It’s known by both experts and everyday people that humans communicate extensively using body language. Watching the way a person stands, moves, gestures, and displays their emotions with their facial expressions all gives you as much information as any words coming out of their mouth. Studying this information is also a great way to learn more about them, their motivations, their needs and wants, and their personality. But it can be a bit harder to pick up on what a dog has to say through its body language, beyond the basic tail-wag.
As much as a growl, bark, whimper, or howl can communicate certain feelings and intentions, a pup’s body language can convey a surprising amount of information about what’s going through their heads. If you’re looking to form a deeper connection with your dog by learning a bit of their language, keying into their expressions and movements is a good way to start.
Watching for body language cues is also an important part of dog obedience training. Just by observing whether your dog feels nervous, excited, or unwell, you can help accommodate your dog’s needs while also preventing undesired behaviors before they even start.
With this in mind, here’s a primer on how to read your dog’s body language. Note that it’s by no means a replacement for an expert’s opinion. You should also keep in mind that, just like humans, dogs will express themselves through body language in different ways. But the information will be a good start towards reading your dog before they have to say anything at all.
Tail, Mouth, Eyes, and Ears
A dog’s tail can be a pretty good indicator of its energy.
An excited or playful dog will usually have its tail high. Some tails will wag so much you’re afraid for every item at knee-height, and some tails will barely wag at all!
A dog that’s alert or who’s focused on something probably won’t move its tail much at all. They may hold it down or straight outward at a low angle.
If a dog’s tail is tucked between its legs, it’s usually a sign of fear or defensiveness and sometimes even aggression, so giving them some space is a good idea.
Keep an eye on a dog’s tail to get a quick read of their general disposition.
If a dog is baring its teeth and growling, back away.
Some dogs actually smile the same as humans, exposing their teeth in what can be confused as an aggressive expression to those who aren’t familiar with them. Licking the teeth or lips while smiling, in combination with other passive body languages, like rolling onto their back or tucking their tail between their legs can be an indication of nervousness, playfulness, or submission.
A mouth slightly open with the tongue hanging out is a good sign the dog’s pretty content with the current situation.
Following a dog’s gaze will tell you what they’re looking at. It’s simple, but paying attention to what your dog is focused on will teach you a bit about how they see the world. You can observe how they follow you around the kitchen while you make dinner, keeping a vigilant watch for fallen scraps; how they’ll sometimes follow a conversation between humans even though they can’t understand the language; how they’ll look away in shame when they’re being scolded for misbehaving.
In many ways, a dog’s eyes follow many of the same patterns you might see in human eye movement. So look them in the eyes any time you want to see what they’re currently focusing on.
Humans don’t have the expressive capabilities in their ears that most dogs do (though it can be fun to imagine if we did!).
As the floppy-eared beagle, poodle, or basset hound will tell you, not all dog ears can express the same amount of information, but when they can, you might be able to learn a thing or two.
Perky ears can indicate playfulness and alertness. Ears that are pulled back can mean defensiveness, submissiveness, or aggressiveness.
No individual expression can tell you everything about what a dog is feeling or will do next, so it’s important to keep all the pieces in mind when approaching a dog.
There’s No Guaranteed Way to Know What a Dog is Thinking
Before making any assumptions about what a dog is feeling or about to do, you should take into consideration the full situation. The dog you’ve had for 5 years may express happiness around you with certain body language, but an aggressive or territorial dog might use a similar expression to tell you to get lost.
Whether or not you know the dog is the most important aspect here, as even when an unfamiliar dog appears to be behaving in a friendly or welcoming manner, there’s always the chance that you’re misinterpreting their body language and they could react unexpectedly.
Even the happiest-looking and least-threatening dog could lash out or bite out of fear or anger, so avoid getting too close to dogs you don’t know unless their owner tells you it’s OK. Always keep small children away from dogs unless you know the dog well and are sure it’s safe.
Put Your Dog in the Care of a Pet Boarding and Training Facility That Understands Them
At Greenlin Pet Resorts, we know your dog is a member of your family and should be treated with the same respect and love that you show them. When you have to be away from home, leaving your canine companion in our care is a great way to make sure they’re properly looked after. We monitor every dog carefully throughout the day and night and ensure they get all the playtime, food, socialization, and care they need.
We also offer dog training classes, so you can have your dog learn while you’re away and then receive instructions for you two to learn more together at home. We will observe your animal’s individual cues so that you can get a sense of how to work better together. Dog training courses can even be combined with boarding, meaning your pup gets to be a student at a prestigious boarding academy in the way every proud parent dreams of!
Call us today or schedule a stay online to make sure your pets have the best place to stay while you have to be away.