Dog Communication: What Does A Dog’s Body Language Mean?

Written by: Lisa Bernier

March 5, 2019

For us humans, it can sometimes be difficult to tell exactly WHAT you pup is saying. However, your dog communicates better than you think–you just need to watch them. A dog’s body language can speak volumes about what they’re thinking, feeling and trying to say.

However, never fear, because these easy-to-read and adorable charts by illustrator and artist Lili Chin help translate pupspeak! (With extra input from dog trainer Shelby Semel!) So now, that side-eye they throw you? You’ll know EXACTLY what they mean (and yes, it’s sassy). 🙂

Your Dog’s Body Language: What It Means

Since they don’t wear a mood ring, here are some common signs that you can look for to interpret if they’re feeling happy, sad, anxious, or excited.


Relaxed and Friendly

A totally relaxed, “loose” stance is what we want here, with the dog’s weight balanced flat on all fours. A head held high is a sign that the pup is pretty unconcerned about what’s going on around him, and he’s generally okay with being approached.

relaxed new

Don’t forget those ears, tails, and mouth, either! They are the furry roadmaps into your dog’s mind. For a content dog, his ears should be up (unless they’re floppy, of course), but not forward. His tail should be hanging loose, or if it’s wagging, wide and “swishy.” He should also have a “long” mouth, meaning the dog is panting and you can see most of his back teeth, as opposed to a short mouth, which is closed with no teeth visible.

Curious and Alert

This dog might smell hot dogs grilling in the neighbor’s yard, or hear a dog barking three blocks away, but he’s certainly paying attention to his surroundings to decide if danger lurks. His body might be a bit stiffer with tensing muscles, and his weight will be pushed forward to the front paws.


The tail may move slightly side-to-side, held parallel to the body and not puffed up or bristled, and the ears will be forward and can rotate or twitch as they angle to catch the sound. A closed mouth is characteristic here.


While too many types of aggression exist to talk about here, there are two “umbrella” terms used by behaviorists: offensive aggression and defensive aggression.

Offensive aggression is characterized by a tall, stiff posture, raised hackles, and a tail raised high. The ears will be pricked forward and may angle away from each other in a “V,” and the mouth and nose will likely be wrinkled, with curled lips and bared teeth. Together, this behavior attempts to make a dog appear larger and more intimidating.

dom agg

On the flip-side, defensive aggression usually occurs as the result of a perceived threat, when a dog feels protective or fearful. He can express this behavior by keeping low to the ground with his tail down, flattening his ears, and avoiding eye contact.

fear agg

Stressed Out

Social and environmental stress can be apparent in a number of ways. The dog will be low with flat ears and a tail pointing down, and you may notice some rapid panting or lip licking. You may also see yawning, moving in slow motion, or pacing as a sign of discomfort.



You’ve likely seen similar body language at the dog park between two dogs. The less confident pup will try to say “You don’t need to worry, I’m not a threat,” by lowering himself to the ground, flattening his ears, and raising a paw in the air as if to shake hands. His tail may give little wags when it’s lowered, and he may try to lick the more confident dog or the air.


He may also roll over onto his back to expose his tummy, tucking his tail, squinting his eyes, and flattening his ears.



The play bow is the trademark of a happy pup—butt in the air, and head near the floor. This carefree pup is inviting others to play, and has a raised and wagging tail, ears up, and an open, panting mouth.

play bow

If you have concerns with your dog’s behavior and you live in the NYC area, check out dog trainer Shelby Semel! If you live outside of NYC, check out this article with tips for finding a dog trainer.

For more, check out these articles!

Genius Handler Uses Sign Language To Train His Deaf Pup To Be A Service Dog

What Does A Dog’s Tail Wagging Mean?

What Are Games I Can Play With My Dog?

Is Your Dog In Pain And Trying To Hide It?

How Do I Socialize My Dog With Other Dogs And Humans?

Written by: Lisa Bernier

March 5, 2019

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