Can You Read Your Dog’s Body Language?

Every pup parent wishes their dog could talk and wonders what their dog would say if she could. Humans are verbal creatures and it can be frustrating to communicate with non-verbal animals. The good news however is that your dog DOES communicate. You just need to understand how to interpret her non-verbal signs.

Just as some words can mean different things in different contexts, dog body language can vary from animal to animal and it takes a perceptive pup parent to get the right “feel” for how your dog communicates. Yet, to get a general sense of what your dog is trying to tell you, here are some common body language signs and their corresponding meanings. Take each with a grain of salt!

Language Signaling Nervousness or Anxiety

Wide eyes: Your dog is afraid or uncomfortable. Try to remove her from the situation she’s currently in as soon as possible.

Ears pulled back: This is a sign of nervousness or anxiety.

Bristled fur: A sign of aggression.

Yawning: Many believe this to mean a dog is tired; however it can also signal that your dog is overwhelmed or anxious. Consider the situation when deciding what your dog’s yawn means.

Rolling onto her back: She may be asking for belly rubs because she’s feeling playful, or she could be nervous and looking for comfort. In general, if she’s more stiff, she’s more likely to be anxious than happy.

Wagging tail: Tail wagging is a frequently misinterpreted sign. Most people believe a wagging tail only means a dog is happy, which of course is often true, but some dogs also wag their tails when aroused, overstimulated and frustrated. You can usually tell the difference by looking at what the rest of the body is doing.

Raising one front paw: Your pup is telling you she’s feeling uncertain. Some do this when they need more time in the backyard to go potty, too.

Bared teeth: Paired with other signs of nervousness, a dog showing her teeth is acting aggressively. Some dogs can show teeth when they are hot or happy though, as well. You can tell the difference if the rest of the dog’s signals are relaxed.

Lack of eye contact: If a dog refuses to look at something, chances are it’s frightening her. It’s pretty easy to tell when a dog is just scoping out the scene versus pointedly trying not to look at something. As you get to know your dog better, you’ll be able to tell the difference.

Sitting: If you didn’t ask your dog to sit, and she sits down in a hurry, she may be tense, especially if she freezes and shows other nervous signs, like staring straight ahead or lifting a paw.

Shaking: Is your dog cold? If not, she’s probably scared. If you’ve noticed your dog shaking during a thunderstorm or fireworks for example, you’ll be able to associate the sign with frightening situations.

Signs of Curiosity or Anticipation

Head cocked: When a dog cocks its head to one side or the other, they’re assessing the situation to better understand their surroundings and gain a sense of security.

Front paw lifted: Your dog is anticipating what will happen next and preparing her reaction.

Mouth closed: Similar to the front paw lifted, your dog is sizing up the situation to determine her next move.

Language Showing Relaxed Demeanor

A proud pup parent knows the true signs of a happy pooch, but here are a few reminders if for nothing else than a prime photo opp:

Mouth slightly open: Especially if the dog’s tongue is relaxed and lolling to one side, consider this a state of euphoric contentment.

Small body freezes during play: Your pooch is excited and joyful from the social interaction.

Turning over, inviting belly rub: This move demonstrates trust and the desire for affection.

Tail wagging fast: Depending on the length and look of the tail, some people call this move “helicopter tail,” which is a true sign of happiness

Squinty or blinking eyes: You may notice this expression when you’re giving your dog a head massage or back rub – it’s almost as if she could nod off at any moment – the true look of relaxation!