Your Dog’s Body Language

Ever wondered what your dog is trying to tell you with his actions? Here are some translation tips.

In this photo of a Pit Bull Terrier, you can interpret this dog's body language as excited and playful.

A dog's body language helps him convey his mood and intentions.

Though dogs may bark a lot (sometimes too much, as many of us know), they also say a lot with their bodies. Tails, legs, noses, mouths and more help the dog convey messages about their mood, emotions, and intentions. A keen dog-owner should be able to interpret this body language in order to better understand their canine companion. This short guide should help you with many of your dog’s signs and signals.

Anxiety/Fear: Your dog will often use body language if he is scared or anxious when encountering other people or dogs. It’s important to recognize this body language so that you can take steps to calm your dog. Look out for these signs:

  • Lowered tail, possibly wagging stiffly and swiftly.
  • Raised shoulders
  • Lowered head
  • Quick looks away
  • Raised hair on the back

Sometimes your dog will not only use body language to indicate fear, but he may also try to calm down another dog or human. These are signs that your dog is trying to indicate that he is trying to be calm and non-threatening:

An old black dog licking his nose may be a way of using body language to show he is calm and non-threatening.

Dogs also give signs that they are trying to be calm and non-threatening to soothe others.

  • Sniffing the ground
  • Licking his nose
  • Yawning

If you notice your dog doing any of these things, mimicking him will help let him know you understand and may calm him down.

Confidence: A confident dog will display this through his body language. Here are some signs you may pick up on that are an indication of his assuredness:

  • Tall stance
  • Raised tail, sometimes with a slow wide wag
  • Perked ears

Happiness/Playfulness: The body language for playfulness is some of the easiest to understand. As most people know, a rapidly wagging tail is a sign of happiness. If your dog wants to play, he may lower his head and front end in a bow, raise his back end and look eager.

Dog Aggression/Dominance: A dominant dog will let you know it with his posture. He will be standing straight and tall, and looking other dogs in the eye. An aggressive dog, meanwhile, displays a different set of signs. These are important to know, so that you can keep your dog from getting over-anxious. Your dog may be showing aggression towards an adversary if he looks like this:

A snarling dog is using body language to show aggression.

Snarling is one way that a dog shows aggression towards an adversary.

  • Lowered head
  • Ears pinned back
  • Narrow, focused eyes, possibly with the whites showing
  • Mouth in a snarl, possibly growling
  • Tail raised straight
  • Hair on back raised

If your dog is displaying this sort of behavior towards another dog, you should separate them. It is best to keep your dog out of situations that make him aggressive.