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What does my Dogs Body Language Mean?

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What does my Dogs Body Language Mean?

What is my dog trying to tell me? That is a question that most of us would like to answer. Just like humans, dogs and other animals have a certain set of signals (a dog language) that they use the let others know how they feel what are their intentions. This “dog language” includes both sounds and body language (their postures and facial expressions, in fact, the majority of the information that they give you is in the body language and not in the sounds.

Understanding what your dog is saying can give you a lot of useful information, such as when your dog is scared, anxious, nervous, relaxed or happy. This information is essential to housetrain your dog and it will allow the both of you to live happier lives.

Have you ever seen how police dogs at the airport give an alert when they find something suspicious? They usually sit besides the suspicious bag and then the policeman give him/her a reward. These dogs are using their body language, and sometimes their vocal language too, in order to convey certain information. If we understand dog’s language we can communicate with them and live better, more peaceful lives. And you can be assured that your dog is not going crazy when he/her is muttering to himself all the time.

Dogs are cognitive and complex. They have a complex signaling system or language that they use to convey and obtain information under certain circumstances. Dogs ask questions. It is known that dogs use different types of barks in different contexts, so it is possible that their language has rules (like our grammar rules), which provides more information than we know. We need to understand and know those rules or patterns in order to accurately evaluate of classify dogs’ behaviors.


1. Appeasement and Displacement Signals In Dogs
2. Stress and Discomfort Signals In Dogs
3. Defensive and Offensive Signals In Dogs
4. Relaxed Body Language In Dogs

Appeasement and Displacement Signals In Dogs

Although much appeasement consists of active body signals, passive submission such as cowering and body freezing seems to be done in response to escalating fear in the presence of a perceived threat. Some dogs, especially those more sociable, will tolerate the language of appeasement and reciprocate with appropriate signals. But, other dogs, especially those who are not very sociable, may want to take advantage of the situation and may be aggressive to the other dog. Dogs also use displacement signals to avoid confrontation. Yawning, sniffing, scratching, sneezing, and licking are all active behaviors that keep the dog calm and provide a distraction to distract the attention of others away from him.

Stress and Discomfort Signals In Dogs

Dogs use certain behaviors to either appease a perceived threat or to relief anxiety or nervousness. Like humans, dogs yawn when they are tired, but this is also a signal of stress or anxiousness in dogs; they are more likely to yawn when they are nervous. Other stress signal in dogs is lip licking. Yes, dogs lick their lips when they are hungry or when they want you to share a piece of your burger, but they also do it when they are stressed or perceiving a threat.

Curiosity Signals In Dogs

Dogs are naturally curious animals and the more confident they are, the more they can deal with novelty and change.

Some anticipatory or curiosity signals are:

  • Head tilted to one side or the other
  • Mouth closed: sizing up the situation in preparation for action
  • Front paw lifted: anticipating what will happen and what the dog should do next

Defensive and Offensive Signals In Dogs

When a dog has to defend him/herself from an actual or perceived threat he/she will demonstrate defensive or offensive language in order to keep herself safe. This language consists of certain signals that aim to keep the threat away. If the threat does not back away and the dog has nowhere to go, defensive behavior will turn offensive and the dog will bite. Offensive and defensive behaviors are usually easy to recognize by both other dogs and humans.

Relaxed Body Language In Dogs

There is nothing better than a happy dog. A relaxed dog will have a distended and relaxed body with the mouth slightly open and tongue hanging to the side. The dog will show signals of happiness, confidence and he/she will be easily approachable.


About the author

Dr. Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz
Dr. Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz practices mixed animal veterinary medicine and she has a special interest in shelter medicine and animal welfare. Stephanie enjoys volunteering at local animal shelters, reading, writing and traveling.

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