Dog Body Language: What’s Your Pup Trying to Tell You?

Lovely scene of friendship between handsome boy kid and bull dog doggy posing together in summer central park on green fresh grass wearing stylish clothes.

Key Points

  • Dog body language teaches you how to communicate with your pup on a deeper level.

  • There are many forms of dog body language, and they're specific to each dog.

  • Some forms of body language appear aggressive but are playful, and vice versa.

Does your pup's body language change with their mood or environment? Dog body language helps you understand what's happening inside your furry friend's head. It isn't easy to decipher your dog's feelings, but certain behaviors and movements are clues.

Dog body language is easy to learn and a great way to get to know your pet on a deeper level. Whether you're a new dog owner or have had your pup for many years, there's much to learn about their behavior.


Your dog's bark is a powerful indicator of how they feel. You're most familiar with their barks, and it's easy to decipher which bark indicates aggression and which is playful.

Dog on bed barking


Most dogs can't help but let out a protective yell at the sound of the doorbell or a knock at the door. Protective barks are loud, robust, aggressive, and long. Your dog momentarily loses control of their conditioning and goes full force to protect the home.

Pay attention to barks that seem out of nowhere and are difficult for your pup to stop. This is a sign that your dog is in fight or flight mode; try to calm them down to the best of your ability. If you hear these barks directed toward house guests or other animals, keep your pet secured and away from them until they calm down.


Not all barks are aggressive. Think about how your dog vocalizes when they play. Playful barks are short, snippy, and sometimes loud, but the rest of your dog's body language is more relaxed. Your dog still listens to your commands, and the barks don't last long.

If your dog tries to get your attention through barking, these barks are short and wispy, just enough to get your attention to hand them their favorite ball that never fails to get stuck underneath the sofa.


Growling is different from protective barking. Your dog growls when they feel threatened, surpassing their normal instinct to protect. Growling warns another animal or person that they're a threat. Know that if the threat continues, your dog will defend itself physically.

Growling also occurs as an act of aggression or territorial protection.

Say you adopt a new pup who growls anytime you walk past their food dish. They aren't aware that you'd rather eat anything else in the world than take a nibble of their kibble. Even so, they may view you as a threat to their food and growl to warn you that if you don't back away from the goods, your toes meet their match.


Do you ever accidentally step on your dog's paws? If so, you're all too familiar with yelping. Your dog yelps as a sign of distress, fear, or pain. You hear yelps anytime your dog roughhouses too far with your other pets or while you vacuum in the same room as them.

Yelps are a serious vocalization and are a sign that something is wrong.


Not all dog bites are bad; some are soft and gentle, while others are tough and painful. Monitor your dog's biting habits regardless of the severity and correct the problem as soon as possible.


Your dog gives nibbles as a form of playfulness. Nibbles are typical in puppies, although they may not be painless with their sharp teeth. Older dogs still nibble periodically, but it's not painful and a sign that they're hyper or ready to play. If you don't teach your dog that biting is unacceptable early on, they may continue to bite more intensely as they age.

Puppy nibbling jacket outdoors

The good news is that most dogs grow out of their biting phase without guidance — at least in terms of biting people. Your other pets are still fair game during playfights.

Aggressive Biting

Your dog uses aggressive bites as a form of protection or dominance. Do you have other dogs in the home? Pay attention to how hard your pup interacts with other animals. A dog that painfully bites other pets may have a behavior defect that needs correction, or they might feel the need to assert their dominance too strongly.

You can't entirely stop dogs from interacting in animalistic ways, but teaching them to be nicer to their fellow housemates is possible. If your dog bites people in a non-playful way, you need to teach them the behavior is unacceptable. They may have an aggressive personality or are reactive dogs, and aggressive behaviors require intensive training and discipline to deter them from biting others in the future.


Your dog's ears have a personality of their own. Sometimes your dog raises them both upward, and other times they tuck them down.

Raised Ears

Your dog raises both ears to hear or understand a sound better. For example, your dog may raise both ears to attention if they hear a sound they aren't familiar with or a high-pitched noise.

Speak in a different tone than you usually do around your pet. As you use the tone, your dog uses both ears to decipher the undertone of your words. Since dogs don't fully understand human language, they pick up on tones and frequency more easily.

One Ear Up

Many dogs like to keep one ear up and one down, and it's a sign that your dog wants to listen but they don't feel the need to give you their full attention. If a car drives by or your dog hears something interesting outside, they may raise one ear first to determine if the sound even needs their focus. If so, they raise both ears to get a better listen.


Does your dog lower their head after they get into the trash? Maybe they tilt their head to the side when you talk to them. The head offers many clues as to what your dog is feeling.

Lowering Head

Your dog lowers their head to show they're submissive or afraid. Anytime your dog needs to submit, they lower the defense mechanisms to show the other person or animal that they mean no harm.

Head Tilt

Head tilts are an expected behavior, and your dog tilts their head due to confusion. Yes, the troubled look on their face as they shift their head to one side reflects what they feel inside.

Dog listening with head tilted

The head tilt is more than a knee-jerk reaction; it's a way for your dog to hear better. They tilt their head to one side and position their ear toward the source of the sound. The tilt allows them to understand the sound better and hopefully decipher its meaning.


Your dog uses their tail as a form of expression. If you pay close attention, you see that depending on your pup's mood, their tail wags at different speeds or may not wag at all.

Upright Wagging

Your dog shows excitement by wagging their tail quickly and upright. You see the tail movement while playing with your pup or when you come home from work for the day. Friendly tail movements mean your dog is happy or welcomes you to approach them.

Of course, pay attention to other body language too. While dogs are predictable, just like people, you may be unable to tell what they genuinely feel based on one behavior alone.

Downward Wagging

Consider a downward tail wag as a cautious excitement. Your dog lowers their tail because they're unsure of the situation. Sure, something in their environment excites them, but for some reason, they're hesitant to embrace the moment fully.

Downward tail wags are slower and less expansive than happy wags; take them with a grain of salt. Since the tail still moves, it's a sign that the dog isn't in full-attack mode.

Stuck Between Legs

Your dog's tail tucked between its legs may be a pretty sight, but it's a sign that something is wrong. They feel threatened, anxious, or submissive.

A lowered tail is typical behavior of dogs meeting other people or animals for the first time. Not all dogs react to a new company this way, but more submissive or anxious dogs do.

Fluffed Up

You may notice your dog's tail fluffs if they have long fur. An abnormally fluffy tail occurs because of agitation or defensiveness; this is an expected behavior for dogs meeting people for the first time.

The hair on their tail fluffs up, potentially the hair on their back. Don't ignore this body language as it suggests your dog may react aggressively as they need to protect themselves.


Your dog's eyes are the window to their soul and what's on their mind. Pay close attention to how their eyes change alongside other body language to give you an idea of what's happening inside their little heads.

Dog lying on carpet covering eyes with paws

Long Gaze

To understand its substance, dogs lock their vision onto a person, place, or object. If your dog hears a noise from the window, they may decide to investigate. You see them stare out the window with an intense gaze, and not even calling their name or offering a treat seems to shake them out of it. The long gaze stems from a few reasons.

First, your pet sees a potential threat and keeps their gaze locked to stay alert. Growling and a still tail are two traits that often accompany this behavior. Another reason your dog locks their gaze is because they're simply curious. Maybe they haven't seen a specific car or animal before, and they're unsure what it is and want to take in as much information as possible.

Dilated Pupils

Dogs' pupils dilate due to excitement. Now, excitement isn't always a good thing. They experience stimulation due to an external cause and heighten all their other behaviors.

Your dog's mental state depends on their environment and who or what is present. You can determine their mood based on other aspects of their body language. Are they relaxed? Are they moving about rambunctiously? Are they barking loudly?


No, dogs don't cry when they're sad. No matter how hard you want to believe it's true, it's not. So, don't worry if your dog comes to you with watery eyes; you didn't do anything to hurt their feelings, and watery eyes indicate something is wrong with your dog's eyes.

Allergies, irritation, and foreign obstructions are the most common causes. Take a close look into your pup's eyes and shine a light to get a better look. If you don't see anything, wait 15-30 minutes to see if their eyes recover. Excessively watery eyes might require your veterinarian's expertise.


Ever wonder why your dog bows in front of you when you walk into the same room as them? Sure, your dogs need to stretch just as much as you do, but bowing is more than just a way for your dog to relax. A bow is a form of invitation.

Bowing to Other Dogs

Your dog bows toward other dogs to initiate playtime. Dogs operate on their own form of communication, and bowing means your dog is letting their guard down and showing the other dog it can approach and interact with them.

Bowing to People

Your dog bows to you similarly to how they bow to other dogs. The bow may indicate they're ready to play or simply to greet you. No matter the reason, your dog's bows are a welcoming invite to give them scratches, pets, and a little playtime.


Panting involves your dog breathing heavily from their mouth. There are a few critical reasons for such behavior, like temperature regulation and anxiety.

Temperature Regulation

Did you know that dogs sweat? There's a popular misconception that dogs only pant because their bodies don't contain sweat glands. This is false; they sweat, but not enough to regulate their temperature fully.

Panting allows your pup to cool down as they need. The rapid increase of cool air washes over their insides and cools them down to a certain degree. Panting isn't enough to cool your dog down in scorching temperatures. Give your dog water and bring them into a cold environment if they pant excessively in warm conditions.


Do you get short of breath as a result of anxiety or stress? The same is true for some dogs. Anxious dogs are uncomfortable and can't breathe regularly, causing them to pant excessively. If your dog is in a cool environment and hydrated, offer them comfort and relief — gentle patting or stroking — until the panting subsides.

Health Issues

Internal health issues may cause your dog to breathe irregularly. Irregular breathing manifests as panting or coughing, which your veterinarian should address immediately. Other signs your dog doesn't feel well are hiding, refusing to eat, and nausea.


Does your dog run off and hide periodically throughout the day? Do they refrain from coming out when you call them? Hiding isn't just a sign of fear; it's also a sign of territorial behavior.

Puppy peeking out from behind a tree


Your dog doesn't like every person you bring into your home. They also don't like to hear fireworks, thunderstorms, or other loud noises they don't understand. Their hiding may be a sign that there is an external sound or stimuli that is too much.

Territorial Behavior

Does your dog run and hide while they eat their treats? Many dogs don't want anyone around them while they munch on their favorite snack. If you have other dogs, your dog likely views them as threatening their treats, food, or location in your home.

Dogs often pick spots around the house, such as under the table, on a bed, or near a corner, and claim it as their own.


Dogs are sensitive to their surroundings, and it's easy to overstimulate them. If they hide away after being around many people or other animals, it's a sign they need time to calm down. Give them their space; they'll come out when they're ready.


Sickness is a common reason dogs hide, especially for pups that don't come out of their hiding space for anything, not even a treat. Pay attention to how your dog acts throughout the next few days, if they eat, play, and respond to your verbal commands. If not, you may need to look closer at their health.


You may not always welcome your dog's excited jumps. Jumping is a behavior that stems from excitement, joy, and a need to assert dominance.


Your dog's excitement causes them to reconnect with their primal instincts. Your dog jumps to show you their excitement, get your attention, and as a form of play.

Dogs like to rough house, and their strong legs make jumping a natural expression. If you don't want your dog to jump on you, train them early to know that jumping isn't acceptable.


Some dogs jump on people and other animals as a form of dominance; this is often why they refuse to listen or cooperate after you reprimand them for jumping. It's natural for dogs to jump on each other's back to dominate the other. Your dog may jump on you or house guests until you train them out of it.


Just because your dog lifts their paw doesn't mean something is wrong. Your dog is probably just trying to relax or uses this behavior to get your attention.


Your dog lifts their paw as they approach you to get your attention, and they may even pat you with it if you ignore them. A paw lift is natural for most dogs and not a common reason for concern.

Physical Impairment

There are instances that a paw lift means your dog is hurting. Does your dog let you touch their paw or leg? If not, it's likely hurting them. Limping and hiding are also signs that your pup is in pain.


Dogs also lift a back leg as a form of relaxation or release. Your dog's leg may look strange initially, but it's easy for them to stretch out their bodies and relieve any excess tension.


How do you tell if your dog's smiles are happy or aggressive? Both are plausible, but if you pay close attention to other body language, you can determine their emotional state.

Pitbull puppy smiling


Your dog smiles when they're happy or excited. Their tag also wags upright and fast, and they move playfully around you as you interact with them. Their smiles signify affection as long as their demeanor is calm and casual.


Your dog bares their teeth as a warning sign. If they encounter a threat, they'll bare their teeth and show the threat that they're dangerous. A crouched stance, a fluffed, slow-moving tail, and a locked gaze are also signs of aggression.

What's Your Dog Trying to Tell You?

Your dog is a unique being that has their own way of communicating. Lili Chin, the author of Doggie Language, explains that dogs have unique traits:

"They are individuals. They are intelligent, sentient beings, and no two dogs are the same. No two dogs of the same breed are the same! I feel like in the general media, like in TV shows and in mainstream articles, there's a lot of very simplistic advice given about dogs."

The body language in this article is a blueprint for expected canine behavior. Just because your dog exhibits some destructive behaviors doesn't necessarily mean they're aggressive or ill. Pay attention to their behavior patterns and assess yourself.

Some dogs may smile aggressively when excited, while others have a deep bark that comes off as protective. Consider the environment and the rest of their body language to decide the message your dog is trying to communicate.

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