Dog lovers are a unique breed (pun intended). More days than not, we’re quite secure in our conviction that our furry friends can communicate with us in a very authentic way — if I’m really being honest, my dog Jaws gets me better than most humans do.
However, the reality is that no matter how much we’d love to have a direct line of communication to our dogs, they have their own language. And because of this language barrier, there are times the signals they try to send us slip underneath our radar.
Curious about these body language cues? Become better versed with this easy, animated breakdown.
If your dog is chillaxin’ to the max, his head may be held high with ears positioned up — but not forward. Tail? Down, but not between the legs. If he’s happy, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the classic tail wag. His mouth will likely be open slightly with his tongue at hanging out.
Whoa! All of a sudden, your dog’s ears go up and forward. They may even flit in different directions like sonar devices tracking sound. The tail will be held outright, but not bristled as it might be if the dog was indicating aggression (more on that in a minute). The pup’s eyes will be wide and alert while their mouth is closed. Basically, they’re trying at this point to determine whether or not whatever it is that has their attention is friend or foe.
This is where you’ll get some of the cutest doggie facial expressions: furrowed brow, head cocked to the side, eyes that are big and bright. Ears are up, mouth is probably open and — the telltale (get it?) sign — they may drop their front paws and throw their cute little doggy butt in the air behind them. What are you waiting for? This is your invitation to play, Mama!
You know how your entire body feels tense when you’re anxious? It’s pretty much the same deal for dogs. An anxious pup is easy to spot because his body will tense up. He will hold his ears partially back, tail low and tucked and he might even give a little shudder. Another big clue your pup is overcome with anxiety is if they give you what is called “whale eye” — when they turn their gaze in a way that shows the whites of their eyes.
If your dog rolls on their back and exposes their belly with their tail tucked between their legs, they are trying to express their submissiveness — they don’t want to appear threatening at all. In fact, they may actually feel threatened themselves. Other hints of submissive behavior include avoidance of eye contact, folding ears back and even urinating.
An anxious dog or a fearful dog can fast become an aggressive dog if they are in danger. Most of us have come across an aggressive dog at some point or another, so the basic cues are easy to spot — think teeth exposed and hackles raised. But if your dog’s ears are back and their weight seems positioned over their rear legs, they are likely showing defensive aggression. They don’t want to fight, but they feel the need to stand their ground. A dog that is outright aggressive will more likely have erect ears and be in a charging position.
If your dog never seems to lack confidence, you probably have a dominant pup on your hands. When he is trying to express this dominance, he’ll do things like make direct eye contact and “push,” “nudge,” or even mount with authority. Since a dominant dog can interpret dominant behavior from other dogs or humans as a threat, it’s important to watch for this sort of body language.