A dog is lying on the floor and looking at the ceiling.

What’s on Your Dog’s Mind? Guide on Canine Body Language

7 min read

We’ve all dreamed, at least once, of being able to talk to and understand what our animal companions are saying to us. Dogs possess the ability to share their joys, desires, and fears with nothing but a tail wag. A big part of being a good, caring owner is making the effort to understand your dog’s emotions and act accordingly. It could save you an emergency trip to the vet too!

So, what is your pup trying to say? This guide on canine body language will answer all the questions you might have, so next time, you’ll be able to pick up on their complex and fascinating body language.


A dog is standing in the field.
The dog's tail can say a lot about the mood of the owner.

The tail tells tales! Your pup’s tail is generally the easiest body part to decipher when trying to understand how it is feeling. We’ve all grown up knowing the meaning of a dog’s excited tail wagging, but there might still be somebody language signs you might not know the meaning of yet or might have misunderstood throughout all your life! Here we break down the most common actions involving the tail, and what their meaning is.

  1. Wagging

There are many different types of tail wagging, the most easily recognizable being the extremely fast, left to right wagging. This action means your dog is excited and happy with its current environment. It might be the way your pup greets you when coming back home after a long day of work or the immediate response to petting and head-scratching.

  1. High tail

When your pup’s tail is extended, still, and pointing towards the sky, it signifies alertness. This means your dog is wanting to show dominance, and it is feeling highly aware of its surroundings and situation. This action is usually the first sign that shows something is about to happen – it could be your dog’s first reaction to smelling another animal in its vicinity or its reaction to hearing the unfamiliar steps of someone new walking through the door.

If your companion’s tail is held up high but slightly wagging, this signifies cautious excitement. It still hasn’t let its guard down due to an unfamiliar situation, but it’s not concerned and exciting for the prospect of fun instead!

  1. Tucking

This is a very well-known sign of distress you are probably quite good at recognizing already. If your dog’s tail is tucked tight between its legs, or even just firmly held down towards the ground, it means that your pup is concerned about something. This could be a new encounter with a person or animal, a visit to the vet, or a ride on the subway. Tail-tucking is also a sign of submissiveness, so if your pup starts behaving this way in front of a more dominant dog you’ve just met in the park, it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is scared of its new friend.

  1. Short strokes

If your pup’s tail is performing short strokes from left to right, your companion might be feeling anxious about something. This sign is not as widely known as tail-tucking, so it might be ignored and confused for excited, happy wagging. Big mistake!

An anxious, preoccupied dog might be an unpredictable one, so make sure to identify where the preoccupation is coming from and try to reassure your pup with physical affection or treats or remove it from the situation if necessary.

  1. Slow and broad strokes

Your dog’s tail doesn’t maintain the same pace when wagging. If you observe carefully, you will see its tail slowing down or performing broader strokes within a set period of time. Slower wagging strokes mean that your dog’s excitement is dying down, while on the other hand, broader strokes mean that your dog is becoming happier with the situation. 

  1. Wagging right

If your dog’s tail is only wagging to the right, it is a great sign of contentment. This means your pup is having a good time with its encounter or interaction with another animal or human.

  1. Wagging left

On the contrary, a tail wagging only to the left signifies your dog is not enjoying its encounter, and it is concerned about the situation. If this happens in the presence of another dog or human, it might be best to remove your companion from that environment so it can relax again.

  1. Still and out

This is your dog’s neutral position. A tail that is still, rigid, and pointed outwards is the sign of a dog that is exploring and not feeling any particular emotions of happiness or discomfort.


A dog is staring at something.
A dog can express feelings and thoughts with the help of the eyes.

Your dog’s eyes will also tell you a number of important things. These signs are not as easy as ail movements to spot, but if you pay close attention to your pup’s colorful expressions, you will learn how to react to their emotions in no time!

  1. Wide open

Eyes wide open are a sign of a happy dog who’s excited to start your playtime. This is often accompanied by tail wagging, and it can be displayed in front of another dog as well as a human.

  1. Blinking

Blinking is another sign of excitement and happiness, and it can be compared to excited wagging in terms of assessing how content your dog is feeling. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  1. Staring

Staring, however, is the opposite of blinking. When a dog’s stare is unwavering and its eye contact is constant, it means that it’s challenging you or another animal, and it could be a cause for concern.

  1. Looking away

On the other hand, looking away is a sign of politeness and submissiveness. Your pup is trying to avoid confrontation, and you might see this often displayed when interacting with other dogs.

  1. Narrowing

If your dog is narrowing its eyes, it might be another sign of confrontation and clear aggressiveness, especially if followed by staring. You should approach your dog cautiously, avoiding eye contact and not making any sudden movement.

Mouth and ears

A dog is standing with one ear open.
You can see the dog's emotions on its face.

What about your dog’s overall facial expressions and posture? What are they trying to convey? Here are some of the most common indicators of mood you should keep an eye out for:

  1. Wide open mouth, upturned

Surprisingly, your dog is able to smile too, in its own special canine way. A curled or slightly upturned lip is a great sign of contentment – some breeds, such as the Golden Retriever, are able to display the most human smiles.

  1. Mouth stretched back

If your pup is stretching is mouth back, without baring its teeth, it means that it’s experiencing discomfort or pain.

  1. Baring teeth

Despite what you might think, this is not a clear sign of aggression. If your dog is baring its front teeth, without growling or changing its posture, it is just displaying non-aggressive dominance. This is a common behavior you might notice around the house, your dog’s territory. 

  1. Licking 

We all know, and sometimes dread, our pup’s playful licks. Licking is how dogs greet each other as well as humans, with slower licks signifying a closer bond. If you notice your dog licking its own lips instead, this is a sign of submissiveness, as well as an attempt to attract mates with its hormones.

      5.    Ears back

A dog that is keeping its ears flat and back is not a happy dog. Its tail movement, expression and posture will give away exactly how it is feeling. If its tail is also down and slightly wagging, this is a sign of anxiety and fear; if it is fully tucked between its legs, this is a sign of aggression instead.

      6.     Ears up

Your dog’s neutral and natural state will have it keep its ears up. This is a sign of a happy, content dog when paired with excited wagging or a relaxed tail. A playful dog will have its tail still and up instead, while lowering its upper half towards the ground.

      7.    Ears forward

If you catch your dog with its ears pointed forward, it is usually sign of trouble. Still, if accompanied by a horizontal, still tail, it might just be a sign that your dog is alert and exploring. Its ears may also occasionally twitch to catch every interesting sound. If you notice your dog pointing its ears forward while raising its tail, however, this is an indicator of active aggression that should not be ignored.

So, are you ready to nurture a deeper bond between you and your canine companion? These are the guidelines you need for a more understanding relationship that will leave the both of you happier than ever. 

by GetESA

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