Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language – From Eyes to Tails
20 October, 2014
Dogs are very expressive animals. They communicate when they’re feeling happy, sad, nervous, fearful and angry and they use their faces and bodies to convey much of this information. Dog body language is an elaborate and sophisticated system of nonverbal communication that we can learn to interpret. As you get to know your dog and spend more time with your pups, you can learn their non-verbal communication fairly predictably.
Dogs use facial expressions, ears, eyes, tails and their overall demeanor to signal their feelings to others. There are so many nuances in understanding your dog’s body language and one way to approach a fundamental understanding is to learn what their different body part are telling us. This can also be helpful when approaching or meeting a new dog.
Your dog’s facial expression
Your dog’s basic facial expressions can tell you a great deal about how he’s feeling. You can see it in his or her face whether he or she is content, scared, sleepy or just calm. It’s the first place to look and then you can get more specific.
Your dog’s eyes
The direction of your dog’s eyes can also be telling. Dogs rarely look directly into each other’s eyes because this is considered a threat. However, most dogs learn that it’s okay, even pleasant, to look directly at people. A dog who looks at you with a relaxed facial expression is being friendly and hoping that you’ll notice him. A dog who looks directly at you, actually staring at you with a tense facial expression, is not exactly friendly. A direct stare is much more likely to be a threat, and if you’re near a dog with this expression, you might want to look away!
This is my friendly look!
If your dog doesn’t look directly at you, but instead looks out of the corners of his eyes so that you see a more of the whites of his eyes, he might be leading up to an aggressive outburst. This usually happens when a dog is guarding a chew bone, toy or favorite spot. It’s different than the eye of a dog who is resting with his head and opens his eyes to give you a sideways glance. In this case, he won’t appear rigid or tense, and you won’t see much of the whites of his eyes.
Your dog’s mouth
Dogs do a lot more with their mouths than just eat and drink. Even though they can’t use their mouths to talk, the way they position their lips, jaws and teeth speaks volumes. When your dog is relaxed and happy, he’s likely to have his mouth closed or slightly opened. If your pup’s mouth is open, he may be panting-this is how dogs cool their bodies. You might see his teeth because his mouth is slightly opened.
A dog that is frightened or feeling submissive probably has his mouth closed. His lips might be pulled back slightly at the corners. He might flick his tongue in and out, or he might lick if he’s interacting with a person or another animal. When he’s feeling uptight, he might yawn in an exaggerated fashion.
Some dogs show a half grin when they’re feeling submissive. They pull their lips up vertically and display their front teeth. This half grin is usually accompanied by an overall submissive body posture, such as a lowered head, yelping or whining, and squinty eyes. Only some dogs “grin” this way.
Your dog’s ears
When your dog is relaxed and comfortable, he’ll hold his ears naturally. When he’s alert, he’ll raise them higher on his head and he’ll direct them toward whatever’s holding his interest. Your dog will also raise his ears up and forward when he’s feeling aggressive. If your dog has his ears pulled back slightly, his intention is to be friendly. If his ears are completely flattened or stuck out to the sides of his head, he’s usually frightened or feeling submissive.
Your dog’s tail
When your dog is relaxed, he’ll hold his tail in its natural position. If he’s feeling happy, he may wag it gently from side to side. If he’s really happy, like when he greets you after being apart from you, his tail will wag more forcefully from side to side or might even move in a circular pattern. If your dog feels nervous or submissive, he’ll hold his tail lower and might even tuck it between his rear legs. He may still wag it from side to side, often at a more rapid pace than if he’s relaxed. If he’s really scared or feeling extremely submissive, he’ll hold his tail tucked up tight against his belly.
When your dog is alert or aroused about something, he’ll probably hold his tail higher than normal. He’ll hold it stiff, without any movement. If he’s standing his ground or threatening someone (a person or another animal), your dog might holds his tail stiff and high and moves it rigidly back and forth. It might look like he’s wagging his tail, but everything else about his body tells you that he’s not feeling friendly at the moment.
There are so many nuances to understanding your dog and as you get to know the different body parts and what they are ‘telling you’, you can interpret in advance how your dog is feeling as a whole!