Canine Body Language

If you need more information on body language and understanding your pet, check out our resources below.

Dogs communicate using body postures, facial expressions, and vocalizations. These cues are often misunderstood by humans. Decoding a dog’s body language can not only help you or others avoid being bitten; it can help you understand your dog and therefore reduce his anxiety, facilitate training, and strengthen the family’s bond with the dog.

This is a useful chart from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. If you’re not sure what your or someone else’s dog is trying to say, refer to this chart. Learn to listen with your eyes!

Body Part

Position

What It Can Mean

Eyes Unwavering Challenge, Threat
Eyes Fixed Stare Confident
Eyes Casual Gaze Calm
Eyes Averted Gaze Deferenced
Eyes Pupils Dilated Fear
Eyes Wide-Eyed (whites of eyes are visible) Fear
Eyes Quick, Darting Eyes Fear
Ears Relaxed, Neutral Position

Calm

Ears Forward, Pricked

Alert, Attentive, or Aggressive

Ears Ears Pinned Back

Fear, Defensive

Mouth Panting

Hot, Anxious, or Excited

Mouth

Lip Licking, Tongue Flicking

Anxious

Mouth Yawn

Tired or Anxious

Mouth

Snarl (lip curled, showing teeth)

Aggressive
Mouth

Growl

Aggressive or Playful

Mouth Bark

Excited, Playful, Aggressive, or Anxious

Tail

Up, Still

Alert

Tail

Up With Fast Wag

Excited

Tail

Neutral, Relaxed Position

Calm

Tail

Down, Tucked

Fear, Anxious, or Submissive

Tail

Stiff-Wagging or Still and High

Agitated, Excited, Perhaps Unfriendly

Body

Soft, Relaxed

Calm

Body

Tense, Stiff, or Hackles Up

Alert or Aggressive

Body

Rolling Over

Submissive