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Visual Guide to your Dog's Body Language

Over the centuries wolves evolved an elaborate system of body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations to communicate with each other. Domestic dogs also use this means of communication, and all of these signals are easily understood by other dogs. If you can learn to interpret how your dog is feeling by observing its posture and expression and listening to it, you'll be well on the way to successful communication with your pet and better equipped to solve any behavior problems that arise.

Dog Body Language At a Glance

  Ears Eyes Mouth Teeth Body Tail Actions
SUBMISSIVE


Down, flat against head Narrowed or wide open Lips pulled back in a "grin" Not showing Low to the ground, front paw raised, lying on back, possibly dribbling urine Down between hind legs Nuzzling or licking other animal or person on the face
               
PLAYFUL / HAPPY


Perked up or relaxed Wide open Relaxed and slightly open Not showing Relaxed Wagging vigorously Excited panting, jumping or circling around, possible "bow" to invite play
               
GUARDING
Perked up Wide open Slightly open Intentionally bared Tense, stiff, hackles up Straight out from body Snapping teeth, growling, snarling or barking loudly
               
FRIENDLY / RELAXED


Perked up Wide open Relaxed, possibly open and "smiling" May or may not show, not intentionally bared Normal posture, possible wiggling rear end Up and out from body, wagging quickly Whimpers, short high barks or other "Hello!, give me attention" type greetings
               
FLIGHT (GETTING READY)
Back Wide open, possibly rolled back with whites showing Slightly open Not showing Tense, shivering, low, poised to run Low or between the legs May be drooling
               
FEARFUL


Back and low on head Narrowed or rolled back in head exposing whites Drawn back Front teeth slightliy exposed Crouched low in submissive position, shivering, trembling Down between hind legs Averting eyes, worried yelp, whine or low growl
               
DOMINANT


Up, straight and forward Wide open Closed or slightly open Not showing Tall posture, hackles possible Stiff and up or straight out from body Staring, challenging
               
CURIOUS
Perked up Wide open Closed or partially open Not showing Normal, possibly timid Low and wagging slowly Staring, watching
               
EXCITED
Perked up, pointing forward Wide open Open, possibly panting Not showing Normal, possibly wiggling or pacing Up and wagging Short barking, whining
               
ANXIOUS
Back Slightly narrowed Closed or open slightly in a "grin" Not showing Tense, slightly lowered in a submissive position Partially lowered Low whine or moaning like bark
               
ALERT


Perked up Normal or wide Closed or slightly open Not showing Normal Up, possibly wagging slowly Quickly turning head to hear noises
               
AGGRESSIVE


Close to head, forward or back Narrow or rolled back, exposing whites Open, drawn back Intentionally bared in a snarl Tense, hackles up, standing tall (to look as big as possible) Straight out from body Challenging, menacing stare, snarling, growling, loud bark, possible jaw snapping
               
 
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