Understanding Dog Body Language

Being a dog owner is an incredibly rewarding experience and one that is good for our health and well being. The presence of a canine companion has been shown to have substantial benefits. Not only can a dog help combat psychological problems such as stress, depression and loneliness, canine ownership has also been shown to have a positive effect on overall physical health. This includes helping to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. The regular walks needed by dogs also support weight loss/management and improve overall fitness.

While there are many advantages to welcoming a dog into your family, there is also one distinct frustration expressed by many owners – communication. Since dogs can’t speak your language, the only way that your beloved furbaby can communicate with you is through general sounds and their body language. Unless you are a very experienced pet owner who has spent a great deal of time getting to know your dog, it can be very difficult to decipher exactly what your furry pal is trying to tell you. Often gestures and actions that we assume mean one thing are so poorly interpreted that we end of thinking exactly the opposite of what our dog intends.

Canines communicate with us and with one another using a complex series of body signals that reflect what they are feeling and what they are thinking. As a responsible and conscientious pet owner, one of the best things that you can do for your pet is try and understand his body language. This will enable you to identify positive emotions, which is rewarding for you, and if there is a potential problem that may require veterinary intervention.

Here are some of the key emotions that your dog might wish to convey and the body he will use to do so.


Probably one of the easiest emotions to identify, dogs who are happy tend to have a relaxed forehead, gentle eyes and ears that flop as much as they are naturally able to. It may be a cliché, but a wagging tail is also a sign of a very happy pet pooch! Your dog will want to engage with you and will be very delighted if you pet him and offer him lots of love and affection.

Although dogs cannot technically smile, some canines can pull expressions that look very similar to a human grin!


No-one wants their dog to be fearful, yet this is an emotion that most canines will experience at some point during their lifetime. His fear could be caused by many things, from unease about a stranger or another animal to a reaction to loud noises such as fireworks.

Different dogs have different responses to fear, generally either acting defensively or submissively. Characteristics to look out for may include cowering, tucked tail, making himself look smaller, darting wide eyes and backing away. Alternatively, he might stand still and stare at the threat, flatten his ears against his head or bark/growl.


Anxiety is another common emotion experienced by dogs. It can be confused with fear and much of the body language is the same. Anxious dogs may also lick their lips or yawn repeatedly and will hold their body and tail in a lowered rather than completely submissive position.


No one wants to mess with an angry dog, so if you think your pet may be feeling aggressive you should be very cautious around him. You will know if this is the case if your dog tries to make himself as large as possible and uses hard, unblinking eyes. His fur may even stand on end.

Dogs who are angry and defensive will hold their weight slightly forward as if ready for action, and they may bare their teeth or growl. Each of these responses is designed to make your furbaby seem as threatening as possible, even if he is usually as soft as a teddy bear!

Try and remove the source of the anger if it is obvious and give your pet plenty of time to calm down.


A relaxed dog is the best sort of companion, and this will probably be the emotional climate that your canine pal most often experiences. A chilled-out dog will have soft, relaxed eyes, a smooth forehead and comfortable posture. He will probably seem perfectly happy sitting or lying around but is also ready to perk up and see what’s happening if anything interesting is going on!

If you need further advice on understanding dog body language, contact us and our veterinarian will be happy to assist you.

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Lorenzo's Dog Training

Lorenzo’s Dog Training Team has been focused on keeping dogs out of shelters and in happy homes since 1987. Lorenzo’s certified team trainers undergo a comprehensive training curriculum prior to certification to ensure an unwavering commitment to quality animal care and professional conduct.

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