Our beloved canine companions speak to us in many ways without ever using words. Maybe you’re one of the many who prefer communicating with dogs over humans because of that. We’re not judging, don’t worry. Since dogs can’t say words to us, they find other ways to communicate and barking is a small fraction of how they let us know what’s going on.
Body language is the most significant way dogs communicate with each other and with us. You can learn a lot from watching your dog’s body. However, one particular movement or posture might not tell the whole story. It’s important to watch the entire dog and to also consider the situation and context. Over time, you’ll learn what your dog means with each gesture.
Some of the most common body language gestures to notice:
- Tail Wagging
- Tail Tucking
- Raised Heckles
- Facial Expressions
Tail wagging is generally understood as the universal sign of a dog’s happiness. To be fair it can often mean just that, but not always. What it does mean is that a dog’s feeling emotions, that excitement could be related to happiness, but it could be related to frustration or even aggression as well. This is one of those times when context is very important as well as any other body language cues.
Alternatively when a dog’s tail is pointed down or between their legs it means they are stressed and probably scared.
Raised heckles, when the fur on a dog’s back is standing up means a dog is aroused and likely on high alert. It doesn’t always mean aggression but indicates a dog is very interested in something.
Posture is how a dog holds their weight and says a lot about how a dog is feeling. A cowering dog who is hunched down is stressed and probably very afraid, it’s an attempt to make them appear smaller and pose less of a threat so as to not provoke whatever it is they are scared of.
However, a dog shifting their weight forward in a sort of lunge like fashion shows a dog trying to get closer to something, a position we often see depicted of dogs hunting and showing their owner where the prey is. It can also be a sign of aggression as it make the dog appear larger and more fearsome to any perceived opponent.
Another posture is the play bow or the downward dog as it’s called in yoga when a dog puts their chest on the ground and their rump in the air. This means they want to play.
Paw raises or the “shake” gesture can be misunderstood. In certain situations it can indicate where there is nearby prey, but most of the time it means a dog is unsure about what’s happening or feels insecure.
Just like with people, facial expressions allow dogs to communicate to others how they are feeling. Except their expressions don’t always mean the same thing ours do. Dogs might yawn when they are stressed rather than tired like us. Yawning can help them calm down. Like people dogs can also “catch” a yawn too, so if they seemed stressed, yawn so they will too and it might help calm them.
Dogs also lick their lips after a meal like we humans do, however, they also lick their lips when they are feeling anxious.
Dogs also smile, though it can look quite unsettling when they do because it looks a lot like when they barr their teeth which is a warning to back off or they will attack. Usually barring teeth into a snarl comes with growling and teeth on full display. The rest of the dog’s posture will be tight. When a dog is smiling teeth will be showing but not on full display usually and the rest of the dog’s posture will be loose and even wiggly.
Dogs are amazing creatures who tell us so much if we are willing to pay attention to their behavior and body language. Getting to know your pup’s personality and common behaviors will lead to a lifetime of love in one of the most rewarding relationships you’ll ever have.
We offer great training programs to both help you learn your dog’s body language and how to train them so that you both can live your best life together. Check out our programs here.