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How to Read Your Dog’s Body Language

how to read a dog's body language

You may be familiar with this topic if you’re a long time dog owner, but it can be a lot to learn for those new to being a canine leader.  

Tail wags and play bows are only part of the equation.  Those are obvious signs that your dog is excited and ready to play.

Some other body language is more subtle or easy to mistake for a different emotion.

Did you know dogs yawn when they’re stressed?  It’s not always a sign of them being tired. 

If you’re in a noisy location with your dog and they start yawning or shaking like they’re trying to dry off, they’re probably stressed and need a break.

By learning how your dog communicates and what those signals mean, you’ll be able to form a much deeper and more secure bond with your dog.

We’ll take a look at all types of body language.  By being able to recognize how your dog is feeling you can help prevent undue stress for everyone involved in the situation.

Happy Body Language

This is the body language we’re all familiar with.  Whether a dog is happy to see you or wants to play, these are the sorts of signals you’ll get from them.

They can also signify that they want attention, treats or even toys.  The possibilities are very broad when your dog acts this way, but it will require very little detective work on your end.

Play Bowing

This body posture is common when dogs get excited.  They’ll lower their front end and their butt will stick up in the air.

It’s normally accompanied by tail wagging and excited yipping.

You’ll typically see the play bow when your dog is ready to go out and play with you or when you pick up their favourite toy.  

They may even hop around and run between bows if they’re really excited about something.  It’s impossible to mistake this body language for anything other than what it is.

Tail Wagging

This is the classic “I’m happy!” that everyone knows and loves.  

When you come in from work, your dog will probably rush to greet you and their tail will wag behind them. 

When they’re out playing or you’re engaging with them, you’ll see a tail wag.

Even when they’re getting pets or belly rubs, you’re sure to see their sign of happiness and contentment. 

Curved Body

You’re most likely to see this when your dog is greeting you at the door or coming to see you.

They’ll lean up against your legs and curl themselves into a sort of U or C shape while their tail wags. You might even get a few kisses from them.

Be assured that they’re happy to see you when this happens.

Greeting Stretch

Much like the play bow, your dog will lower their front and raise their rear.  Though with this, they won’t be hopping around or acting as silly.

They’ll stretch and then immediately come up to greet you.  They may try to jump on you, give you kisses or lean into you for affection.

Exposed Belly

This is another one that most people are familiar with.  Your dog will roll over onto their back and show you their stomach. 

They might wiggle around and their tail will thump against the floor.  

They’re excited to see you and probably want some attention.  Make sure you dish out those belly rubs when they want them.

This is a great way to bond with your dog.

Calm Body Language

You’re most likely going to see this in the evening or on a lazy day at home with the family.  Your dog is happy to be included in activities even if that includes cuddling on the couch and watching a movie.

Your dog should be happy and content to be at home.  Keep an eye out for these signs the next time your dog is laying around the house or out in the yard.

Ground Sniffing

Think of this as an idle motion for your dog similar to when you’re standing with your hands in your pockets and looking around.

They’re calm and taking in their surroundings.  They aren’t looking for anything in particular and they don’t want to run around and play.

Head Tilt

You’ve most likely seen your dog do this when you pick something up or when they’re examining something.

It’s a curious gesture.  They’re trying to figure out what the item of interest is, but they don’t get excited by it and get up to bounce around.

Slow Blinking

This is normally accompanied by relaxed ears.

Your dog is comfortable and content.  They’re happy right where they are and with whoever is around.

You’ll most likely see your dog do this once they lay down and make themselves comfortable on the couch or in their bed.

Offering Their Back

Your dog is comfortable with you.  They don’t feel a need to keep an eye on the person in the room with them, because they don’t see them as a threat.

You’ve most likely experienced this while sitting on the couch.  Your dog comes over and sits in front of you on the floor with their back turned to you.

This is a great time for some pets or a brushing if your dog enjoys it.  It’s a time to bond in a calm environment. 

Anxious Body Language

Some of this body language is pretty tricky for humans to recognize.  It’s different from how we express ourselves and it’s not as obvious as some of the signs of being excited.

You’ll need to pay extra attention to pick up on these signs and your dog will thank you for your diligence. 


Humans yawn when they’re tired and dogs do as well, but dogs also yawn when they’re stressed.

If you’re out at the park, in public, the vet or a similar setting and your dog starts yawning they’re probably stressed.

This shouldn’t be confused with your dog laying down to sleep for the night and yawning, so you’ll have to pay close attention to the situation at hand to figure out why your dog is yawning.

Tail Tucking

This is a pretty familiar one for most people.

Your dog will tuck their tail in and cower.  Their eyes might widen or they’ll whine.

If you see your dog doing this, they need some space and you should do your best not to crowd them.

Shaking Out

This is a good way for your dog to release some of their anxiety.  They’ll shake out like they do when they’re drying off, but they aren’t wet at all.

It helps them to relieve tension.  If you see your dog doing this, it’s time to leave the situation.

Whale Eyes

Your dog’s eyes will widen and the whites will become very prominent.  This is also sometimes called moon eyes.

This is often but not always accompanied by tail tucking.

Your dog needs space in these situations.  You don’t want to crowd them and cause more stress.

Nose Licking

This is akin to how some people bite their nails when anxious.  It’s a nervous impulse.

If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, watch to see if they lick their nose while it’s raining.

This will most likely be accompanied by other signs of stress such as shaking or whining.


Humans do this when they’re anxious as well.  It’s a good way to help release some of the nervous tension that’s pent up.

If you see your dog pacing around the house, take a moment to see if something might be bothering them or if your household just went through a big life change.

Excessive Panting

If your dog is panting heavily, but it’s not hot or they haven’t been running around playing, it might be stress-related.

Just like with us humans, your dog may breathe more heavily than normal when upset or nervous.

Aggressive Body Language

This body language comes as a warning.  Your poor dog has had enough and their signs of anxiety were probably ignored.

Most dogs won’t move right to aggression, but it’s very important to be able to recognize these signs, so that you can de-escalate before things get worse.


If you see your dog lunging at an object and barking, they’re presumably upset.

Whatever has triggered this reaction either makes them feel threatened or is a threat.

It could be a stranger, a new dog or even a new piece of furniture that they just aren’t sure about.

Your best bet is to have them leave the situation if at all possible.

Ears Pinned Back

Your dog may growl or show their teeth while pinning their ears back.  They aren’t happy and are letting it be known.

This is normally, but not always, the step before lunging.  

This body language is a warning sign to move away before they take more drastic measures.

Showing Teeth

Humans are the odd ones out with this gesture.  Where we use it to show happiness or friendliness, other animals use it to show aggression.

A dog with their teeth bared is unhappy and trying to ward off whatever threat there is.

Moving Away

This will always be paired with barking, a showing of teeth or pinned ears.

Your dog is saying, “Don’t come any closer!”  They’re trying to get away from the threat while also showing that they’ll fight if they have to.


There are many ways that our dogs communicate with us and each other without words.  Body language is very important to them since they can’t tell us how they’re feeling with words.

Learning their way of communication is a very important part of being a good dog owner and it has huge benefits.

You’ll know what your dog is feeling and can act accordingly no matter the situation.  This makes you a trusted person and a great leader in their eyes.

Does your dog do anything out of the ordinary when they get excited or are happy to see you?  What body language do you see from them the most?

Come on over to our social media and let us know.  We’re always excited to hear from you!