Learning and Understanding Dog Body Language


Humans speak to communicate amongst ourselves. Dogs have no such developed ability, the only hope of reaching out to us and expressing themselves is through the dog’s body language and their vocal abilities.


Understanding what your dog is trying to communicate can give you a lot of useful insight into its psychology.  Interpreting a dog’s posture and behavior can be useful for identifying emotions and intention, and in preventing dog related harm during dog-human interactions. Every part of the body is important in the process of observing a dog.  The head, tail, eyes, mouth, and ears are all important organs to note.


Misinterpreting dogs’ body language can become extremely dangerous for humans and other dogs. It can also become dangerous for the dog itself - because it can only communicate with this subtle language to alert us of its psychology or health state.

How to Read Your Dog's Body Language?

Dogs have the emotional capabilities of a typical two-year-old child; they can experience basic emotions - excitement, anxiety, and anger - in their own way. A dog’s body posture and how its organs are positioned can tell you a lot about it. Whether your dog is in a relaxed state, anxious, or about to pounce on you, it will still be denoted.

More importantly, it is imperative to learn and understand the intention behind the emotional expression of a dog. The emotion expressed may be misleading sometimes because dogs may give similar emotions from different intentions.

In the words of a renowned dog specialist, Cesar Milan, it was asserted that an excited dog and an aggressive dog may both move forward toward a person or other animal, but one of them is playful and the other one is threatening. In a similar vein, while a dog may run away in fear; another dog may run away as a matter of initiating a game of chase with another dog.

Learning and understanding your posture and behavior can save you a lot of trouble. Always look out for the head positioning, ears, eyes, mouth, tail, and body movement.

Check out the dog body language chart to have a clear idea regarding it.

Relaxed State

A dog takes a relaxed state when its environment feels safe and familiar. And the dog feels no reason to be particularly observant and no threat whatsoever, dogs in a relaxed state may even lean on the wall. In short, they look harmless. While this is not enough approval to be approached by strangers, it is still one of it.

The features of a dog in the relaxed state include;

· Head raised up with a straight posture

· Mouth slightly open

· Tongue out and moved to one side of the mouth.

· Ears up and straight

· Eyes open and bright.

· Tail relaxed - tail may sway gently, curl loosely.


Stressed or Nervous state

A dog can be stressed for psychological or health reasons, a stressed dog exhibits inappropriate behaviors - something like chewing your important document, or favorite shoe. A dog owner can best help out in this situation by providing necessary supports. First, by understanding what the dog is trying to communicate. 

The features of a dog in the stressed state include;

· Yawning

· In direct eye contact - Head turned away, but eye fixed on the perceived threat

· Dry panting

· Body freezing

· Low tail carriage

· Sweaty paws – dogs sweat through their foot pads


Fearful State

This state is made by dogs that perceive the threat to be superior, the dog tries to appease the threat with this posture to avoid challenges and prevent more damage.

The features of a dog in the fearful state include;

· Head and ears tilted backward and flat.

· Sweaty paws, one leg of forelegs raised

· Body lowered

· Tail down

· Eyes partly closed with indirect eye contact

· Urinate lightly

· Tuck tail

· Roll over to expose stomach and tail


Aggressive State

Either your dog is warning a threat to keep its distance, or preparing for a real fight, the aggressive behavior is not one to be ignored, misinterpreted or taken lightly for the potential damage it can lead to. The most extreme aggressive behavior involves dogs biting and holding onto threat while shaking - in this case, the dog intends to kill.

The features of a dog in the aggressive state include;

· Body posture upright, but slightly leaning forward

· Dog growls

· Cold staring eyes

· Dog snaps

· Initial harmless, bite, followed by a deeper bite with grip for adamant threats.

· Wagging Tail


Playful State

Playful dogs would engage in a harmless brawl, rushing at each other, barking, staring and growling. However, the most common feature of a dog in the playful state is a play bow - a doggy way to invite other dogs or humans to play. If you play with your dog in outside keep eye on them. We have seen more pets get lost outside the home.

The features of a dog in the playful state include;

· Tail up and waved

· Pupil dilates

· Ear up and straight

· Mouth open and tongue wagging

· Forepaw bent


A dog play can turn into real fighting in a matter of seconds. Paying attention to each dog’s body language can help you know what they’re up to if it’s still a play or way beyond it and you need to step in before some dogs get hurt. If you’re unsure whether dogs are still playing or posing to start a fight, check for play bows - they definitely won’t start a fight with play bows. If the opposite is the case, don’t just jump in the middle of the fight. Instead, hold the fighting parties by their collars, the dog that has had enough would leave. If you can see play bows and still not sure about what’s going on Look out for the following;

· Piloerection - When a dog's hackles rise

· Lips raised with the teeth exposed,

· Growling

· Excessive mounting

· Laid back ears

· Indirect starring



If our interactions with dogs are based on the accurate learning, understanding, and interpretation of their communication techniques - especially body language - we will be able to take better advantage of their abilities for security, science, sports and also improve our relationship with them by preventing behavioral complications. We should note that each time we misinterpret the dogs, we risk breaking our bond with them and losing their trust.


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