Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language
7 January, 2014

Most dog owners like to speak to their dogs and there is usually a general understanding between dogs and their pet parents.  We can tell when they are hungry, need to go to the bathroom, or when they are happy.  But, sometimes we’re not really sure what they are saying or want us to know.  There are some general signs or ways that are dogs communicate with us with their bodies.

Below are some tips to help understand our pups:

Happy, Contented

When your dog is happy, he or she has relaxed body language. Your pups’ muscles are relaxed, his tail and ears are held in their natural positions, and he looks neither large nor small for his physique. He might wag his tail from side to side or in a circular motion. His facial expression is neutral or he appears happy—the muscles in his face are relaxed, his mouth is closed or slightly opened, and he might be panting steadily.


When your dog is excited, he looks as intense as he does when he’s alert, but he might also adopt a playful demeanor. His body is ready for action. Your pup’s weight might be centered over his rear legs as he prepares to move. His ears are up and his tail is held high, and it may or may not wag. Excited dogs often hold their mouths open, and they might bark while wagging their tails.

Fearful, Scared

When your dog is scared, he or she does his best to look small. Often, his body looks hunched, with his tail held low or tucked between his rear legs and his ears flattened back on his skull. He might cower close to the ground. If escape is possible, he might lean so that his center of gravity is over his rear legs to permit a hasty retreat, or lean to the side so that he can recoil.  Your pup will sometimes look directly at the source of his fear or he might look away. The muscles of his body and face are usually tense and rigid.


If your dog is feeling submissive while he interacts with a person or another dog, he tries to convey the message that he’s the underling that he’s not a threat and that aggression is unnecessary. During active submission, he makes his body look small by hunching over and getting low to the ground. He holds his tail low or tucked, sometimes rapidly wagging it back and forth. He flattens his ears or holds them off to the sides of his head. He keeps his neck low to the ground, but he turns his muzzle up toward the other individual. He might nuzzle, lick or flick his tongue. He averts his gaze so as not to look directly at the other individual. Some dogs, particularly puppies, urinate.

Fearfully Aggressive

If your dog is fearfully aggressive he won’t look any different than when he’s fearful, except that he might show his teeth and growl. Some fearful dogs never escalate to aggression, but others will if they feel there’s no escape. A fearful dog isn’t likely to bite a person or other animal unless all avenues for escape are blocked and he feels trapped. When this happens, he continues to cower but, at the same time, shows his teeth and might growl or snarl. Some dogs wait until the person or animal who frightens them begins to retreat, and then they dart out to nip them from behind.

While every dog is different, the above signs are in the realm of the feeling and/or action your pup might take.

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