What is my dog saying to me? A guide to canine body language

dog tilting head

Happiness, confusion, stress, excitement — dogs express these emotions and more through body language, but humans don’t always catch the messages they’re trying to send. Think of dog body language like any other foreign language. Once you get acquainted with a dog’s signals and postures, you’ll better understand their feelings and predict what they’ll do next. Not only that, it can lead to a better relationship with your dog.

The key components of dog body language are facial expressions, ears, tail and overall demeanor. In order to accurately interpret what the dog is communicating and how you should react to it, though, you’ll want to look at the entire dog as well as the situation. Here’s how to recognize some of the most common emotions dogs express through body language and how to react to it.



When dogs are scared and stressed, they try to make themselves look as small as possible. He might crouch down with his tail between his legs. You might notice him lick his lips excessively and yawn in an exaggerated way. He could show the “whale eye,” which is when a dog turns his head away from the threat, but keeps looking at it, showing the whites of his eyes. He also might tremble or drool. What to do: If it’s your dog, use a soothing tone of voice and try to coax him to you. If it’s not your dog, it’s best to slowly back away because a fearful dog can be unpredictable.



A dog who is feeling submissive when interacting with a person or another dog wants to send the signal that his rank is lower, he’s not a threat and no aggression is needed. Much like the fearful body language, he might get low to the ground in an attempt to look smaller. You might see him roll onto his back and expose his stomach and throat as a way of averting a physical confrontation. What to do: Feel free to give the dog an affectionate belly rub to send the message that you accept his display of submission.



If the dog is feeling fear and anger, he’s ready to stand up for himself. He’ll hold his tail high and rigid, his ears up and forward, and he’ll assume a solid stance with his weight distributed on all four feet. He might draw his lips back to display his teeth, and he might snarl, growl or bark. What to do: Dogs who show signs of aggression could be dangerous. If it’s your own dog, quickly establish dominance and give a firm “No!” command. The dog should then give up and display signs of submission. If it’s not your dog, remove yourself and your dog from the situation as calmly as possible.



Relaxed body language is the main sign of a happy dog. His ears and tail are in their natural positions and he might wag his tail back and forth or in circles. His facial expression might be neutral, or he could be panting at a normal pace with the corners of his mouth turned up. What to do: Enjoy the moment and give the dog some affection.



If a dog is in an extra happy mood, he might become playful — excitedly jumping and bouncing, often with a partially open mouth that looks like a smile. Nearly all dogs exhibit the “play bow,” bouncing into position with his front legs flat on the ground and his back legs extended. This signal is important because many playful behaviors can be viewed as aggression, and the play bow is reassuring the playmate that it’s just all in good fun. What to do: If you’re able to play, accept the dog’s invitation to do so! If it’s a bad time, tell him to settle down, but do so gently so you don’t spoil his good mood.


Canine Body Language [Positively]

Understanding Dog Body Language and Verbal Clues [Dogster]

How to Read Your Dog’s Body Language [Modern Dog]

  • May 17th, 2017
  • Posted in: WAG