Key Concept Of Understanding A Dog’s Body Language


Learning and Understanding a dog’s body language is one of the challenges pets owners are facing, This post emphasis on how you can understand your dog body language.

A dog’s emotions and intentions can be judged by observing the way it stands, how it holds its ears and tail and by other tell-tale signs.

Good dog owners will observe their pet carefully and continually so that they can interpret what dogs are ’saying’.

Parts Of The Body Studied When Understanding A Dog’s Body Language

The details given below will serve as a guide and hopefully help understanding a dog’s body language:

Understanding A Dog's Body Language
Understanding A Dog’s Body Language

The Head

  1. The ears are pricked or erect when alert or listening intently, but held back to the head as an indication of submission or pleasure, and also when the dog is ready to attack. Other body signs help to distinguish the dog’s intentions.
  2. The eyes are narrowed and half-closed in pleasure or submission.

The leader of a dog or wolf pack often exerts control by means of eye contact alone. The superior dog will give a lower ranking animal, which is perhaps contemplating some forbidden behaviour, a long hard stare.

The submissive dog will lower its head and turn away, to avoid meeting the pack leader’s eyes.

The dog which means to challenge the pack leader will return the stare, often for several minutes, until one or the other mounts a physical attack.

Lower ranking dogs also recognise and appreciate a soft-eyed glance of approval from the pack leader. Direct eye contact from human to dog should be avoided where a dog is known to have aggressive tendencies.

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Frequent, gentle eye contact between dog and owner signifies acceptance of the current behaviour pattern and is very beneficial to the relationship.

3. The mouth in some breeds, particularly Labradors, is opened to show the teeth in an almost human one-sided ’grin’ of friendly greeting.

Both lips are drawn further back and more of the teeth are exposed in the snarl of aggression.

Body Posture

Body posture is used to convey mood by all dogs. When expressing aggression, a dog seeks to make itself look as large and as frightening as possible.

It stands on its toes, the chest thrust forward, and some of the hair is held erect, often the ruff around the neck and a wide band of hair right down the spine.

The tail is held stiffly in line with the back and may wave gently, but is not wagged. It is a mistake to assume that because the tail is moving, the dog is ambivalent about its attitude or is, after all, friendly.

The head is usually lowered, and barking stops when an attack is imminent. The dog which assumes an aggressive stance while barking with mouth wide open is probably fearful and will back away when challenged.

A submissive dog will adopt a posture the opposite of that described above.


  1. Crawling is used to communicate with other animals and people. The dog owner should be aware of the difference between the low throat murmur of pleasure and conversation’ made by some dogs when being petted, and the true rumbling growl used as a wanting that an attack will be made if the offending behaviour of human or dog is continued. Never challenge or tease a growling dog.
  2. Roaring with mouth wide open, and mock biting without clenching the jaws, is a play sequence between dogs, and dog and human.
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This mode of play should not however be encouraged with children or by older people with fragile skin, and extremely cautiously, if at all, with the guard dog breeds.

3. Howling, always done from a standing position, produces a sound that carries a long way. It is used as a distress call and for dog/dog communication, never in connection with aggression.

The tail

Tail wagging and the angle at which the tail is carried are prime methods of communication used by dogs.

Understanding A Dog's Body Language
Tail Wagging

The angle at which the tail is held is usually determined by conformation and breed habit, but in general the tail held at 45° or higher to the spine expresses alertness and interest.

The tail clamped low over the anus expresses a fear posture, while extreme nervousness brings the tail right down between the legs with the hindquarters at the crouch.

Note that Whippets and Italian Greyhounds naturally carry their tails in the fear position.

Dogs wag their tails to signify pleasure puppies as young as 4 weeks old will wag their tails while eating. Dogs whose tails are docked very short will express pleasure by gyrating their whole hindquarters.

Summary On Understanding A Dog’s Body Language

By observing closely the dog’s signals the informed owner will be able to identify dogs that are fearful and submissive from those that are aggressive.


Submissive dogs approach from the side, never head on. The tail is held low, the body crouching with the rear end held high.

The animal will try to lick the face or hands of the dominant dog or person and may roll on its back to expose its groin.

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In many dogs there is a one-sided grin and most dogs will wag their tails in friendly greeting with the tail held parallel to the ground.


Fear is expressed by shaking, shivering, a look of apprehension, hiding beneath furniture and keeping the head low.

Some dogs may urinate involuntarily. Extreme Pleasure may also produce a body tremor but is accompanied by tail wagging.


Beware of dogs that are standing tall, waving their tails slowly, having both lips drawn back and are uttering a low, threatening growl. Such animals are best Ignored and eye contact avoided.

Understanding A Dog's Body Language
Dog growling | Vet care

Dogs have a very well-developed ’fight Of flight mechanism, Which, coupled with extremely acute hearing and quick reaction time, enables them to get Out of a danger zone very quickly, and also to mount an attack with hardly any warning if the Opportunity presents itself.

Veterinary surgeons and breeders learn to read the premonitory tell-tale signs when understanding a dog’s body language.


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