Understanding Your Dog's Body Language

Most dog owners think a dog's primary method of communication is barking. However, a dog communicates much like humans do, both verbally and by using body language and gestures. Everyone knows dogs do bark, but surprisingly when two dogs meet each other face to face, they use their body language to quickly send a message. Instead of barking, dogs begin to read each others body language. Most dog owners don't fully understand canine body language, and can sometimes misinterpret their dog's intentions. It is important to be able to effectively read your dog's body language. Below are some common canine postures and what that body language means.

An Aggressive Dog
An aggressive dog may easily be mistaken for a happy or friendly dog by a person unaware of the significance of various body postures. Aggression is usually brought on by fear, when a dog is in a scary situation and cannot run away. A dog that is acting aggressive, will likely:

  • Initially cower and then move away
  • The tail may drop and quickly be tucked between the legs
  • The ears will be tight and pressed back close to the head
  • The back may be arched
  • You may notice the dog is crouched a little lower to the ground than he normally stands
  • The dog might lean it's body weight back on its hind legs in case he feels he needs to get away quickly
  • A low, steady growl with its teeth showing. This behavior doesn't necessary mean that a dog is going to bite, but is sending a message to its opponent that he will do that if it becomes necessary. Remember the dog is nervous and unsure, so this is a defense mechanism. Canines are not naturally aggressive by nature and in most instances prefer running rather than fighting.

When a dog does decide to attack another dog because he feels threatened, he will puff himself up to try and look larger, the hair along his spine and across his shoulders will be raised, he may bare his teeth, and hold his head high. The dog's body may also tense up and become rigid to help present the appearance of superior strength.

A Submissive Dog
Some dogs naturally possess a more submissive nature. They have little or no desire at all to be the alpha dog and take a submissive posture most of the time. Signs usually include:

  • Pulling the ears back along the head
  • Wagging their tail only slightly rather than rapidly, usually low towards the ground
  • Slowly lowering their head while meekly looking up
  • Gently licking their lips
  • Whimpering or whining softly
  • Lowering themselves then rolling over exposing the belly to show willingness to submit
  • Attempting to lick the other dog's mouth
  • Possibly urinating

A dog exhibiting this posture is attempting to show how vulnerable they are, to indicate they are not a threat. This is a dog's attempt to use any method necessary to keep the other animal from acting aggressively.

A Happy Dog
A happy dog is simply a totally relaxed dog. A very content dog's entire body is completely loose and he may also be panting regularly. The tail might be wagging from side to side as well. For a happy dog, this relaxed posture is a regular, daily display for him. It's easy to detect a significant mood change in these dogs.

An Alert Dog
A dog who suddenly sees something of interest or notices a potential danger will quickly and instantly appear much more focused, exhibiting the following posture:

  • Ears will quickly point upwards, usually towards the direction of the sound
  • Eyes become fixed in one direction as they scan for the source of their interest
  • Posture will straighten and become taller to help see further and hear a sound better
  • Unless the dog is barking, his mouth will be closed
  • Hair along his spine will be raised

Be prepared that a dog in this position may suddenly bark and run off to find the source of his curiosity. If your dog is not leashed, you should do what you can to distract your dog so that he doesn't run in the direction of the noise or whatever has suddenly gotten his attention.

A Playful Dog
A playful dog is always easy to recognize. Playful dogs have lots of energy, love to move around, and almost always try to engage you or another animal in play whenever possible by showing:

  • Fast, energetic movements, bouncing and hopping around, dodging movements, or running circles around you
  • Playfully bow; a posture where a dog stretches his front legs out in front of him and then lowers the front of his body while keeping his rear body up
  • A happy, pleasant look on your dog's face, almost like he is smiling
It's important to realize that dogs play in a way that can sometimes appear aggressive, simply because they are so wrapped up in play, they forget their strength. The "play bow" action will help confirm that the dog is only interested in playing, and not fighting.
As a dog owner, it is important for you to successfully interpret your dog's body language, so you can respond the right way. This skill can help to prevent accidents or undesirable incidents with other dogs and humans. Most importantly, you will also be able to learn when your dog is happy and ready to play and have fun which will only enhance and encourage the bond between you!
So is this a correct depiction of a dog's body language, or do you find these signs to be mistaken? From living with your dog and getting to know its behaviors and patterns, what body language signs are you able to identify? Please let us know in the comments below if you find these signs to be correct or contribute your own discoveries with us.

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