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Understanding a Dog’s Body Language

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Dogs convey significant information about their feelings just by their body language. Understanding a dog’s body language helps both owners and their dogs.

white and brown chihuahua face

Although dogs can’t talk, their owners can still pick up clues on what’s going on in their minds just by reading their pet’s body language. Just like humans, dogs express feelings of contentment, sadness, fear, anxiety, and other emotions through their body movements and facial expressions.

It’s important owners recognize common nonverbal gestures so they can respond to the needs of their pets.

How Dogs Communicate with Their Eyes

The shape of a dog’s eyes can show what the animal is thinking. For example, a dog’s eyes will be their normal shape when he’s happy and relaxed, notes the ASPCA website. Brightening eyes can mean a dog is friendly or wants to play. Eyes appearing larger than normal often show a dog is feeling threatened.

On the other hand, a dog’s eyes look smaller when he’s stressed or afraid. Squinting eyes can signal pain or sickness. A fearful dog may have his pupils dilate, showing the whites of his eyes.

Although friendliness can be detected by a dog that looks directly at its owner’s eyes, sometimes a direct stare can also signal a threat. When this happens, don’t look at the dog, as doing so may trigger a challenge to the dog to defend itself. A submissive dog may turn away from a gaze, hinting he’s scared of past negative experiences with people who’ve abused him, or that he is recognizing you are the alpha.

How a Dog’s Ears Communicate

A frightened dog may have its ears back, while a calm dog has its ears relaxed. Because dogs have such an exceptional sense of hearing, they move and turn their ears to follow sounds.

Raised ears may be a sign of listening or showing acceptance. Ears that are thrown back can indicate submission but can also suggest fear. A dog that’s alert raises his ears higher. When a dog is relaxing, he holds his ears naturally.

 white chihuahua on couch

Dogs Communicating with Tails

Normally a dog’s tail hangs in a natural position, down to near the hock. Of course, various breeds have different tails. While some breeds have tails that curl, others have tails that tug between the back legs.

Usually, a dog that wags its tail is considered friendly. However, a wagging tail can also mean the dog is agitated or excited.

On the other hand, a slow-wagging tail that curves up and then down, as the letter “U,” indicating the dog is relaxed and playful.

How Dogs Read Humans

Dogs are also proficient at reading human body postures and facial expressions. Many pet parents have wondered if their dog was psychic. They probably aren’t but they are a master at reading body signals from their humans. They are much better at reading us than we are at reading them.

For example, an owner’s tone of voice can convey a mood or feeling. Human body language also “talks” to a dog.

Often a dog responds differently to an owner who displays sadness. A good sign that a dog understands is when it snuggles down next to a sad owner to give emotional support. I know if I’m sad all 3 of my fur babies are in my lap trying to make me feel better. And they do!

Dogs tend to be both fearful and aggressive and act more aggressively toward people who fear them. Just from observing a human’s demeanor, a dog can usually take advantage of the situation, such as a fearful, insecure dog that moves upon a fearful human and attacks.

long haired merle puppy


Once owners know how to interpret certain dog postures and facial expressions, they’ll be more attuned with their pet’s motivations and feelings. As a result, pet parents can better interact with their best friends, enjoying their pets more. Even more important, being aware of a dog’s body language can help ensure a pet’s safety.

How good are you at reading your dog’s body language? Has there ever been a time when noticing your dog’s body language helped you in anyway? Tell us about it in the comments!


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