Understanding Dog Body Language: Key Signals and What They Mean

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Dogs communicate mainly through body language, using various signals to express their feelings, needs, and intentions. Understanding these signals can improve your relationship with your furry friend and help you respond appropriately to their needs. Here’s the most common body language cues dogs use and what they usually mean.

Tail Position and Movement

  • Wagging Tail: A wagging tail is normally associated with happiness, but the speed, direction, and height of the wag can provide additional insights.
  • Fast Wagging: Shows high excitement or arousal. However, it can also mean nervousness or agitation.
  • Slow Wagging: Indicates the dog is feeling cautious or unsure about a situation.
  • High Tail: When a dog’s tail is held high, it often indicates confidence, dominance, or alertness. This posture can also indicate that the dog is trying to assert control over a situation.
  • Low Tail: A low tail position can mean submission, fear, or relaxation, depending on the overall context and additional signals.


  • Pricked Ears: When a dog’s ears are standing up and facing forward, it shows that the dog is alert and interested in something in their environment.

  • Flattened Ears: Ears pinned back against the head can shows fear, submission, or potential aggression, particularly if combined with other tense body language.
  • Relaxed Ears: Ears that are in a natural, relaxed position usually indicate that the dog is calm and content.


  • Direct Stare: A direct, unblinking stare can be a sign of a challenge or aggression. Dogs use this intense eye contact to state dominance or to warn others to back off.
  • Averted Gaze: Avoiding eye contact by looking away is a sign of submission or discomfort. It’s a dog’s way of showing they are not a threat.
  • Soft Eyes: Soft, blinking eyes indicate relaxation and friendliness. This expression is often seen when dogs are happy and content.
  • Whale Eye: When the whites of the eyes are visible (often called “whale eye”), it signals anxiety, fear, or stress. This is usually seen when a dog feels cornered or threatened.

Mouth and Lips

  • Panting: Panting is a normal cooling mechanism for dogs, but excessive panting can also be a sign of stress, fear, or excitement.
  • Yawning: Dogs often use yawn as a calming signal to soothe tension or stress in themselves or others around them.
  • Lip Licking: Lip licking is additional calming signal that dogs use to show anxiety or submission. It can also indicate that the dog is uncertain or uncomfortable.
  • Bared Teeth: Showing teeth is a clear warning sign of aggression. This can range from a subtle lift of the lips to a full snarl.
Relaxed puppy

Body Posture

  • Relaxed Stance: A dog standing with a loose, natural posture is likely calm and at ease.
  • Tense Muscles: Stiff, tense muscles can indicate that the dog is alert and possibly preparing to react, which could mean fear or aggression.
  • Cowering: Lowering the body close to the ground is a sign of fear or submission, often accompanied by a tucked tail and flattened ears.
  • Play Bow: The play bow, where the front legs are extended forward and the rear end is up, is a clear invitation to play. This posture is a friendly gesture showing the dog is in a playful and non-threatening mood.


  • Barking: Dogs bark for several reasons, including alerting, expressing excitement, or demanding attention. The tone and context can help decipher the specific meaning.
  • Growling: Growling is a warning signal. It indicates that the dog is feeling threatened or aggressive and is telling others to stay away.
  • Whining: Whining can show a need for attention, anxiety, or discomfort. It’s a high-pitched sound that often signals distress or a desire for interaction.

Raised Hackles

  • Raised Hackles: When the fur along a dog’s back and neck stands up, it’s called piloerection. This can be a sign of arousal due to excitement, fear, aggression, or nervousness.


Understanding dog body language is essential for forming a strong, respectful bond with your pet. Recognizing common signals helps you interpret your dog’s emotions and respond appropriately, preventing misunderstandings and ensuring your dog feels safe and understood.

By learning your dog’s body language, you can increase your bond and create a more harmonious relationship. Every dog is unique, and their body language can differ. Learning and identifying your dog’s specific signals will enable you to meet their needs more effectively, ensuring their well-being and happiness

If you need any professional dog training advice in the Bournemouth area, please get in touch.

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