How to Understand Dog Body Language

Your dog is undoubtedly your best friend, and you’d probably think you’re the one that knows him or her the best. But is that really true? Even though dogs are one of the most uncomplicated races on Earth, seemingly friendly and mellow with everybody, they can hide many emotions and character traits behind their body and face. If you’d like to understand your dog better or even start communicating more effectively in order to do some dog training of your choice, then the best thing you can do is learn more about dog body language. 

When They Wag Their Tails

Tail wagging is one of the most common mistaken signs of dog body language. The majority of people seem to believe that a dog wagging its tail is plain happy, but this is not always the case. When a dog starts wagging its tail, it means that it’s feeling aroused. Not particularly happy, it’s just experiencing a very strong emotion. The emotion could be excitement, or it could be negative such as frustration. The faster a dog wags its tail, the more intense the emotion they’re feeling. Some studies suggest that when a dog’s tail wags to the right they’re feeling a positive emotion, whereas when it wags to the left it could be negative. 

When the Hair in Their Backs is Raised 

You know when your dog’s hair along their back is standing up? That’s called “raised hackles”. The scientific name for this is piloerection, and it means the fur in their body can “fluff up” all across the shoulders or run through the back to get to their tail. Raised hackles mean that your dog is aroused in either a negative or positive manner. Your dog might be feeling very curious about something, very stressed about a situation or totally excited to see you, and sometimes dogs experience raised hackles involuntarily much like goosebumps happen for people. 

When They’re Hunched

The way your dog distributes its weight on the ground could tell you a lot about how they’re feeling or what they’re trying to say. When a dog is hunched toward the ground and cowering behind something, it’s a strong indicator that they’re afraid or highly stressed. Your dog is basically trying to escape something and this posture makes them seem and feel smaller than they are. In this scenario, your dog is basically trying  to say “I come in peace”. 

Related: Dog Training Tips Every Owner Should Remember

When They Shift Their Weight Forward

When your dog is noticeably shifting their weight forward on their front legs, it usually means that the pet is trying to get closer to something while being cautious. Weight shifted forward means genuine interest in something. However, if this posture is paired with other dog body language signs such as a twitching, dog barking and a stiff tail, it could mean your dog is trying to appear larger and stand out in an aggressive manner. You should be careful in this case because their intentions might be offensive. 

When They Do the Play Bow

One of the most cute and recognizable body language signs from a dog is when they perform the play bow. The ultra easy-to-read play bow is when your dog places their chest low on the ground and raises their rear end and their tail in the air. Sometimes, the tail can even be wagging merrily, showing even more positive signs. Just as the name suggests, the play bow is usually used by your dog to invite other dogs to play or to initiate a game session with people. 

When They Raise Their Paw

While we all know that some people are taught to raise their paw in response to a request by humans, not many people know what a natural paw raise means in dog body language. There are some dog breeds, like the English Setter, where the paw raise is part of their natural behavior, and they use it to indicate to others when there’s prey nearby. When it comes to any dog breed, raising the paw could indicate that the pet is feeling uncertain, dubious and even a bit insecure about a situation. 

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Stop Your Dog from Pulling

When They Yawn

Even though people tend to yawn when they’re either tired or bored, this can mean something very different for dogs. When a dog yawns, it usually means they’re stressed. They actually use the yawning as a method to calm themselves under a stressful situation and even to calm others, including their owners. Some dog training specialists even suggest for their owners to “yawn” at their dogs when they’re about to go under a stressful situation such as going to the veterinarian. 

When They Lick Their Lips

Another hard-to-read body language expression of dogs is when they lick their thin lips. People sometimes misinterpret this act because they feel like dogs usually lick their lips after a delicious meal or when they’re savoring someone else’s food. Actually, dogs will also lick their lips when they feel a bit anxious. Sometimes, if a dog is too stressed out, it’ll flick its tongue really really quickly and combine it with some dog barking. 

When They “Smile” 

When a dog bares their teeth, you could think they’re giving you a warning to stay away from them. But when the teeth showing is not accompanied by a growl or dog barking, and their eyes look like they’re squinting, it means your dog is smiling. A smiling dog has a relaxed and loose posture and they also wag their tail softly, showing you they’re comfortable and safe around you. 

Related: How to Stop A Dog From Barking

Ears and Eyes to Express Emotions

Your dog’s eyes can also give you strong indicators. When you see a dog with loose eyelids and kind of squinting, it’s completely relaxed and happy; whereas still and “hard” eyes mean your dog is uncomfortable and even stressed out. Meanwhile, the ears of the dog are also strong indicators of their mood. Raised ears mean happy mood, down ears could mean relaxed or sad and ears pushed back are a sign of alarm. 

Remember that, when reading your dog’s body language, there are no individual elements. You have to look at your dog as a whole and try to interpret everything as a signal, this way you’ll be able to understand your pet better and get along with it in a more loving way. This is the key to good dog training. 

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