Best Way to Read a Dog’s Body Language

If you want to know what a dog is feeling, almost what he’s thinking, his body language will tell you. It can be as clear a mes­sage as those delivered by cartoon dogs.

A tucked tail, a play bow, a submissive show of chest and belly, legs apart in an aggressive stance – these tell a reliable story. Body language reveals the individual, each gesture a tale of irrevocable truth.

Dog’s Body Language Best Way to Read a Dog’s Body Language

Body Language


In order to protect himself from real or imagined dangers, the fearful dog holds everything tight to his body. His ears may be down or back, close to his head. His tail may be tucked. He may crouch, rounding his back and holding his head low. He may tremble.


The dominant dog will show his dominance toward you by staring, mounting (even when it’s spring, if your dog mounts your leg, trust me, it isn’t love), disobedience, shoving, always trying to get ahead of you, usurping your favorite spot, ignoring you, demanding atten­tion. The dominant dog may display dominance toward other dogs by teeing up. That is, he will rest his chin or his paws on the other dog’s shoulders, which delivers the clear message that he is top dog. He may also try to mount the other dog. He may raise his hackles, show his teeth, growl or even attack.


The submissive dog uses ritualis­tic postures that all dogs, domesticated and wild, and even wolves, understand. The postures say, “Hey, I’m no threat; don’t attack me.” The submissive dog may crouch, paw the air, grin (wrinkle the muzzle and show the teeth in a sort of embarrassed smile), roll over and even urinate. Most puppies will act submissive around older dogs, especially those they do not know. Some females retain submissive behavior patterns through­out their lives.


The friendly dog will look relaxed and loose, wagging his tail, wiggling his body, panting or offering his paw. He may play bow, to you or to another dog, dropping his chest to the ground and leaving his rump and wagging tail in the air. He may pounce in order to begin a game. His eyes look friendly, relaxed, calm and round. They are not pinched with fear nor hard and still. His hack­les are down. His ears may be slightly back or up and alert. He exudes all those qualities that draw us to his species.

Because your dog is without a complex verbal language, he is already an expert at nonverbal messages. He will let you know what he is feeling by using the postures illustrated above. Not surpris­ingly, he will also know what you are feeling. Using his under­standing of body language as well as his uncanny ability to feel the emotions of those around him, he will know when you are sad, mad or glad.

Dog’s Body Language 1 Best Way to Read a Dog’s Body Language

That makes it important, when working with your dog, to keep your actions and feelings in concert and appropriate to the task at hand. Do not correct your dog and smile at the same time, as some people (those somewhat uncomfortable with being in charge) tend to do. If you are not in charge of your dog, who will be? By the same token, don’t tell your dog he’s perfect when your face is registering anger from another cause. If you are very upset, don’t work with your dog until you feel better. He’ll know what you are feeling and be confused by your mixed messages.

Reading a dog’s feelings and helping him to understand you by sending your own messages simply and clearly to him will save you lots of training time. You won’t mistake momentary fear for a stub­born unwillingness to obey. And when your praise comes with not only a pat but a smile as well, your dog will knock himself out to earn it again and again. With improved communication, training will proceed as quickly as your dog’s age, intelligence and character will allow.

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