Learning Your Dog's Body Language

Although dogs do not speak English, they are communicating with us all the time.  Humans have thousands of words to express how we feel, and we are usually in control of our environment; if we feel stressed or anxious, we can remove ourselves from the situation.  Very few dogs react “for no reason”. We need to pay attention to the body language of our dogs in order to keep them (and us) safe. Dogs give us signals when they are uncomfortable and scared- it is our responsibility to listen and change their environment before they have to react to get away from whatever it is that is stressing them.  This is especially important around children- children need to be taught how to interact with dogs, and as adults, we need to be prepared to remove the dog from the situation if they need a break.  

Here are some things to look for:

Body Language of Calm and Happy Dogs

  • Ears forward

  • Eyes soft- may be open, may be slightly squinted

  • Wide open mouth with no tension

  • Loose and relaxed body

  • Play bow- front end down, hind end up, happy tail wagging, elbows on ground

  • Rolling onto back, exposing stomach with loose body posture

  • Barking for attention, seeking to play


Body Language of Stressed Dogs
(time to remove them from the situation IMMEDIATELY and regroup)

  • Ears back

  • Eyes dilated; whale eye (side eye)

  • Head looking away

  • Body tense and stiff

  • Tail down and tucked, or twitching rigidly

  • Lips drawn back or closed mouth

  • Front paw lifted

  • Front legs splayed out, leaning forward

  • Cowering stance

  • Scratching that does not seem related to an itch

  • “Shaking off” the body tension

  • Panting

  • Yawning

  • Licking lips

  • Raised hair along the back

  • Barking to alert

If you notice your dog exhibiting any of these behaviors and/or you would like help with managing your dog’s behavior, we suggest consulting with a force free trainer. Local trainers can be found through The Pet Professional Guild https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search

Andrea WilliamsComment