A small displays nervous body language.

Dogs communicate through body language, and it’s important for dog owners to be able to understand what their dog is trying to tell them. 

Most dog owners would say they know their furry friend pretty well. But how well do you really know your dog? One way to get to know your canine better is by learning to read their body language.  

Dogs will use a combination of facial expressions, ear positioning, tail wagging, and other body language cues to convey their emotional state. Every dog is different, but there are some common cues that all dogs give off when they feel a certain way. 

Dogs communicate with us primarily through body language and vocalizations. Dog owners need to learn how to read their dog’s body language to better understand what they are trying to say. Keep reading to learn about common dog body language cues and their meaning.

Categories of Dog Body Language

There are three main categories of dog body language: postures, facial expressions, vocalizations, and tail positions. Here’s a more in-depth look at each one.

  1. Postures: The way a dog holds their body can be a big clue into how they’re feeling. For example, a dog that is standing tall with its hackles (the fur along its back) raised is likely feeling threatened or aggressive. On the other hand, a dog cowering low to the ground with its tails between its legs is probably feeling scared or submissive. Paying attention to your dog’s posture can give you a good idea of what they might be trying to tell you.
  2. Facial expressions: Dogs communicate a lot through their facial expressions. For example, a dog that is looking directly into your eyes with a soft expression is likely trying to show you that they trust you. On the other hand, baring teeth or growling is usually a sign that the dog feels threatened or angry. It’s important to pay attention to your dog’s face when they’re around other dogs or people so that you can prevent any potential conflict.
  3. Tail positions: The position of a dog’s tail can also give you clues about how they’re feeling. A tail that is held high and wagging vigorously usually indicates happiness and excitement, while a tail tucked between the legs likely means the opposite. A slow wag from side to side often signifies confusion, while rapid wagging can be a sign of anxiety or fearfulness. Paying attention to where your dog’s tail is positioned can help you better understand how they’re feeling in any given moment.

What Is Your Dog Trying To Tell You?

    • Puppy Dog Eyes: We’ve all seen it before, those big, pleading eyes that seem to say “please love me.” Puppy dog eyes are one of the most commonly used (and effective) forms of canine body language. This behavior is often used by young dogs who are still learning to communicate with humans and may not know how to express their needs in other ways. If you see your dog giving you puppy dog eyes, chances are they’re trying to tell you that they need something from you, whether it’s food, attention, or a trip outside.
    • Happy Tail Wagging: You know your dog is happy when they start wagging their tail energetically from side to side. But did you know that the direction of your dog’s tail wag can also give you clues about how they’re feeling? A tail that is wagging stiffly from side to side usually indicates excitement or aggression, while a tail that is wagging softly and in a relaxed manner usually indicates happiness and friendliness.
    •  Ear Positioning: The position of your dog’s ears can also give you clues about their emotional state. Ears pointing backward or flattened against the head usually indicate fear or submission, while ears that are perked up and pointed forward usually indicate interest or alertness. If you see your dog’s ears in this position, they may be trying to listen intently to something or someone nearby.
    •  Yawning: Just like humans, dogs will sometimes yawn when they’re tired or bored. But did you know that yawning can also be a sign of stress? If your dog seems to be yawning excessively or out of context (e.g., during a walk instead of after a nap), they may be trying to relieve feelings of anxiety.
    • Lip Licking: Lip licking can be a sign of stress in dogs, similar to yawning. If your dog starts licking his lips when you approach him or when there is commotion around him, it may be a sign that he is feeling anxious and would like you to leave him alone. However, if your dog licks his lips after eating or during calm moments, he is probably just trying to remove any food residue from his mouth!
  • Standing at Attention: Many times, a dog will be standing at full attention in a situation where they would normally be relaxing or being more in tune to others around them. They may have their chest held out, their shoulders squared, and their tail pointed down. This posture indicates alertness and potential unease. If, for example, your dog refuses to lie down when everyone else is sitting comfortably in the living room, they may be thinking they will soon need to defend their territory or chase after some nearby prey.

Greenlin Pet Resorts Can Help You Understand Your Dog

Dogs use their body language to communicate what they’re feeling, whether it’s excitement, happiness, fear, or anxiety. If you can learn to read your dog’s body language, you can better understand and empathize with them. This is especially important if your dog has a problem that you need to address, such as aggression or separation anxiety. Luckily for us all, help is available. 

At Greenlin Pet Resorts in six locations in the Harrisburg area we are experts in canine behavior and communication. We offer boarding, daycare, and dog training classes to help owners better understand their dogs and resolve behavioral issues. Contact us today to get started!