Understanding Pet Body Language

Understanding Pet Body Language

Learning dog body language will allow you to better comprehend what your pup is communicating. Body posture, movement, eye position and ears position as well as tail carriage and motion are all vitally important forms of communication between dogs.

Your dog could be engaging in appeasement behavior when licking a stranger while showing its teeth; their hackles might rise and indicate that they have become aroused.

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As with humans, dogs communicate through body language such as posture, tail carriage and movement, ear/eye positioning and facial expressions. Recognizing these signals allows pet parents to interpret what their dog is trying to communicate.

Eyes are key indicators of your pet’s mood and emotions. Soft eyes with relaxed lids (sometimes slightly squinted ) indicate calm or happiness while hard stares that seem cold may indicate aggression.

Fearful dogs typically avert their gaze and use appeasement behavior to appear smaller and less of a threat, including licking and rolling over to expose their bellies. Dilation of pupils can also indicate alarm and fear.


Ears that are puffed up and forward can indicate various things about a dog depending on his other body signals, but usually indicate he or she is listening attentively for anything that may require his or her immediate attention in his environment.

Flattening ears back against the head often indicates fear or submissiveness in dogs1. Prickled up ears on floppy-eared dogs could indicate that your pup is paying attention.

Keep in mind, however, when analyzing dog’s expressions and emotions. Watch for signs such as trembling and shivering as this could signal discomfort in their current environment, potentially leading to an aggressive response if misinterpreted. Look out for signs like tail tucking between legs which usually indicates fear.


As well as verbal communication, dogs express themselves by changing body posture or movement and positioning of tail, ears, eyes, mouth or overall body shape. Understanding and interpreting these expressions are integral in creating safer situations for yourself and your dogs as well as managing any behavioral issues that arise.

Assumptions that dogs with wagging tails indicate happiness may not always be correct; tucked tails combined with crouching posture, raised hackles, and the characteristic snarl indicate fear or extreme arousal in our canines.


Deciphering dog body language is an invaluable skill for responsible pet ownership. It consists of a unique series of postures and movements which reveal emotions and intentions with different parts of the body, such as postures that reflect emotions or intentions through various body parts. Dogs communicate through various means ranging from predatory aggression to fear aggression; fearful or nervous dogs often show these signals through tight mouthedness, tightened jaw corners pulling back to reveal rows of teeth in a “long lip” appearance, lip licking around mouth area as well as flicks of tongue indicating anxiety; some even drool and whine to indicate these states of stress.

Under stress conditions, dogs often show placation by lowering their head, softening body posture and holding their tail high while giving a “submissive grin”, or smile.


Body posture and weight distribution reveal much about your dog’s emotions. A cowering dog with its tail tightly curled against its back may be feeling fearful, which often is followed by appeasement gestures like lip-licking or urinating to seem smaller and less of a threat.

Understanding pet body language takes practice and patience, but can be invaluable. Keep in mind that one part of a pet’s body may not tell the entire story – for instance, a wagging tail could indicate happiness while an exposed belly and yawning could signal stress and anxiety. Look at all aspects of their being to understand their emotions and reactions.

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