Interpreting the dog’s body language

Understanding dogs’ body language is essential to avoid conflict with them and to act appropriately based on their feelings. Fearful, excited, vigilant, dejected, ready to defend … we must never forget that dogs are complex beings, who are able to experience many different emotions, and above all to convey this consciously and unconsciously.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why it is so important to read and interpret the signals sent by dogs, and which are the most common. Your relationship with your dog can potentially change if you discover what he is constantly trying to tell you that by now you may not have understood. Here we go!

Why is it important to understand a dog’s body language?

Dogs are very different from us, but because of this or because they are animals, you must not assume that they do not have complex emotions or that they are unable to convey them. Once you dig deeper into a dog’s body language, you will discover that he is like an open book and that he is doing his best to communicate. It’s not that the signals they send out are too subtle, but we often don’t know how to interpret them.

Knowing how to interpret them is of course important to the wellbeing of both your furry friend and yourself. In the worst case scenario, understanding how a dog communicates, e.g. B. help avoid a warning bite, because before a dog takes such an extreme measure, it will show various signs of discomfort.

In the same way, a dog will also express when he feels calm, excited, or anxious, when he wants you to give him something, or simply when he seeks your attention.

Many of dogs’ body language signals can be similar to one another, so it is always wise to pause and thinking about the situation you are in. For example, a tail wagging very quickly is often associated with happiness, but it can also mean nervousness or excitement. It’s not about what you think, how you want the dog to feel, it’s about to put yourself in his shoes and understand what he does or wants.

Dog’s body language: calm and warning signs

Position of the ears

Dog ears can be difficult to interpret as they come in myriad different types and sizes. A trick to understanding the movement of the ears, even in dogs with large and drooping ears, is not to look at the whole ear, but rather at the movement of the base. In general, backward-facing ears are understood as fear, insecurity, or defensiveness. On the other hand, if the ears are tilted forward, the dog is paying attention or showing interest in something.


Dogs rely heavily on their mouths to relate to each other and the world, so it’s not surprising that this part of their body also gives a lot of clues about how they’re feeling.

In a relaxed dog, the mouth is usually half open and the tongue can hang out. A closed mouth can be interpreted in different ways depending on the situation, but it is usually a sign that the dog is paying attention. If the dog licks its muzzle quickly and repeatedly, it is a sign of discomfort.

The corner of the mouth can also tell you how the dog is doing. For example, if the lips are stretched forward and the animal shows its front teeth, its posture is quite aggressive with a few exceptions.


To understand a dog’s body language, the eyes can help you in two ways: through their shape and through the animal’s gaze.

When relaxed, a dog’s eyes are almond-shaped, and the sclera (the white part) is almost invisible. On the other hand, a tense or excited dog’s eyes are much more open and round.

As far as the gaze is concerned, it must be remembered that dogs, animals with a more or less developed hunting instinct, fix their gaze only in alarm situations or when chasing a prey. If, on the other hand, the dog is constantly looking away, you have to interpret that he is feeling insecure or scared.

Posture of the dog

An upright dog usually feels confident or secure. On the other hand, a low posture can express fear, insecurity, or submission. A common example of the latter is when the dog lies on its back and exposes its belly: in dogs, this is a posture to encourage rest. This posture is often seen when one dog is trying to stop another’s aggression. Therefore, it is not advisable to ever impose this position on a dog.

Often times, however, the dog’s posture changes are much more subtle depending on its frame of mind. So z. For example, a dog who refuses to have contact with another dog or person, constantly turning its head to one side or the other, taking a few steps backwards, shifting its weight backwards, making a short detour, etc.


The ideal state of a dog’s tail is the one that it assumes when it is relaxed. The height of the tail at which the animal is relaxed will be the reference that will allow us to interpret the rest of the emotions. So if the tail is higher than when it is relaxed, it usually means the dog is in an alert or safety state. We therefore have to interpret this state as a function of the situation.

When the tail is below the relaxed state, or even wedged between the legs, we tend to assume that our friend is feeling fear or insecurity.

We have to keep in mind, however, that the height at which the tail rises when relaxed is determined by the breed of the dog. Some breeds, such as pugs, are barely able to change the position of their tails, which can lead to problems communicating with their conspecifics. We need to apply what we learn in this article to our dog, an individual with his or her own characteristics.

We also need to consider whether the tail is wagging (joy, anger, fear, fear …) or stiff (tension) when we “read” the dog.


People are usually very upset when a dog barks, but we forget that this is another dog’s channel of expression. And a very important one.

The sounds they use to convey emotions include groans (pain, calls for attention), grunts (disagreement, anger, discomfort), sighs (relaxation) and many types of barking. When you own a dog, you know best yourself that your dog barks in different ways. We are able to tell them apart, but among dogs the ability to discern the nuances between the tones is much greater. For this reason it is not always a good idea to scold our dog when he tries to communicate with another dog in this way. We have to take the situation into account again.

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