Dog Body Language – What’s Your Dog Telling You?

Los Angeles Dog Body LanguageIllustration Credit: Lili Chin   

Dogs are ALWAYS telling us something. Dog body language communicates when they’re feeling happy, sad, nervous, fearful and angry. They use their expressions and posture to tell us how they feel. The question is… Do we know what they’re telling us?

In this article we’ll try to cover some of the basics of a dog’s body language; however, canine communication is an complex and elaborate system of non verbal communication. By observing a dog’s eyes, mouth, ears, tail, and overall posture, you can get a better understanding of what a dog is thinking. Learning the meanings behind some of the individual parts will help you gain the ability to better interpret the whole. With that being said, it’s not possible to understand what you’re dog is saying by only looking at one piece. Moving forward, your intent is to collect all the noticeable details, combine them in context, and consider what’s being said.

Let’s dissect some of the most recurring emotions and how each body part expresses them.


The Eyes – Windows to the soul.

  • Almond shaped eyes would suggest that a dog is in a neutral and calm state.
  • Wide rounded eyes suggest that the dog is stressed or surprised.
  • Squinting eyes can suggest that the dog is being submissive or has some sort of ailment.
  • Indirect eye contact from a dog that is showing the whites of the eye is probably feeling uneasy or threatened.
  • A direct stare down with a closed mouth is usually a threat. (Don’t stare down dogs!)


The Mouth – Take the words right out their mouth.

  • A dog that is frightened or stressed will have his mouth closed.
  • Relaxed and happy dogs will usually have their mouths open and maybe even their tongue out.
  • Yawning, slow lip-licking, and excessive panting are all signals that the dog is stressed.
  • Dogs that tighten their lips into a snarl to show their K9s usually are exhibiting a combination of fear and aggression.


The Ears – These ears aren’t just made for listening.

  • Relaxed and comfortable dogs will hold their ears in a neutral position.
  • If a dog is interested in something, he will raise his ears up in the direction of what ever has peaked his interest.
  • When ears flick back and forth the dog is trying to access sounds and his current situation.
  • Submissive and worried dogs tend to tuck their ears back slightly.
  • Ears standing up and pricked forward can also be the precursor to aggression or display of dominance.
  • Ears that are tucked tightly back are a signal for aggression as well.


The Tail – Is the tail wagging the dog?

  • Relaxed dogs will hold their tails in a natural position.
  • Excited dogs will move their tails quickly back and forth or in a circular motion.
  • Submissive or nervous dogs will tuck their tail between their legs.
  • Alert and dominant dogs will hold their tails high and curved tight to their back slightly waving from side to side like a flag. (Wagging does NOT mean happy or friendly!)


The Posture – This isn’t the type of posturing you should take lightly.

  • A relaxed dog will have a loose stance with their weight pretty even over all four feet.
  • An alert dog tends to stand with their weight shifting forward. He’s on the edges of his toes prepared to move forward.
  • A playful pup will crouch and usually have a calm open mouth and soft eyes.
  • When a dog is displaying dominance, he will be leaning a little forward and his body will be very stiff.
  • Dogs exhibiting a more fearful aggression will be tense and shift their weight back. They also tend to crouch with their tail tucked bearing teeth.
  • Scared, angry, nervous, or super excited dogs will raise their hackles.
  • Submissive and fearful dogs will soften their bodies and get very low. A very submissive or scared dog will roll on their back and expose their neck.


These are some of the basics of dog body language. I get such a kick out of my dog when she stands by the closed bathroom door looking over at me. She wants me to open the door so she can go get some of that ice-cold toilet water, LOL. Don’t just pay attention to your dogs mannerisms, but any dog you see. Try to guess what the dog is feeling based off of the combinations of expressions. When you and your dog speak the same language, it becomes easier to train your dog how to act in the house, and in public. In addition, your dog will learn how to better interpret human intentions and actions. I encourage you to pay more attention to your dog’s way of communicating. I promise your interactions with our canine companions will become more pleasant, safe and fun.

If you’ve found this information useful, and would like a little more help with your dog, click the link below to schedule an Evaluation.


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