Like all animals, dogs have a language all their own. Dogs use some easily recognizable sounds and signals to let other animals and people know how they’re feeling, but much of their communication is through body positioning.

Learning how to interpret the subtleties of dog body language can help you to understand your dog’s needs and wants, protect both of you from potentially dangerous situations, and deepen the bond you share.

Dog Body Language

Close observation of your dog and other dogs you come across is the key to successfully interpreting dog body language. Because there are no hard and fast rule when it comes to dog communication, take into account everything the dog is doing. Watch the tail, facial expressions, position of the ears, and overall postures during each situation to help give you an idea of what the dog is thinking and feeling.

Relaxed and Confident

A happy, relaxed, or playful dog is fairly easy to recognize, but always take the whole dog into consideration. Some things to look for in a friendly, relaxed dog include:

  • Head held high
  • Ears up
  • Mouth slightly open and relaxed, tongue showing
  • Loosely wagging tail

Even if an unknown dog looks friendly, always ask permission from the owner before approaching, and make sure kids are taught to do the same.

Signs of Stress

The signs of stress in dogs can be subtle, but understanding them is the key to a great relationship with dogs. Signs of stress in dogs include:

  • Repeated yawning or lip licking
  • Looking away when approached
  • Holding out a paw when approached
  • Scratching when not itchy
  • Whining
  • Hiding 
  • Tail tucked between the legs

It can be tempting to try and comfort a stressed out dog, but if they are hiding or trying to avoid contact, they may just want to be left alone. If your dog is pressing close to you, following you around, or trying to elicit attention with negative behaviors they may be indicating they want to spend time with you.


Fear can quickly turn to aggression in dogs. Move away carefully from any dog showing the following signs:

  • Ears pinned back
  • Body lunging forward with all four feet planted on the ground
  • Corners of mouth pulled back, teeth showing
  • Nose wrinkled
  • Tail tucked between the legs, held straight back, or wagging stiffly

We love talking about dog body language! For more information about your canine companion, give your team at Old Derby Animal Hospital a ring. We’re here for you!