Canine Communication: Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

Canine Communication: Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

Talking to our dogs is one of the fun parts of being an owner. They understand almost none of it, sure, but getting a reaction can be quite amusing and even surprising. 

But while communicating with words can be one-sided, dogs can let you know what they feel using body language. This is why learning how to read this is a key aspect of being a good owner.

What To Look Out For

When communicating, a dog’s body parts serve as the means to convey information. These small actions all work together to send you a general message on what you can and cannot do. The key parts to focus on include: 

  • Tail - The tail’s position is one of the main indicators of your dog’s mood as well as one of the easiest to notice. A quick glance at their tail is sometimes enough to tell what your dog is feeling at the moment.
  • Mouth - A dog’s mouth is also one of the more dynamic signs of your dog’s feelings. What they do with their mouth when they come in contact with other dogs and people should be one of your main focus.
  • Back - While not as noticeable as the mouth and tail, your dog’s back is also an easy “tell” for your dog. 
  • Ears - One of the more subtle signs, the position of your dog’s ears can give clues to your dog’s mood.
  • Legs - Despite being somewhat unreliable compared other parts of their body when it comes to showing their mood, legs can also play a part in expressing what your dog is feeling.

Basic Dog Body Language

Now that you know what to look out for, it’s time to know the most common moods your dog conveys.

  • Calm and Friendly - A welcoming dog should have their tail down, mouth open, with a loose posture which suggests they are feeling unthreatened and are willing to interact.
  • On Guard and Interested - A dog checking who things out will often have their tail raised but not upright with a closed mouth and a slight forward lean. Their ears also tend to move when encountering sudden sounds. While not necessarily aggressive, you should be weary of doing anything that might spook them.
  • Playful and Excited - This is perhaps the easiest mood to read, with a perked often wagging tail, open mouth with tongue sticking out, and front legs lowered. This is often accompanied with barking as well as playful pounces and retreats indicating that the dog wants to interact.
  • Aggressive and Afraid - On the opposite side of the spectrum, a threatened dog will have its body lowered, tail tucked, raised shoulders, wrinkled nose, open mouth with bared teeth, and ears folded back. This defensive posture suggests the dog is either angered or afraid and ready to fight back when pressed.
  • Stressed and Upset - Lowered posture and tucked tail with an open, panting mouth often accompanied by constant motion indicate that the dog is in an uncomfortable situation. This often occurs when they lose sight of their owner or are trapped.
  • Submissive and Powerless - When a dog tucks their tail, rolls over, and exposed their vulnerable belly and neck, they are in complete submission to their alpha whether it’s another dog or you, their owner. This happens when they encounter sudden aggression which they are unable to confront and prefer to avoid physical harm.

Learning what your dog is saying strengthens the bond pet and owner helping you to earn the trust and respect of your dog. This can serve dividends in the long run as lets you predict their behavior so you can easily determine whether to comfort, play, or prevent them from causing harm.

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