top of page

How to read your dog’s body language to know what they’re thinking

Here’s what your fur baby is trying to tell you in their unique way

Have you ever had one of those moments where your dog is carrying on about something, and you wish they could just tell you what’s wrong? Or maybe you’ve come home from a long, hard day at work, love how your dog lets you debrief, but wish they could offer words of wisdom in return.

It’s no secret that dogs offer amazing company to their owners. We talk to them all the time.

But did you know that your dog often communicates with you in their own special way? Sure, they can’t talk to us (or they’d be a movie famous talking dog!), but certain sounds they make, along with their body language, can give you an insight into what they’re thinking and feeling.

I can’t promise you’ll become the next dog whisperer by the end of this blog, but let’s look at how our dogs communicate with us!

Why it’s important to read your dog’s body language

As dogs are non-verbal creatures, they can’t tell you what they’re feeling. As a dog owner (or for anyone exposed to dogs anywhere – parks, beaches, friend’s house, etc.), reading their body language is vital.

When you learn how to read a dog’s body language, you’ll be able to tell if they’re comfortable or feeling uneasy in a situation. Reading a dog’s body language will protect you (and your dog) from potentially dangerous situations.

How your dog communicates verbally

Before you understand your dog’s body language, you may be able to determine what they’re communicating by the sounds they’re making.

  • Panting: Gentle panting is normal in dogs, but when it becomes heavy, it may indicate something wrong with your dog (e.g. trauma or chronic illness).

  • Whining: Dogs usually whine to ask for something (e.g. attention or dinner), but excessive whining may signify stress, injury or illness.

  • Barking: Dogs bark to express themselves and get their feelings out. Rapid barking is usually an alert, loud and deep barks are often warnings to strangers, and yelp barks are a way for an injured dog to call for help. Your dog will have different barks that you’ll learn to understand.

  • Singing: Some clever dogs have an almost singing bark/howl when they’re happy. They could be joining in with your music or having a fantastic time playing with you.

The top 8 dog body language cues your dog may display

1. I’m so full of confidence

When you see a confident dog stance, the dog is friendly, non-threatening and happy to be in your presence.

  • Stance: Standing up straight with their head held high

  • Ears: Perked up

  • Mouth: Open but relaxed

  • Tail: may sway gently or hang in a relaxed position

2. I’m super happy

Happy dogs are obvious! They’ll be friendly and show no signs of anxiety when around you.

  • Stance: Standing up straight with their head held high

  • Ears: Perked up

  • Mouth: Open but relaxed and may lightly pant

  • Tail: Wagging

3. Come on, let’s play

Playful dogs are happy and often jump around before bowing down in front of you, begging you to toss a ball, play fetch, run with them etc.

  • Stance: Jumping around or doing a ‘play bow’ – front legs stretched, head straight, bum wagging in the air

  • Ears: Perked up

  • Mouth: Open but relaxed, lightly panting or play barking

  • Tail: Wagging a million miles an hour

4. OMG, I’m excited

Excited dogs are both happy and playful, but some may get hyperactive, jumping on people, barking loudly or doing zoomies around you.

  • Stance: Jumping or running around

  • Mouth: Panting, whining or having their tongue hanging out

If your dog becomes over excited, it may get stressed or anxious. Calm your over excited dog down with their favourite chew toy, a command or an exercise like running.

5. Oh, I’m feeling a bit anxious here

An anxious dog may become overactive to stimulus and become fearful or aggressive. Dogs often get anxious around loud noises (e.g. fireworks), around unfamiliar people or in places they don’t recognise (e.g. away from home, in kennels etc.).

  • Stance: Very tense with a lowered head, neck stretched out and a worried brow

  • Ears: Partially back

  • Mouth: Yawning or licking their lips

  • Tail: Tucked in

6. Nope, this is too scary for me

A fearful dog will present like an anxious dog, but they will often whine or growl or bare their teeth at you in the act of self-defence. If you provoke a scared dog, it may become aggressive, so it’s best to back away slowly and let the dog calm down. If it’s your dog, stay calm and confident and encourage your dog to move to a more familiar, non-threatening location, so they calm down.

  • Stance: Very tense and low to the ground, often trembling

  • Ears: Flat back against their head

  • Mouth: May whine or growl or bare their teeth

  • Tail: Tucked between their legs

7. Get away from me now

A fearful or anxious dog may become aggressive if they remain in the situation that’s causing them to feel this way. The best thing to do is to back away slowly as a dog at the point of aggression feels very scared and is likely to act in self-defence.

  • Stance: Feet planted on the ground, ready to lunge forward, head straight and the hairs on their neck or back may stand up

  • Ears: Pinned back

  • Mouth: Teeth bared, jaw snapping, growling or threatening bark

  • Tail: Straight, held up high and may even wag (but not in a happy way)

8. I submit to you

Dogs who show submissive behaviour tell you, other people, dogs or animals, that they’re not a threat. They’re not necessarily fearful or anxious but may show submissive behaviour when playing or wanting attention from you.

  • Stance: Head down, often sniffing the ground, or roll over onto their back

  • Mouth: May nuzzle or lick you or the other animal

  • Tail: Low or in a neutral position

Are you feeling more confident in reading your dog’s body language cues?

Hopefully, this quick guide has given you some insights into what your dog (or other dogs) may be trying to tell you. If you notice body language or behaviour that’s unusual for your dog, please visit your local vet and chat with them.

Sometimes, your dog may be trying to give you clues that they’re not feeling well, and odd body language may be their way of communicating they need help.

If you need help taking your dog to the vets, need someone to take them for a walk, pop in during the day to keep them company, or babysit them when you take a break, here’s how I can help you.

And if you’ve got any other tips about dog body language, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.

Until next time, pat your fur babies for me.


bottom of page