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Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language


Every loving dog owner has wished that their dog could talk to them from time to time; knowing exactly what your dog wants, needs, enjoys, or dislikes would make things much easier, but unfortunately, you don’t have the ability to sit back and have a conversation about why your dog hates the neighborhood cat. The good news is that there are ways you can tell what you’re dog, as well as other canines, is trying to communicate by paying attention to how he gestures his eyes, ears, and tail.

Reading the Tail Gestures

The tail is a great indicator to help understand what a dog is feeling, and as with human facial expressions, there are a wide variety of gestures to learn and understand.

  • The happy tail is everyone’s favorite dog gesture. A wide, fast-paced wag moving in circles indicates a dog is excited and ready for your attention and affection.
  • A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is happy. In fact, an aggressive tail can appear very similar to that of a happy one; a tail standing straight up with just the tip of it slowly swaying back and forth indicates a dog is feeling dominant and/or aggressive and could attack.
  • A tense tail means that a dog is uncertain and is taking great precaution. This usually occurs when meeting strange dogs or new people. The higher and stiffer a tail is, the more tense and uncomfortable the dog is feeling, and keep in mind that a tense dog can easily become an aggressive one.
  • A frightened and shy tail simply means that your dog isn’t in a very good emotional state; this occurs commonly if a dog is timid by nature, has a history of being abused, is placed into a brand new environment, or is just letting another fellow dog know it’s not trying to fight. The tail is tucked between the legs with its body crouching on the ground.

Comprehending the Position of the Ears

Just like the tail, the position a dog’s ears are in can say a lot about what the dog is trying to communicate.

  • Relaxed ears occur when your dog is at ease; it’s not overly stimulated in any way, and the ears and head are both erect.
  • Similar to feeling relaxed, excited ears are perked up high but with a tilted head and a wide wagging tail. This occurs when your dog is feeling playful and friendly.
  • Aggressive ears are perked up and faced forward and are usually combined with a stiff, vertical tail as well as raised fur on the back. This can signal the dog is feeling threatened or is exerting dominance and could lunge.
  • Fearful ears are pressed down while touching the head and occur when the dog is afraid or unsure of its surroundings.

Grasping What the Eyes are Saying

Dog eyes exude very humanistic expression and more often than not, they are the easiest part of a canine’s body language to understand, and paying attention to their direction as well as their shape can give you a great indication of what a dog is saying.

  • Recognizing aggressive eyes is fairly easy because the pupils widen as a dog is about to attack. If aimed at you, back away slowly and avoid making direct eye contact as that can be taken as a threatening gesture. If aimed at another dog, try to remove your dog from the situation, but never step in between.
  • Happy eyes can vary but generally don’t change much shape; they stay round or slanted depending on the breed, but they can become squinty when experiencing extreme pleasure (such as a massage behind the ears).
  • Frightened or submissive eyes never make direct contact with yours, and this can signal the dog is unsure of your presence or is trying to avoid an unpleasant interaction.
  • Under the weather eyes can be squinty and the sclera (the white part) can often be an off color (either yellowish or red). This can happen if a dog is suffering a minor irritant (such as a sick stomach), but it can also be something more serious. If the condition persists, it’s always safer to have your dog checked out by a vet.
  • Guard-dog eyes appear when a dog is keeping an eye on you by looking through the corner of its eyes to make sure you don’t grab its food, toys, or any other possessions. More often than not, this is a playful and harmless gesture, but for dogs that are possessive or food-aggressive, it can be something to watch out for.

Learning to read the body language of a dog can be extremely helpful in knowing what your dog needs or wants as well as keeping yourself protected. Clearly, most of these signs are hard to decipher all on their own, but by combining the tail gesture, ear position, and eye direction/shape, you should be able to get a good idea of what a dog is suggesting. Any caring dog owner wants their pet to be happy, and with some loving affection, the occasional walk, and a delicious treat, it’s never a hard task to accomplish.


About Author

Ron Rutherford is a writer with a passion for nature and a soft spot for Thai food. He currently freelances for Havahart Wireless, which specializes in progressive and humane wireless dog fences.

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This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a commission for sales referred from links on our site. We're also Amazon Associates, so we may earn from those qualifying purchases, too. Learn more!