read in dog body language. Common facial expressions include yawning, lip licking, the awkward and cute ‘grin’. Relaxed dogs sometimes have a soft, tension-free mouth that can also seem like a grin or a smile. 

When a dog’s teeth are showing, and the jaw muscles are tightened or clenched, that shows aggression. Also, teeth exposure doesn’t always mean aggression. Their body posture should also be considered to judge their next move.

Tightness in the jaw muscles without exposed teeth can also mean tension in dogs. Dogs also tend to yawn a lot when they feel stressed and sometimes make a whining sound. 

When a dog fears something and is experiencing a sense of fear strongly, they can also drool a lot, out of fear. They also do the tongue flicking and lip licking when they feel nervous.

Talking about the mouth language, if your dog is chewing destructively, howling or barking unwantedly or has excessive biting issues you should not avoid the signs. These are common dog behaviour problems and they need immediate solution.

The Ears

Dog ears always respond actively, concerning their feelings and they play a vital role in the dog body language. All dogs are different and so are their ears. They come in all shapes as well as sizes. 

Some dogs also communicate better with ears than any other body part. A relaxed and calm dog’s ears are always positioned naturally as they are supposed to. Whereas an alarmed or alert dog’s ears stand-up/erect.

Erect ears also suggest that the dog is aroused and are pointing towards its subject of interest. The same happens when the dog is feeling angry and shows its aggression by pointing the erect ears towards its subject of interest. 

A dog’s ears will fall or lay flat on their head when they feel worried or tensed. Some dogs also move their ears back and forth to express different emotions. 

Body Posture and Body Movement

Dogs are never stable. They are always up on their toes and alert in any situation. Even when resting or sleeping they move their ears and eyes at the slightest of sound around them.

A dog’s body posture and its movement can tell us a lot about what they are about to do next. For example, the dog Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a toy dog uses its body and makes himself look smaller when they fear something.

When a dog who has his body hunched and touching the ground that can be a sign of stress or being submissive. This posture also suggests that the dog is intending a ‘no harm’ gesture. Similarly, a dog who is lying upside down with an exposed belly suggests he/she is ‘playful’, and they are not being aggressive.

However, rolling on their back doesn’t always mean they want to play or need a belly rub. It can also be a sign of stress and anxiety. When a dog is offensive or has aggressive intentions, they shift their body weight forward on their front legs, suggesting an attack. 

Other body movements like jumping up, ear licking, blinking are physical actions dogs use to seek attention. It is also called appeasement. To appease others, dogs often use submissive and active body language.

The same actions or signs can be used by dogs to display different emotions. When dogs are stressed or nervous, they use the same body language as yawning, lip licking, the ‘whale eye’, tense jaw, etc. in a different context to convey the intention. 

Some of the well-known body posture or body movements in dogs are head-turning, play bowing, hugging, lip licking, rolling on their back, erect ears, and more. 

When a dog has an upset stomach or is experiencing pain in the spine or hip joints, they do not stay long in one place. When in pain or uncomfortable, dogs may constantly stand-up and change their sitting position frequently. This is an alarming body movement, and this should not be neglected.

A dog’s body language can also vary or differ according to the breed. Some dogs use vocal languages like whining or puppy noises. While some use the tail wagging and ears lifting. Usually, a dog uses all its body parts to express itself and communicate with us.

For successfully reading a dog’s body language you must observe its whole-body posture and movement, following the signs of a body part. The goal should always be to understand body language and not just one physical action.


About Author: Krutika Parmaj is a dog enthusiast and is a content writer at Dog Is World. She is a dog lover who loves to explore the world of dogs and every single detail about them. Her exploration then becomes a creative and informative piece of content for all the curious dog parents.