How to read your dog’s body language

November 15th, 2017


The more time you spend with your canine companion, the easier it is to read their body language. You start to pick up on every little detail from their positioning and posture to their overall behaviour and emotion. Luckily for us, dogs can’t hide any of their body language from us, which makes it easier to tell what they’re feeling on any occasion.


When your pup is subduing to you or another dog in order to get attention or make friends you may notice a number of the following behaviours:

  • Jumping up
  • Muzzle or ear licking
  • Lowering and curving the body
  • Lip licking or showing teeth (smiling)
  • Blinking
  • Lowering the head and ears
  • Play bowing

This is often done around other dogs and will be accepted well when with socially experienced animals. If the dog is not socially experienced, it may take this body language the wrong way and take advantage of it by trying to aggress or control them. On the other hand, the same body language can be done to a human to show they’re friendly and want to play.

Fear, Nervousness or stressed 

You may think you know when your pet is stressed or nervous, however, some of their body language relates to dealing with a perceived threat to reduce their nervousness or stress levels. Some of these actions may be perceived as normal dog-like behaviours, although they may be linked to their stress levels or nervousness around a situation. Some of these behaviours are:

  • Yawning is often used as a signal of stress and not because they are tired
  • Dogs tend to lick their lips when nervous
  • When they are stressed about a perceived threat they will often turn their head away and still have eyes on the threat or completely avoid it till it’s gone
  • A dog will tense its jaw if ready to attack
  • They will drop their tail when uncomfortable about the situation
  • Stress can lead to excessive drooling
  • When a dog is threatened or fearing for their safety, the hair on the back of their neck will stand up to make them appear bigger.


Dogs love exploring and learning new things as they’re naturally curious animals. As they grow in confidence, they will become curious about more things instead of shying away. They do this by:

  • Cocking the head to one side
  • When they lift their front paw they’re anticipating what to do next
  • Dogs will often close their mouth to prepare for action

Fight or flight

In many situations, a dog will have to make a decision whether to fight or run away, often being quite good at making a decision about a potential threat. More often than not a dog will begin on the defence and try to calm the situation, however, if the threat does not leave their behaviour will turn offensive. Their body language may show:

  • Body leaning forward, tense mouth and staring eyes
  • Lips pushed forward and vibrating as they growl
  • Dogs will often snap at the air or at the threat to warn them to back away
  • A quick bite and release means the dog wants the threat to leave without harming it
  • When the dog attacks and holds on, they intend to harm

When determining what your dog is trying to say, the most important parts to focus on are their ears, head and tail. Be sure to take into account the situation you and the dog are in, work out the surroundings and focus on their key body language characteristics in order to determine what they may be thinking. You cannot rely on just one area of the dog as they use a number of ways to tell you what they want.

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