What are you saying?: How to understand your dog's body language

As new dog owners, understanding and deciphering our dog’s body language is hard. And rightly so, it’s not as if they can talk. In this article, I will be talking about the different ways our dogs communicate with us and what these behaviours mean. 

Tail Wagging

People often mistakenly think that tail wagging means that their dog is happy. This is incorrect as tail wagging is not a sign of whether or not your dog is happy but rather, they are generally more emotionally aroused. The quicker your dog wags their tail the more emotionally aroused they are as they are more alert and on guard. The position of your dog’s tail also says a lot about their emotional state. The lower to the ground your dogs tail is the more stressed and anxious they are. The higher their tail is positioned the more confident and even aggressive you dog is feeling. Try and notice your dog’s tail neutral position as it will allow you to be more in touch with their emotions

Raised Hackles

This is when your dog’s hair on their back is standing up - like what we humans call goosebumps. This too is a sign that your dog is emotionally aroused. Again, this does not mean that your dog is angry or feels confrontational however it could simply mean that your dog is stressed, upset or even excited. 


Dogs also use their posture as a way of communicating. A dog who's posture is hunched over is a dog who is scared, stressed or anxious. It’s a ‘I come in peace’, white flag posture. A dog who places all their body mass forward, is a dog who is trying to intimate something or is interested in something. When dog’s put their chest to the floor and their rump in the air, this means they are excited and want to play with you or another dog. The paw raise is a sign to communicate that there is nearby prey

Facial Expressions

Dog’s yawn when they aren't tire but rather when they are stressed. They use yawning as a way to calm tensions and anxiety. Lip licking is also another body language that dogs use when they are anxious. When dogs smile they are actually serving you with a warning, they see their teeth as their weapons, but, a dog who's smile is loose is a dog who is happy. 


They always say eyes are the window to the soul, well with dogs its not any different. Eyes tell a lot about how a dog is feeling. When a dog’s eyes are soft, meaning, the eyelids are relaxed and thus the dog looks like its squinting, this means the dog is in fact relaxed. When the dog’s eyes are hard, meaning the dog is staring at you or another animal, this means they feel aggressive and confrontational. It is absolutely paramount that you do not stare a dog in the eyes as this translates to them that you are ready for a gold ol’ fashioned quarrel. It is better to look away from a dog as this communicates a sense of calmness. Similarly if your dog avoids eye contact with you this is not them being snobby, they are actually feeling uncomfortable and distressed. When a dog shows you the whites of their eyes this means they are feeling worried or anxious.

It's always important to try and make your dog feel as comfortable as possible and that is why it is imperative to look out for body language. The signs above always come in packages and never quite alone so be on the lookout for two or more types of behaviours.