20 Dog Body Language Queues and What They Mean

Do you love dogs? Have you ever wondered what a dog is trying to tell you through its own body language? The reason a lot of people get into trouble with a dog is because they either don’t know how to read the body language or they simply ignore it. In almost every case, a dog will give you more than enough warning before it actually bites. The truth is, most dogs bite out of defense when they feel threatened. It’s actually rather rare that a dog bites simply because it has aggressive tendencies no matter what the situation. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, but more often than not, when a dog bites someone, it’s because the person made a mistake that precipitated the situation in the first place.

If you’re able to learn more about the body language of dogs, it makes it easier to understand when you might be doing something that is inadvertently pushing them too far. By the same token, it gives you the opportunity to learn what some of the other things your own dog might be doing that you haven’t previously understood. The better the two of you understand each other, the closer your relationship will be. One of the things that makes it so difficult to understand dog body language is that they have a tendency to do many of the same things when they’re feeling different emotions. This gets people into trouble when they are only focusing on that one particular behavior. Instead, you have to look at the entire dog and match all of the body language together in order to understand what the dog is feeling at that particular point in time. If you’re only looking at whether or not the dog’s ears are up or down or if the tail is wagging, you could miss some important cues they could get you and your dog into trouble later on down the road.

If you learn to pay attention, you will find that dogs can communicate with people just fine. The truth is, most dogs have no problem communicating with humans, even though they obviously don’t speak the English language. Their language is one of body language. They show us what they want and what they don’t want based on the way they act and the way they carry themselves. Make no mistake about it, dogs do understand many words in the English language and the truly smart ones often understand enough words to equal that of a young toddler. Therefore, if you’re talking unfavorably about your best friend within earshot, that dog may very well understand some of the things that you have said. More importantly, your dog understands your tone of voice. If you sound angry, your dog is going to respond accordingly. For some dogs, that might mean fear or submissive behavior. For other dogs, it could lead to aggression. The most important thing to remember is that you should always speak to your dog in a calm voice. Collect your thoughts before you speak. Screaming at your dog in anger or yelling out of panic isn’t going to do anything except make whatever is happening worse than it already is.

In order to truly bond with your dog, or even to get along with someone else’s pet, one of the best things you can do is remember that your dog picks up on your feelings. All dogs are capable of understanding how you are feeling before you ever utter a single word. The more calm that you can allow yourself to become, the easier it is for the dogs around you to become calm as well. On the other hand, if you have a tendency to panic or anger easily every time something doesn’t go exactly the way you want it to, dogs will pick up on that as well. Unfortunately, this usually makes them more anxious and merely exacerbates the situation that is already going sour. That’s why it’s so important to understand body language. That way, you can understand what the subtle signals really mean. Below is a list of 20 different behaviors and what they typically mean. As previously mentioned, there are a lot of behaviors that dogs will exhibit that actually have different meanings. These are discussed as well, so it’s important to pay attention.

1. Standing tall, hair raised

When a dog is looking at a particular object that it doesn’t quite understand, it stands very tall and erect. The dogs posture becomes impeccable. If you look in the same direction as the dog, you can usually see whatever it is looking at. Typically, the ears will be up and the tail is usually curled up over the back slightly. If you have a dominant dog, you can expect this tail behavior almost every time. If the dog starts to feel more threatened, the tail might go up even more and the hair along the spine of the dog typically stands up. This is how you know that you need to diffuse the situation if at all possible. With that being said, you should never try to break up a dog fight unless you know exactly what you are doing and you have a wealth of experience in these types of situations.

2. Cowering

A dog that is frightened will cower. It gets as low to the ground as possible, bending its legs and tucking its tail in between its back legs. The ears are usually down and flat with the rest of the head and in most cases, the dog will avoid looking at whatever it is afraid of. If your dog is refusing to look in a certain direction, look that way. You’re probably going to see whatever it is that’s scaring your dog. It might be another dog or some other type of animal. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as a plastic bag blowing in the wind. If your dog responds to you this way when you get upset about something, take a minute to stop and think about what you’re doing. Your dog looks to you for everything. You are her world. If she is responding to you in this way, you are doing something that is making her feel frightened. Maybe it’s the sound of your voice or perhaps you’re making movements too quickly. Whatever it is, it’s important to fix it because it will have an adverse impact on your relationship with your dog. In addition, you don’t ever want to be the one responsible for scaring your own dog, or anyone else’s for that matter. Therefore, learn to read her body language. If she is cowering because of you, taking inventory of how you are acting and see where you might decide to change things. Both of you will be better off for having done so.

3. Wagging tail (happy)

When your dog is happy she will have a tendency to wag her tail in a loose and relaxed manner, with the tail going from side to side. Typically, the tale itself is in a rather neutral position, so it isn’t too high on the back, nor is it being held low. It’s a very relaxed position, even if she’s practically swatting herself with her own tail. This is how you know that she’s happy to see you or whoever she happens to be looking at at the time. It’s important to pay attention to this one, because if her tail is high up on her back or she’s holding it low and wagging it, it means something entirely different. This will be discussed later on.

4. I love you/ I missed you

This one really aggravates most people, often to the point of training their dogs not to do it. When your dog really misses you, she will have a habit of standing up on you. She wants to put her paws on you and get your face as close to her as she can. This is the dog equivalent of giving you a hug. She’s trying to tell you how much she loves you and that she really missed you while you were gone and she’s glad you’re back. The problem is, dogs that stand up on people can ruin clothing in a heartbeat and in some cases, they can do much worse. If a dog stands up on a small child or an older person that has balance issues, they can knock them down before you’re able to stop them. The same is true if the dog is very large. This is why it’s important to train your dog to show their love and affection, as well as their excitement, in more appropriate ways. There is nothing wrong with your dog standing up on you to give you a hug in and of itself. The behavior itself is a sweet one and it’s very genuine. With that being said, imagine having a fully grown German Shepherd that’s very excited to see you who runs full force right at you and then jumps on you when he gets there. It doesn’t matter how healthy and strong you are, you’re going straight to the ground. This can cause a lot of injuries to people, which is why it’s important to teach your dog to come up to you and sit in order to be petted. However, it’s not something that you should get angry at your dog for doing. It’s a natural behavior and they have to be taught what they should do instead, so it takes time to get them to stop jumping. If you yell at your dog for it, you’re basically yelling at her for giving you a hug. This does nothing except upset her and make both of you feel frustrated. Instead, use positive reinforcement to teach her how you want her to behave and be patient with her.

5. Yawning (contentment)

Sometimes, a dog will yawn when it is content. This is another behavior that can have more than one meaning, so you can’t base the way the dog is feeling off the yawning alone. What is the rest of her body language like? Is she lying down and being calm or is she acting like she is stressed? This will let you know why she is exhibiting this particular behavior in the first place. In addition, a lot of dogs that are very much bonded with their people do the same thing that other human beings do. If they see their person yawn, they will yawn as well. It’s a sign of empathy and it shows that the two of you are close.

6. Yawning (fear)

Dogs also yawn when they’re afraid or stressed. If your dog is sitting upright and yawning repeatedly, it’s probably because something is stressing her out. Is something different in her environment from what she’s used to? Is she hearing loud noises or is there a lot of tension in the house? Have you gotten onto her recently? If she’s yawning repeatedly and she’s not exhibiting a relaxed behavior through other body language, it’s time to do some investigative work in order to find out why she is so stressed.

7. Tongue flicking (fear)

A dog that is scared or that is feeling an unusual amount of stress will sometimes have a tendency to flick its tongue in and out, almost in the same fashion that a snake does. If you see your dog doing this, it’s a good idea to find out why she is stressed so you can correct the situation. It’s also important to pay attention to her entire body language, because dogs will sometimes do this for different reasons. On rare occasions, a dog that has severe allergies will flick its tongue, almost as if it’s trying to lick a runny nose. This might sound disgusting, but if you notice it, it might be time to consider allergy medication for your pet. If you are thinking about doing this, you should always consult your veterinarian first.

8. Touching the nose with the tongue

Are you starting to see how it can sometimes be complicated to read between the lines when it comes to dog body language? If your dog is running her tongue up to her nose, it isn’t always because she is stressed, nor doesn’t always have to be because of allergies. Sometimes, your dog will do this because she’s happy. This is a sign of contentment as well. That’s why you have to look at the rest of her body language. Once you start to read the body language as a whole, it will be much easier to determine why she is doing this.  Plus as a bonus, this is easily one of the cutest looks a dog can possibly make.

9. Looking the other way

If your dog refuses to look at something in particular, it’s because she’s feeling frightened. This happens a lot when you walk your dog and she sees strange dogs along the path. She may choose to look in the other direction. This is because when a dog stares at another dog, it’s actually a sign of aggression. It’s that dog’s way of saying that it is dominant. That’s why you should never look a strange dog in the eyes. You might look into the eyes of your own dog all day long, but when you do that to a dog you don’t know, you’re saying that you’re challenging it. This is why your dog often chooses to look away when she feels frightened about something she doesn’t quite understand. It’s basically her way of saying that she doesn’t want a fight.

10. Excessive sniffing

This one can be hard to read because dogs obviously enjoy sniffing nearly everything they come into contact with. That’s how they read their world. However, sniffing can become excessive. When your dog hones in on one area and simply won’t leave it alone, it’s because she smells something that’s not familiar to her. This might be the scent of another animal or maybe a strange person visited your house that day and she’s picking up on it. It can sometimes mean that she’s feeling stressed out because she doesn’t understand what she’s smelling or where it came from. Sometimes, it simply means that she’s curious. Again, read the body language as a whole as opposed to focusing on just one behavior.

11. Wagging tail (nervous)

Remember when you read about the wagging tail of a happy dog? Dogs also wag their tails when they’re nervous. If she’s holding her tail low to the ground and she’s wagging it back and forth very quickly, she’s trying to tell you that something is bothering her. Typically, she will hold her tail very tight. she’ll also show you some other types of body language to go with this Behavior, such as ears that are back or flat and even a frightened look in her eyes. If she’s looking right at you and exhibiting this Behavior, she’s trying to tell you that something is making her feel uncomfortable and she’s looking to you for guidance.

12. Wagging tail (dominant/aggressive)

Dogs also wag their tails when they’re telling other dogs to back off. When they’re doing this, things haven’t quite gotten to the point where the dog is ready to attack, but that’s where the situation is headed if something isn’t done quickly. If you witness your dog throwing his tail up over his back and wagging it stiffly, he’s making it very clear that he doesn’t appreciate having his territory or his authority questioned. It’s a good idea to remove him from that particular situation if you can do so safely before something happens.

13. Submission

A dog that is exhibiting submission will roll over on its back and expose its belly. Dogs do this in front of other dogs as well as people. If your own dog is doing this, it’s actually a good thing. It means that she recognizes you as the leader of the pack and she’s okay with that. A lot of the time, a dog will start doing this more often after you start giving her regular belly rubs. This feels like a massage for a dog and if they figure out that you’re going to do this, they’ll roll over more frequently. By the way, rubbing your dog’s belly is a great way to calm her when she’s extremely stressed. It works almost every time. The one thing you should guard against is trying to force your dog into this position. She has to be willing to get there on her own in order for it to work.

14. Playful

Have you ever wondered what your dog is doing when she gets down on her front paws so that her rear end sticks up in the air, ears up and tail wagging? She’s asking you to play with her. If she does this to you, she saying that she wants you to spend some time with her and she wants to play. You might also see her do it with other dogs. If you witness two dogs doing this to each other, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean they want to fight, it means they want to play.

15. Excessive panting

If your dog is panting like crazy for no reason, it is because something is making her stressed and she might even be scared. Granted, dogs pant when they’re hot and they pant after exercise, but you’ve probably witnessed your dog panting for no other apparent reason. She might be trying to tell you that she needs to go outside and she’s uncomfortable or she might be saying that you’re listening to your music too loudly and it’s making her feel stressed. The most important thing is to pay attention to the behavior. Over time, you’ll learn to better read other signals so you can figure out what is going on. At first, it’s very hard to understand why your dog is stressed unless there’s something obvious. Once you spend enough time with her, you’ll start to know her well enough to figure it out almost every time.

16. Lifted paw

If your dog is lifting her paw and holding it in the air in front of you, she’s asking you for something. Nine times out of ten, you have some kind of food and she wants it. If you don’t have food, she’s asking you for attention.

17. Nudging

If your dog starts nudging you, she wants to get your attention. Granted, it could be because she needs to go for a walk but in most cases, it’s because she just want you to pay attention to her. If you’ve been petting her and then you stop in order to do something else, she might start nudging your hand. If she’s doing this, it means that she was really enjoying that attention and she wasn’t ready for it to stop. If that’s the case, give her a few minutes of your time. She’s not asking for much.

18. Showing teeth (scared)

A lot of people that don’t have much experience with dogs think that every time they show their teeth, they’re about to bite. That isn’t necessarily true. Dogs that are scared will show their teeth because they’re trying to tell you to back off. Even the sweetest dog in the world will show her teeth if you back her into a corner and you make her feel threatened with no way out. That doesn’t necessarily mean she’s ready to bite, at least not yet. However, it does mean that she wants you to get out of her space and give her a minute or two to sort things out.

19. Showing teeth (aggression)

If a dog is showing its teeth non-stop, growling, it’s hair is raised up, and its tail is curled up over its back or held straight out, there’s about to be a problem. This means that the dog has had enough of whatever is going on and it’s about to handle the situation on its own. The best thing you can do in this situation is get out of the way. If the dog is showing this type of aggression at someone or something else, you can attempt to slowly remove that object or individual from the situation but don’t attempt to handle the dog. It will likely result in you being bitten. If you’re the source of the problem, keep your hands down, don’t look the dog in the eye, and slowly back away. Whatever you do, don’t run and don’t turn your back on the dog. Remember, that dog probably gave you lots of chances before it got to this point as it tried to tell you that it was getting fed up with whatever was going on. It’s very rare that a dog goes from calm to this extent of aggression without anything in between.

20. Sniffing other dogs

A lot of pet owners get onto dogs for sniffing the backsides of other dogs. As far as people are concerned, this is considered bad behavior but in the dog world, it’s saying hello. It’s basically the same thing as shaking hands with someone. If your dog is sniffing another dog’s back side and the dogs are sort of curling up into a loose circle around each other, you don’t have anything to worry about. This is just their way of greeting one another.


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