A dog looking upwards with a big smile

In human communication, it’s often what is unsaid between us that impacts us the most. Indeed, “reading between the lines” is a phrase applied to sentiments or directions that are not explicitly stated – rather, the meaning is hidden or implied, just waiting for us to discover it.

The same is true for dog body language. It’s there right in front of us, but it can be incredibly subtle or confusing. With a combination of curiosity and keen observation, we can decode what our best friends are trying to say.

Don’t Want to Miss It

It happens to the best of us. The signals sent out by our animal friends land nowhere. However, knowing that the lionshare of their language comes in the form of body movements, we can adjust the way we pick up on those important signals.

Take It Into Account

Even expert animal behaviorists make educated guesses about what dogs are trying to say with their body language. There are some universal standards of postures and environmental context that can help us understand their emotional states.

The Ears

Human ears are nowhere as expressive canine ears. Without a doubt, a dog’s ears can convey so much emotion and alert attention, such as:

  • Uncertainty
  • Wonder or curiosity
  • Worry or fear
  • Appeasement (meant to show friendliness or non confrontational behavior)

The Eyes

To know more about dog body language, looking at their eyes is a must. Avoiding eye contact with you is a sign that they want to disengage or distance themselves. They may look away but continually check in, giving an appearance called “whale eye” because the whites show in the corner.

Eyes that are staring indicate an intensity and focus, which is sometimes a precursor to aggression. Always be on the lookout for dilated pupils, squinting, and increased blinking as these could be signs that your dog needs medical help.

The Belly

Dogs that roll over and show their bellies may appear very cute and lovable, but it could be a sign that they’re simply trying to appear non-threatening. You might try to scratch a belly only to be nipped at or snarled toward. Take into account the rest of their dog body language to know if a belly scratch is what they really want.

Dog Body Language

Like humans, dogs keep their lips and mouth muscles either relaxed or fully tensed. Tight wrinkles at the corners of the mouth can mean fear or stress, while panting without exertion can mean stress or perceived conflict.

Displacement behaviors concerning the mouth can include yawning, lip licking, and sneezing, help us understand that they aren’t feeling totally relaxed.

Don’t Forget the Tail!

A wagging tail can mean that a dog feels happy, but it also indicates alertness or arousal. Pay close attention to the tail’s position (if low, stressed; if higher up, confidence), and wagging speed (if whipping around, dogs may be anticipating some kind of action). A tail that is tucked communicates high anxiety or fear.

Preserving the Human-Animal Bond

Aggression in dogs rarely comes out of the blue. Instead, dog body language conveys their true feelings. Always look out for bared teeth, snarling, lunging, snapping, and rigid posture.

As always, if you need additional help decoding dog body language, our staff at Brodie Animal Hospital is always here for you.