Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language
Although dogs are often happy-go-lucky, it’s important to stay tuned in to their body language. Not only will understanding your own dog’s body language help you keep them happy and comfortable, noticing common stressors and behaviors in other dogs may help you keep your dog out of potentially dangerous situations.
When a dog encounters a new situation, they are more likely to show their true feelings through their body language. As a pet parent, the best way for us to understand what our dog is communicating at any given time is to be aware of and recognize the cues they are sending.
Your dog’s communications decoded
If you’re trying to figure out if your dog is happy, fearful, stressed or feeling something else, take a look at these common behaviors and what they are trying to tell you.
Reacting to your dog’s body language
Once you recognize that your dog’s body language holds the key to what they’re feeling, you can start to address whatever they’re trying to communicate. Sometimes a dog’s signal can be worked through in the moment, but other times an action or scenario might need to be ended completely before the dog will return to feeling safe or happy. For example:
- When to stop: If your dog is acting aggressively (growling, lunging, barking or snarling), is exhibiting signs of fear, anxiety or stress (like fidgeting, panting, trembling or showing avoidance by moving away), then you’ll want to stop whatever is causing your dog stress or immediately remove them from the situation.
- When to be aware: If your dog is displaying more than two moderate signs of stress mentioned above more than four times in a minute, you should exhibit caution. Try offering treats, toys or attention as a distraction. If that doesn’t work, then remove your pet from the situation.
- When you can keep going: If your pup is exhibiting mild signs of stress but keeps a relaxed body language and continues to solicit social interactions, then you should be able to defuse the situation and slowly get them to be comfortable with what is going on using treats, toys or attention.
Remember that socialization efforts as a puppy are very important, but you’ll want to keep these efforts up as your puppy ages so that your dog remains open to new experiences and social engagements throughout their life.
|Dog's Behavior||What it Means|
|Excessive scratching (when pests or coat issues are not the cause)||Stress|
|Slight or major cowering||Fear/anxiety|
|Licking of lips (when no food is present)||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Panting (when not hot or thirsty)||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Brows furrowed with ears to the side||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Slow-motion movements/walking slow||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Sleepiness or yawning outside of normal periods of being tired||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Hyper-vigilance/quickly looking in multiple directions||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Sudden avoidance of food||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Actively moving away from object/turning and walking away||Fear/anxiety/stress|
|Cowering with large/whale eyes||Request for space|
|Straight/heightened posture||On alert|
|Straight/heightened posture with forward stance||Suspicious|
|Actively barking at object while moving away or staying away||Threatened|
|Barking combined with active movement toward object||Angry|
|Shaking (when not wet)||Stress release|
|Scrunched body position||Attention-seeking|
|Head tilted to one side||Curious|
|Sitting patiently while staring||Wanting something|
|Down on all fours, eyes alert, calm gaze||Hungry/ready to be fed or wanting interaction|
|Rolling over on back||Looking for love|
|Wagging tail||Ready (perhaps in response to play), happy|
|Down on front legs||Ready (perhaps in response to play)|
|Looking away/turning head||At peace|
|Sniffing the ground||At peace|
|Sitting calmly while offering their back||At peace|
|Soft ears with blinking eyes||Relaxed|
|Stretching or paws up||Friendly/greeting|
|Relaxed body with light eyes and “smile”||Friendly|