Understanding your dog’s body language

Understanding your dogs body language | Clan Dog

Learning and understanding your dogs body language

We mere humans mostly use audible noises (our voices) to communicate amongst ourselves. Dogs can’t do that, so the only way of reaching out to us and expressing themselves is through the their body language and their limited vocal abilities.

Understanding what your dog is trying to tell you can give you a lot of useful insight into its ‘psychy’.  Being able to interpret a dog’s posture and behaviour can be useful for identifying their emotions,  intentions, and therefore preventing harm during dog-human interactions. Every part of the dog’s body is important in the process of observing a dog.  The head, tail, eyes, mouth, and ears are all important to observe.

Misinterpreting a dog’s body language can become extremely dangerous for humans and other dogs. It can also become dangerous for the dog itself – because it can only communicate with this subtle language to alert us of its mental or physical state of health.

How to Read Your Dog’s Body Language?

Dogs have the emotional capabilities of a typical two-year-old child; they can experience basic emotions – excitement, anxiety, and anger – in their own way. A dog’s body posture and how its organs are positioned can tell you a lot about it. Whether your dog is in a relaxed state, anxious, or about to pounce on you, it will still be denoted.

More importantly, you must learn and understand the intention behind the emotional expression of a dog. The emotion expressed may be misleading sometimes because dogs may give similar emotions from different intentions.

This is why at Clan Dog, we say ‘get to know YOUR dog’

An excited dog and an aggressive dog may both move forward toward a person or other animal, but one of them is playful and the other one is threatening. In a similar way, while a dog may run away in fear; another dog may run away as a matter of initiating a game of chase with another dog.

Learning and understanding your posture and behaviour can save you a lot of trouble. Always look out for the head positioning, ears, eyes, mouth, tail, and body movement.

Relaxed State

A dog takes a relaxed state when its environment feels safe and familiar. And the dog feels no reason to be particularly observant and no threat whatsoever, dogs in a relaxed state may even lean on the wall. In short, they look harmless. While this is not enough approval to be approached by strangers, it is still one of it. The features of a dog in the relaxed state include;

  • Head raised up with a straight posture
  • Mouth slightly open
  • Tongue out and moved to one side of the mouth.
  • Ears up and straight
  • Eyes open and bright.
  • Tail relaxed – tail may sway gently, curl loosely.

Stressed or Nervous state

A dog can be stressed for psychological or health reasons, a stressed dog exhibits inappropriate behaviours – something like chewing your important document, or favourite shoe etc. A dog owner can best help out in this situation by providing necessary supports. First, by understanding what the dog is trying to communicate.

The features of a dog in the stressed state include;

  • Yawning
  • In direct eye contact – Head turned away, but eye fixed on the perceived threat
  • Dry panting
  • Body freezing
  • Low tail carriage
  • Sweaty paws – dogs sweat through their foot pads

Fearful State

This state is made by dogs that perceive the threat to be superior, the dog tries to appease the threat with this posture to avoid challenges and prevent more damage.

The features of a dog in the fearful state include;

  • Head and ears tilted backward and flat.
  • Sweaty paws, one leg of forelegs raised
  • Body lowered
  • Tail down
  • Eyes partly closed with indirect eye contact
  • Urinate lightly
  • Tucked tail
  • Rolling over to expose stomach and tail

 Aggressive State

Either your dog is warning a threat to keep its distance, or preparing for a real fight.  Aggressive behaviour is not one to be ignored, misinterpreted or taken lightly for the potential damage it can lead to.

The most extreme aggressive behaviour involves dogs biting and holding onto threat while shaking – in this case, the dog intends to kill.

The features of a dog in the aggressive state include;

  • Body posture upright, but slightly leaning forward
  • Dog growls
  • Cold staring eyes
  • Dog snaps
  • Initial harmless, bite, followed by a deeper bite with grip for adamant threats.
  • Wagging Tail

 Playful State

Playful dogs would engage in a harmless brawl, rushing at each other, barking, staring and growling. However, the most common feature of a dog in the playful state is a play bow – a doggy way to invite other dogs or humans to play.

  • The features of a dog in the playful state include;
  • Tail up and waved
  • Pupil dilates
  • Ear up and straight
  • Mouth open and tongue wagging
  • Forepaw bent

Dog play can turn into real fighting in a matter of seconds. Paying attention to each dog’s body language can help you know what they’re up to if it’s still a play or way beyond it and you need to step in before some dogs get hurt.

If you’re unsure whether dogs are still playing or posing to start a fight, check for play bows – they definitely won’t start a fight with play bows. If the opposite is the case, don’t just jump in the middle of the fight. Instead, hold the fighting parties by their collars, the dog that has had enough would leave.

If you can see play bows and still not sure about what’s going on Look out for the following;

  • Piloerection – When a dog’s hackles rise
  • Lips raised with the teeth exposed,
  • Growling
  • Excessive mounting
  • Laid back ears
  • Indirect starring


If we base our relationships with our dogs on the accurate learning, understanding, and interpretation of their communication techniques – especially body language – we improve our relationship with them by preventing behavioural problems.


Each time we misinterpret our dogs, we risk breaking our bond with them and losing their trust.

Thanks for reading this………… it shows you love your dog and want to learn how to give them the best life possible and live a stress free life together!

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  1. This is all really useful information and I have read it several times to let it all sink in. A lot of training, it is becoming clear, is not so much for the dog but for us, the dog owners. Something that perhaps we forget or don’t give the relevant importance to.
    What would also be really useful in perhaps another update, is for everyday body language tips in the home. Forgive me if they are already covered. I am still exploring the website.
    For example,
    Your dog looks at you, head goes to the side and he stares as if trying to either understand you or tell you something.
    Your dog curls up with you, washes his own paws and then, licks and washes your wrists and hands. At present I am unwell and this is happening frequently. Not a problem and quite consoling.
    Someone enters the house, invited, but not someone your dog knows, and your dog makes sure he is between you and the friend.