Dogs Trust

Reading Your Dog's Body Language

As humans, we use spoken language to tell each other how we’re feeling. However, our canine companions communicate with us in a very different way and use their body language to convey their emotions to both us and other dogs!

Understanding how your dog communicates with you means you’ll be able to recognise when they’re feeling confident and happy, as well as times when they might be feeling worried or frightened.

What’s my dog thinking?

New and old dog owners alike and even the occasional pup-cuddler have all, at one point or another, wondered what their dog is thinking.

Not being able to ask them “what’s wrong?” can be difficult and leave you feeling frustrated. But don’t worry, we’re here to point out the common body-language behaviours to help you understand what your dog might be trying to tell you.

Your pooch’s body language can tell you a lot about their emotions and how they’re feeling. So, sit back, grab a cuppa, and let us tell you how to read your dog's mind (crystal ball not required).

Signs your dog is happy, relaxed and confident

  • Relaxed face, the skin on their face will be loose without any tension
  • Their mouth is likely to be open and their tongue might loll out casually
  • Eyes are rounded with no white showing
  • Ears are in a neutral position
  • Tails are hanging loosely, neither tucked in or held very straight upright

Signs of anxiety or fear to watch out for

  • Yawning, leaning away
  • Leaning away whilst lip-licking  
  • Ears back, lip-licking
  • Lowered body posture, tail tucked
  • Leaning back with tail tucked, ears back
  • Approaching with low, wagging tail and ears back 
  • Pausing with ears back, tail lowered, paw lifted
  • Teeth exposed in ‘smile’ shape, ears back, eyes squinted/ shut tightly

Signs that you should immediately give your dog space  

  • Crouched and growling with ears back and tail under
  • Tense, leaning forward, tail outwards/up, staring, snarling, growling
  • Rolling onto side or back, tail tucked, ears back, tense, one or both back legs raised

It’s important to remember…

Not all dogs will show these signs or in the combinations described, and others may show some of these signs in other emotional states. You should consider the whole body, context and individual dog when reading your dog’s body language and deciding how you should react.

We know you love your dogs as much as we do. They provide invaluable emotional support and comfort, which has never been so important. So, don’t we owe it to our pooches to do the same in return?

Being able to recognise when your dog might be feeling worried or stressed will help you respond appropriately, and keep you, your dog, and others safe.

More advice

Body language is just one of the things to be aware of when trying to understand your dog. Check out our other advice pages for more tips and tricks.

Or if you’d prefer tailored expert advice and practical training, you can book a course with Dog School. We'll help you and your dog understand each other better with our affordable coach-led classes.