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Dog Body Language: 13 Crucial Notions

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Knowing dog body language is essential to building a bond with your canine companion. It can also help to keep you and your dog safe.

What’s great about dogs is that they’re never going to lie about their feelings. Furthermore, they will try to communicate to you how they feel.

As an owner, it is important to learn communication cues and be alert to signals. This makes it easier to determine your dog’s emotional state and general comfort. It will also be easier to determine other dogs’ emotional states so you can interpret their intentions.

By knowing how to recognize his emotions, you will be able to better understand your four-legged friend. You will also be in a better position to be a responsible canine parent.




#1 The Neutral Position


dog body language


Neutral posture is one of the most common body language signals. To recognize when your canine companion wants to communicate his emotional state to you, you must first know his neutral position.

In short, a relaxed dog has no tension in his body or his face. Lips are loose, eyes blink softly, and mouth may be slightly open. He is just happy.

In addition, a dog will often reflect the emotion of its owner or canine friend. That’s why when you’re relaxed, your dog can relax too. This is because he trusts you and tells himself that there is nothing to worry about.

When your dog is relaxed, his ears are going to be placed in a neutral position. This means that your dog’s ears are not forward, backwards or pinned to his head. So, regardless of your dog’s breed, his ears will be placed simply and naturally.




#2 A Wagging Tail


dog body language


A dog wagging his tail is often one of the body language signals that confuses us the most, as we tend to think it’s because he must be happy. However, this is not always the case.

A dog wagging his tail means it is emotionally excited. That’s why he might be happy, but he might also have negative feelings, like frustration.

To interpret a dog’s emotions and intentions, look at the speed at which the tail wags and its position relative to the ground.

The excited dog holds its tail higher than when in a neutral position and wags its tail rapidly. Also, they will often move their hip at the same time.

The nervous or uncertain dog will also wag its tail, but it will be lower than the neutral position and will wag more slowly and steadily.

In summary, always look at whether the body is tense or relaxed to determine if a dog’s tail is a signal that he is happy or nervous.





#3 A Tail Between the Legs


As you may know, the tail between the legs means that the dog is scared, frightened, in pain or uncomfortable. Dogs will often put their tail between their legs when they are really scared of something or someone.

The frightened dog will have:

  • The tail between the legs
  • Ears backwards or pinned
  • Dilated pupils
  • A low position
  • Wrinkled nose
  • The corner of the mouth backwards


On the other hand, if a dog often puts its tail between its legs and there is no obvious reason, it would be best to take a visit to the vet.





#4 The Play Bow


dog body language


This is probably one of the easiest body language cues to recognize and that makes us smile.

A dog making a play call will have elbows bent, chest touching or nearly touching the ground, hips in the air, straight ears and a low tail.

Indeed, when your dog is in this position, he asks that we play with him.





#5 Puts His Paw on You




A dog that gives you its paw wants your attention and expects something from you.

Also, if your dog puts his paw on you, it’s a way for him to tell you that he loves you. When we pet our dog and he puts his paw o us, it is because he is trying to reproduce your pets to continue to be cuddled.

Furthermore, a dog giving you its paw can be a sign that he would like some food or that he wants to play.





#6 Avoiding Eye Contact



It is one of the canine body language signals that is unfortunately often ignored or goes unnoticed.

Frightened dogs will have the reflex to look up as if they were trying to politely push someone or something away.

You may notice this if you fight with your dog or when your dog encounters a dominant or aggressive dog. In other words, the dog who turns his head wants to avoid looking at you or what disconcerts him.





#7 Squinting



Dogs squint their eyes to indicate that they are peaceful and have no bad intentions. If your dog squints when he looks at you, he is expressing his love and desire for attention.

Dogs that squint also want to indicate that they are not interested in rough play or aggressive behaviour.

On the other hand, if your dog squints often, his eyes could be hurting. In this case, it would be better to consult a veterinarian.





#8 Pricked Ears



A dog with pricked ears is one of the body language cues that helps your dog hear better.

If your dog’s ears are pointing forward, it means he is attentive and focused on a certain noise. The same goes for a dog who has drooping ears and they are tilted forward.

Thus, he tells you that he is curious and alert since he is reacting to something that may be new in his environment.





#9 Ears Flat on the Head



Ears set slightly back are one of the body language cues that tell us that a dog is friendly.

On the other hand, a dog that has its ears firmly flat on its head means that he’s afraid. This can be seen when a dog reacts to an unfamiliar situation or to people who scare him.

This position is said to be to protect his ears from injury, as it helps keep his ears out of the way of an approaching toot during an attack.

If a dog shows his teeth or growls at you, be careful, as this is a warning that he is ready to defend himself.

For dogs with long, droopy ears, look at the base of the ear to understand what the dog is trying to communicate.





#10 Shaking or Shivering



By studying canine body language, we notice that when he shakes or shivers, this is a response to indicate that he is afraid.

On the other hand, if it is very cold outside, bring your dog inside and help him stay warm. Small dogs, like Chihuahuas, are more prone to shaking than larger breeds. Indeed, it is because of their lack of body fat and their fur is thinner.

Also, a dog that is constantly shaking can be a sign that he is in pain or suffering from an illness.





#11 Exposed Belly



Most pop the time, when your dog lies on his back and shows you his belly, it means he trusts you. Plus, it’s a sign that he feels safe around you and knows you’re not going to hurt him.

However, a dog exposing its belly may mean something else entirely. He can use this submissive position to avoid confrontation. Moreover, in nature, his ancestors adopt this posture to diffuse social tension by showing that they are not a threat.

On the other hand, it could be that your dog is anxious and offers peace by asking you or others to be gentle with him. This position is often seen with puppies and he might even urinate a few drops to communicate his submission to an animal or person.

It is also one of the calming signals when your dog wants to stop an interaction in front of another dog or person who demonstrates offensive behaviour. In other words, people who use punishment might see their dog in this position, since he anticipates your reaction and tries to resolve the conflict. It is important not to punish your dog.





#12 Appeasement Behaviour



Calming signals, also called appeasement behaviour, are used to communicate your pet’s discomfort with a stressful or unfamiliar situation. They are also used to resolve conflicts. They can be very subtle, so it’s important to pay attention to these types of signals to recognize them.

One of the obvious calming signals is to suddenly turn around and start sniffing the ground. By doing this, he is trying to politely avoid the situation that makes him uncomfortable.

Here is a list of the most well-known calming signals in dogs:

  • Licks nose or lips
  • Yawns
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Shaking
  • Turn his head away
  • Random movements (sitting, lying, playing bow)
  • Sniff the ground
  • Urinate
  • Walking slowly or in a circle
  • Raises a paw
  • Licks the other dog’s mouth
  • Scratches
  • Immobility


It’s important to recognize your dog’s appeasement behaviour since he assumes you already know his communication cues.





#13 Hypersalivation


A dog salivating heavily is part of the body language cues, even if it’s not a voluntary posture or movement.

Hypersalivation is a réaction to stress or anxiety. It aims to evacuate an emotion to restore emotional balance.

Just like humans, dogs exhibit physical symptoms of stress or anxiety such as a dry mouth. In addition, hypersalivation is often noticed in dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. Therefore, if you notice that your dog is drooling when you arrive home, it would be a good idea to consult a veterinarian.

Thus, hypersalivation can be linked to several health problems such as a digestive disorder or an oral infection. This means that in any case, it is best to consult a vet.






Bibliographic Sources:

ALOFF, Brenda. «Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide», Dogwise Publishing, 2005.

BELI Concept Canin. «Les signaux d’apaisement, mythes ou réalités».

RUGAAS, Turid. «On Talking Terms With Dogs», Dogwise Publishing, 2005.

dresseur de chien

Élodie Roy

dog obedience trainer

Certified Dog Obedience trainer at Ashworth College in Atlanta, I have always been passionate about animals. So, I’ve put together several important tips to improve your relationship with your dog. The methods I use are reward based. They have been scientifically proven to be the most effective. No punishment is used in these methods.

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