Just like people, dogs communicate using “body language.” Your dog is communicating with his entire body, not just his tail or his voice. If you want to know how he is feeling, you’ll need to learn to read your particular dog’s body language. To get a sense of what your dog is trying to tell you, spend as much time as you can observing your dog and his body posture.
Because each dog is an individual and will express fear, aggression, stress or joy slightly differently, there are no hard and fast rules for interpreting dog body language. Tail wagging, for instance, can indicate several emotions. The important thing is to look at the entire body of the dog. With that said, here are some examples of dog body language and an explanation of what they might mean.
- A low-hung wagging tail could mean: “I am scared or unsure.”
- A high, stiff wag can mean: “I am agitated, unsure or scared, but not submissive. I might bite you or your dog.” If the dog’s body is stiff, he is staring, and his ears are up, use caution. Keep the dog out of trouble because he may be about to make a bad decision.
- A loose wag – not really high or really low – normally means: “I am comfortable and friendly.” But you should keep watching the dog’s entire body. Some dogs need a lot of personal space. They will tell you if you get too close.
Rolling over. Rolling over generally means the dog is being submissive, but look at the whole dog. If the tail and mouth are loose, the dog is probably comfortable and asking for a belly rub. If the tail is tucked and the lips are stiff, the dog may be scared. Some dogs will solicit attention and then become fearful and bite, so observe the whole dog, looking for comfortable, loose body language.
Ears perked up. When a dog’s ears are forward, he is alert, interested in something.
Tail between the legs. If the dog’s tail is tucked between her legs and her ears are back against her head, she is afraid and uncomfortable about something.
Some typical displacement behaviors:
- Yawning in new or emotional situations
- Panting when it’s not hot
- Lifting a front paw as someone walks toward the dog
- Licking his lips, even though the dog hasn’t been eating or drinking
- Scratching himself when he’s not itchy
- Looking away as a person or another animal walks toward him
- Shaking off after someone handles him or another dog plays too roughly
- Stretching out as though doing a play bow, but not asking for play
- Making a puff (exhale) of breath, sometimes whining at the same time, and looking away or turning away
- Lying down and trying to make whatever is happening stop by not taking part in it
- Starts to drool when she normally doesn’t
- Paces or circles
- Tucks his tail and moves away from something
- Starts to whine
- Sweats through her feet
- Puts his hackles up, his tail is low or high, and his body is still
- Starts to growl, and may start to move away
- Starts to curl her lips or show her teeth (which may be the only warning she gives before biting)
Information from BestFriends.org