How to Read Your Dog’s Body Language

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Are you trying to understand what your dog is telling you? Because dogs are non-verbal, most of what they communicate is shown through their body language. Understanding dogs’ body language is essential to knowing how they are feeling and how to approach them.

Dogs use body language to communicate with humans and other dogs. Understanding your dog’s body language can also help you understand your dog’s interactions in various situations. With some practice, you can get the hang of dog body language.

If you understand your dog’s body language, you can do more than just communicate with them. You can also help understand when play with another dog escalates into a fight, or when your dog is sensing a threat. Learning dog body language can also be helpful for training or finding behavioral problems.

Relaxed

A dog who is relaxed will usually have their ears up, head high and their mouth open with their tongue slightly exposed. Their tail will be down, and their feet flat on the ground. A dog who shows relaxed body language is usually easily approachable, but use caution. Never rush a dog into a greeting, even if they show relaxed body language.

Confident

Confident dogs usually stand up straight with their head held high and their ears perked up. The tail may be held loose, slightly curled, or wagging gently. A dog who is confident is friendly and comfortable with their surroundings.

Alert

A dog who is alert will have their ears forward, their eyes wide open, and a smooth forehead. Their tail is usually horizontal and may sway slightly. They will stand tall on their toes and lean forward slightly. Dogs who show signs of being alert have detected something that caught their attention, which might be a potential threat.

Playful

A playful dog is in a happy mood and is giving an invitation for play or attention. Their ears are up, their tail wags rapidly, and their eyes are bright. A playful dog might assume a play bow, a pose where they stick their rear end up in the air while their legs stretch forward.

Anxious

An anxious dog will lower their head and put their ears back. They will stand with a tense posture and carry their tail low. They also might appear to have a furrowed brow, yawn frequently or have “whale eyes” – meaning the whites of their eyes show.

Dogs who show anxious behavior might become aggressive or fearful. If you are familiar with the dog, you might try to redirect their attention to something pleasant, but be cautious. Trying to comfort or provoke the dog might make matters worse.

Fearful

A fearful dog shows similar signs to an anxious dog, but more extreme. The dog stands low to the ground, with its ears back and its eyes turned away. The tail will be tucked and the body might shake. It is best to calmly step away from an anxious dog as their fear might turn into aggression.  If you own the dog, don’t try to console or engage them, but try mobbing them to a calmer location.

Dominant Aggressive

Dominant aggressive dogs will stand firmly, leaning forward slightly. Their lips will be curled back, and their nose will be wrinkled. Their tail will be held high and stiff but might quiver slightly. Knowing whether your dog is dominant or submissive may help you deal with social interactions involving other dogs and people. If your dog shows signs of aggression you should seek the help of a professional trainer.

Fearful and Aggressive

Like the dominant dog, the fearful aggressive dog will have their lips curled back and their nose wrinkled. However, their body will be lowered, and their tail tucked. A dog who is fearful and aggressive is not submissive but has encountered a threat and is facing the threat directly.