Two golden retriever playing together
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Learn to read your dog’s body language with these easy tips

By Daniel Mar Journalist

Updated on the

Dog body language is the most important form of canine communication. Dog owners should learn how to interpret what their dogs are telling them. Have you ever wondered what your dog is trying to tell you?

Despite the fact that dogs can’t talk to express themselves, they have found a way to communicate with everyone around them. With the use of facial expressions and many body postures, a dog can convey their emotional state to their owners or whoever they are trying to communicate with. This is why learning to understand a dog’s body language is so important.

Importance of knowing about your dog’s body language

When you are able to understand what your dog’s body language is saying, you are in possession of very valuable information. This way, you can easily tell when your dog is in pain, nervous, happy or angry! It takes practice, but once you get used to it, it comes naturally. Therefore, to help you, here you have a list of the most common messages that dogs send to their owners.


When dogs have their ears up (not forward), heads high, mouth slightly open (part of the tongue showing), a loose stand and tail down, they are relaxed. When your dog’s body language is expressing relaxation, it means that he is unconcerned and content. It is a great moment to approach him.


If a dog is confident, he will stand straight and tall with his head held high, ears completely perked (if possible) and eyes wide open. His mouth may be slightly open but relaxed (no teeth showing). His tail can sway gently or it can hang. This stance expresses friendliness. If your dog is confident, it means that he is at ease with his surroundings.


Every time that your dog is on alert, his body will show the same signs. Dog body language responds to awkward and unknown situations in the same way. For instance, your dog will have his ears forward (sometimes twitchy when hearing sounds), eyes wide, mouth closed, tail horizontally and a slightly forward stance. Your dog will remain in this position until he fully assesses the situation to determine if there are any threats.


Happy dogs look similar to confident ones. However, some signs change. For example, your dog will usually wag his tail, his mouth will be open and he can even pant mildly. In this state, dogs are very friendly and easy to approach.

Dominant Aggressive

Many dog owners recognize this dog’s sign language because it makes them stay away! When dogs are feeling this way, there are many tell-tale signs: his forehead will show vertical wrinkles, the nose is wrinkled, lips are curled, teeth are visible because his mouth will adopt a C-shaped position, ears are fully forward, hackles are raised and the tail is very stiff. Therefore, with this pose, dogs express their social dominance, but it can also be a response to a threat.


Everyone loves a playful dog. A dog’s body language when feeling playful is very cute! When a dog is happy and playful, his ears are up, the mouth is slightly open and tail wags rapidly. He can also jump and run around with excitement. Furthermore, a playful dog will exhibit the famous “play bow”: front legs and head stretched forward and his rear end up in the air. You only need to interpret this as an invitation to play.

Fearful aggressive

If a dog is frightened, and he looks aggressive at the same time, you should be careful because he can attack you out of fear. A dog’s body language when afraid is the following: his ears back, pupils dilated, nose wrinkled, lips curled, corner of the mouth pulled all the way back, hackles raised, body somewhat lowered and tail tucked between the legs.


A submissive dog’s stance is also another classic. He will hold his head down, ears will be down flat and he will avert his eyes to avoid eye contact. His tail will be low, and it may be tucked in. Submissive dogs tend to roll on their backs to expose their belly (most fragile spot in their bodies). A submissive dog can also nuzzle or lick the person (or another dog) to express their passive stance. Sometimes, a submissive dog can sniff the ground. Dogs in this state are gentle and non-threatening.

Stressed and distressed

When your dog is under social or environmental stress, you can tell. A dog’s body language when stressed is easy to recognize. Just notice his ears back, pupils dilated, rapid panting (corners of the mouth far back), body stance lowered, tails down (not tucked in) and excessive sweating through pads.


The anxious dog will act somehow submissive, but you need to know the other signs. Anxious dogs will have their ears partially back as well as their necks stretched out. You can notice how their postures are very tense (sometimes with shudders). Often, anxious dogs can yawn or lick their lips. Their tails are usually low and tucked in. Lastly, they can show the whites in their eyes (called whale eye). Anxious dogs are prone to overreacting to any stimulus up to the point of fear and aggression.

Here you have an insight into your dog’s body language. Use to better understand your dog’s intentions and feelings.

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