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Understanding Body Language in Dogs

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Unlike humans, dogs can’t use their words to express what they’re feeling. Sometimes they’ll use barks, whines, or growls, but more often than not, dogs rely on non-verbal communication. Having an understanding of how dogs use posture, facial expressions, and other body language such as tail wagging can help to strengthen the bond between pet and owner, and help you better communicate with your canine companion. 


The way your dog distributes his weight can say a lot about the way he’s feeling. If he’s hunched over and cowering, he’s probably trying to appear smaller and more submissive; it is often a sign of fear or stress. Basically, he’s using his body language to say that he’s not interested in fighting and that he means no harm. 

When your dog shifts his weight forward, he could simply be trying to get closer to something that has piqued his interest. If this forward-shifted position is also paired with a raised, twitching tail, your dog may be trying to appear larger and more intimidating in order to establish dominance. 

This position may also be paired with raised hackles, or hair standing up along the back. Raised hackles are often associated with negative feelings such as stress or anger. However, this involuntary reaction, similar to goosebumps in humans, could also be an indicator of excitement or interest. 

A playful pup will generally have loose and wiggly movements, and may even stick his rump in the air as an invitation to play before breaking into an energetic run. On the other hand, an otherwise healthy dog who is moving stiffly and slowly may be trying to use his body language to say that he’s not interested in social interaction. 

If your four-legged friend is indicating that he wants to play while also showing signs of mobility issues, consider Pet Honesty’s Turmeric Joint Health Chews, which support healthy joints and inflammatory responses in your dog’s body. 


Knowing the difference between different types of tail wags means knowing whether your dog is gearing up to play or fight, or whether he’s feeling relaxed or anxious. 

A neutral or slightly raised tail, possibly accompanied by a brisk wag, is typically a sign of a happy pup. The more excited the dog, the faster his tail will wag. Keep in mind, though, that an aggressive dog may also wag his tail. If a tail is held up high and wagging quickly, take that as a warning and respect the dog’s boundaries—especially if accompanied by more assertive body language. 

A lowered tail, often paired with a submissive posture, is an indicator that your dog is feeling ashamed, scared, or stressed. He’s either asking not to get in trouble, or he wants another dog to leave him alone. 

If your dog’s tail wags and body language are telling you that he’s frequently scared or stressed, consider Pet Honesty’s Hemp Calming Chews to help with pet anxiety. 


You can also learn a lot about how your dog communicates through body language by looking into his eyes

If the white part of your dog’s eye (the sclera) seems more visible than usual and his eyes appear rounder than normal, he may be experiencing what dog trainers call “whale eye.” This happens when a dog is feeling tense and stressed out. 

Dilated pupils, which make the eyes appear “glassy,” can also be an indicator of fear or stress. These are also referred to as “hard eyes.” Alternatively, when a dog has “soft eyes,” his eyelids are relaxed and he may appear to be squinting. 

While prolonged eye contact can help to strengthen the bond between you and your pup, a dog who is looking away and avoiding eye contact is likely expressing discomfort. Alternatively, a hard stare may be a sign of aggression, especially when paired with a dominant posture and high tail. 


Perked up ears are commonly interpreted as a sign of curiosity and interest. While some breeds of dogs with floppy ears may not be able to perk their ears up to the same extent as others, you can still pay attention to movements at the base of the ear. If the ears are moving up or forward, your pooch is likely intrigued by something; if your dog’s ears are sitting slightly back or to the sides, he’s probably feeling relaxed. 

In addition to being used for body language, the ears are also key indicators of common health issues in dogs. Clean Fido’s ears regularly using Pet Honesty’s OTIC Ear Cleaner and Drier to keep the ears clean and clear of infection. 


Humans yawn when we’re tired or bored. Dogs yawn too, but not for the same reason. Instead, dogs yawn to calm themselves down in stressful situations, or even to calm down others—including their owners. Yawning can also be used when Fido wants to tell another dog that he’s not interested in fighting. 

Dogs may also lick their lips when they’re feeling stressed. If your pup is also whining (and hasn’t just eaten a delicious meal) he’s likely licking his lips to indicate that he’s feeling tense. 

Along with yawning and lip licking, abnormal panting can also be a sign of stress, or possibly even a medical issue. 

If a dog is showing his teeth, especially with a snarl or growl, he’s likely feeling aggressive and is giving a warning to those around him. Alternatively, if a dog is showing his teeth in a more calm, relaxed way, he could be displaying a submissive grin, or even a smile. 

A Package Deal

When evaluating Fido’s posture, tail wags, or facial expressions, keep in mind that they all work together—you can’t figure out what your dog is trying to tell you by evaluating one body language signal on its own. While it’s helpful to know about common body language behaviors in dogs, you know your dog and his personality best. As long as you’re working to understand what your dog is trying to tell you, you will continue to deepen the bond you share with your furry friend.