Dog Body Language, Communication & Education

Published on 6 September 2021 at 11:27

Understanding Body Language By Dogs

Dogs are very expressive animals. They talk with their bodies. By adopting different postures, they can very well indicate how they feel. Happy, anxious, tense, uncertain, nervous. But how can you tell how your dog is feeling?


Dog body language involves a series of unique methods for communicating emotions and intentions. It can be quite different from how humans communicate. Dogs communicate through body language by means of posture, behaviour, stress signals and calming signals. By learning about these, you will be able to deal with dogs much better. To understand a dog properly, it is therefore important that you interpret his body language correctly. In this blog series about dog behavior, we delve even deeper into the body language of dogs.


Why is Body Language By Dogs So Important?

Dogs let you know what they think of people, places and situations with their eyes, ears, tail and other body parts. Recognising and understanding your dog's body language is therefore an important part of communicating with him.


This is especially important if your dog's behaviour or body language suddenly shows that he is no longer happy but is feeling stressful, anxious or lonely. Sometimes a dog's body language or behaviour can indicate that he is not happy with his current situation.


10x Dog Body Language

In order to understand your dog's body language better, it is important to know how dog's communicate in the first place. If you want to know what the dog is telling you, it is important to look at the posture of your dog before you draw any conclusions. So, how do dogs communicate? 



What is the position of the ears? Are they forward and up or down and back? Many different varieties of dog ears can be distinguished between breeds. Extremely long, small, soft, upright, gracefully folded along the face, mobile or rigid, triangular or rounded, drooping, etc.


Ears are very easy to 'read' in some dogs, hardly in others. Ears pointing forwards indicate alertness and interest, ears pointing backwards indicate insecurity, and if they lie flat, it may be a sign that the dog is afraid and wants to run away. If the dog's ears are always restlessly changing position, he feels tense.


You can learn a lot about your dog’s internal state by looking at the eyes. First, a dog’s eyes can be soft or hard. Soft eyes have relaxed lids and sometimes look like the dog is squinting. They indicate the dog is calm or happy. The opposite is hard eyes where the eyes seem to go cold. These indicate a negative state of mind, and you’ll know them when you see them. The dog might be guarding a toy or feeling aggressive. A hard stare, where the dog looks intently at something, especially for a long time, usually signals a threat.


Eye contact is an important signal for dogs. Just as the hard stare can be a precursor to aggression, looking away is meant to calm a situation. When dogs feel stressed, they will pointedly look away and avoid eye contact. People often interpret this as their dog ignoring them or being stubborn, but the dog is expressing discomfort.


The whites of the eyes are another key indicator. Known as “whale eye”, when a dog shows the whites of the eyes, it’s a signal they are feeling anxious or stressed in a situation. You might see them when you make your dog uncomfortable, like when you pat your dog on the head, or when they’re afraid someone will steal a bone or toy.


A slightly opened mouth with the tongue sticking out a little indicates that your puppy is happy and relaxed. Licking or licking beaks are seen as calming signals. If a puppy bites the mouth of another dog, it indicates dominance. These behaviours are fairly easy to interpret, but what showing teeth means is not always clear. Lips raised with fangs showing is a sign of dominance and aggression, whereas a friendly grin is a sign of submissiveness.



What is the position of the tail? Is it high or low? The position of the tail also accurately indicates the social height at which the dog stands in relation to the other.

  • A high, raised tail is a sign of confident superiority;
  • A long tail indicates a subordinate position;
  • A low tail can also express fear, depending on the other signals;
  • A high stationary or tightly wagging tail betrays a superior dog who is prepared to attack;
  • A high wagging tail indicates happiness.


  • Straight legs, body upright, or slow movement forward with stiff legs;
    I am the boss here. Are you challenging me? An active aggressive gesture from a dominant dog that wants to assert its leadership.
  • Body slightly bent forward and feet braced;
    I accept your challenge and am ready to fight! A response to a threat, or the reaction to another dog's refusal to make room; aggression will follow.
  • Raised hairs on the shoulders and back;
    You have gone too far! You can choose: stop immediately, fight or get lost! At any moment, an attack can take place.
  • Swollen hairs, only on the shoulders;
    You're making me nervous. Don't force me to fight. I don't like this. Dog thinks he is being forced to fight
  • Dog makes himself smaller or crouches down while looking up;
    Let's not fight. I accept that you have a higher position than me. An active submissive gesture to reassure the other
  • Pushing with the muzzle;
    You are my leader. Please don't ignore me. I would like to ... Similar to licking, but not as submissive. Can also be used to ask for something.
  • Dog sits down while being approached by another; allows himself to be sniffed. We are almost equals, so let us be sensible and not fight. A small peaceful gesture.
  • He rolls over on his side, exposes his throat and belly and completely breaks eye contact;
    I accept your authority and pose no threat. Passive submission; the doggie gesture for kneeling.
  • Clash with the shoulder;
    I am higher in rank and you step aside when I approach. A rather aggressive affirmation of relative social dominance.
  • The dog holds up one front leg slightly;
    I am a bit scared and worried. Sign of uncertainty and moderate tension.
  • He rolls over on the ground and rubs his back and shoulders (sometimes also with his nose);
    I am happy and everything is ok. A ritual that often takes place when something pleasant has happened.
  • Sinks through his front legs on the ground, back body and tail up;
    Let's play. Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you! This is just for fun Normal invitation to play.


Dogs have similar facial features as people, but they don’t use them in the same way. Consider yawning. People yawn when they’re tired or bored, but dogs yawn when they’re stressed. According to Turid Rugaas, author of On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, dogs use yawning to calm themselves in tense situations and to calm others, including their owners. She suggests yawning at your dog to provide comfort at stressful moments like a vet visit. But don’t be surprised if your dog yawns back. Just as yawning is contagious in people, dogs can “catch” yawns too.


Lip-licking is another bit of dog body language that people often misinterpret. Just like people, dogs will lick their lips after a delicious meal, but they will also do it when they feel anxious. Sometimes the tongue flick is so quick it’s tricky to notice. Your dog isn’t signaling a desire to lick your face, but rather discomfort with a given situation.


The most confusing facial expression is smiling. Yes, some dogs smile, and if you’re not familiar with the expression it can look terrifying. Usually, when dogs bare their teeth, it serves as a warning, as if they’re saying, “Look at my weapons.” It’s hard to mistake the aggressive intention of a snarl, especially when it’s paired with a menacing growl. The corners of the dog’s lips form the shape of a C and the front teeth are fully displayed.


Smiling dogs also display their front teeth, but the meaning is the complete opposite. Also known as a submissive grin, this expression is often found on a happy dog with a loose and wiggly posture. The dog’s overall attitude says, “Hello, I come in peace.”



When a dog’s hackles are raised, it means the hair along their back is standing up. Technically called piloerection, the fur can fluff up across the shoulders or down the back and all the way to the tail. This is a definite sign that the dog is aroused, but not necessarily in a negative way. The dog might be upset or stressed but could also be excited or intensely interested in something. It’s often an involuntary reaction, like goosebumps in people.


If you observe your dog enough, you will automatically notice when your dog is tense or relaxed. Apart from certain emotions, this can say a lot about your dog's mental state. A relaxed dog's body is also relaxed. The eyes are oval, the body looks supple and when panting, the corners of the mouth are round, the cheeks floppy and the tongue hangs out of the mouth loosely. A tense dog shows just the opposite signs. The muscles are constantly tightened, making the posture more rigid and stiff. The eyes are often rounder and larger and seem anxious. If there is a lot of white in the eyes, you can assume that your dog is stressed. Some dogs pant more, the corners of their mouths are pointed and stretched far back. The tongue is also stiff and sometimes protrudes. Wrinkles on your dog's forehead are also a sign of stress; it looks as if your dog is frowning.


Read more: Help! How to Stop Excessive Dog Barking | Best Tips



All dogs use roughly the same stress signals to indicate when they are not feeling well. As an owner, it is of course very important that you recognise these signals in time and see if your dog is stressed. Yawning, licking and scratching are some examples that occur frequently in stressed dogs.


Read more: 5 Signs of Stress By Dogs: How to recognize, causes & tips


It is certainly not the case that a dog only bites when he feels confident. In fact, the majority of biting incidents are a result of fear aggression: the dog feels threatened, is afraid of something and to ward off the 'danger' he bites. It happens only rarely that a dog bites without prior warning.


If you see a dog displaying one of the following behaviours, it is important to be alert. He will feel very uncomfortable and will try to tell you: 'Stop it, otherwise I might bite'.

  • The dog stiffens in his body and stares at you;

  • Growling, growling barking;

  • Wrinkling nose, lifting lip and showing teeth;

  • Bite.


Read more: 10 Symptoms of Lonely Dogs, Symptoms & Tips


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