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Understanding Dog Body Language

A dog can tell a lot about another dog just by looking at him and noting what the different parts of his body are doing. Understanding dog body language will help you understand better what you dog is trying to tell you .

Your Dog's Eyes

  • Direct eye contact mans a dog is feeling bold and confident
  • Casual eye contact means he's contented
  • An averted gaze means deference
  • Dilated pupils indicate fear

Your Dog's Ears

  • Relaxed ears mean that a dog is calm and attentive
  • Ears that are up and forward mean a dog is challenging or being assertive
  • Erect ears show that a dog is alert and attentive
  • Ears that are laid back indicate that a dog is worried or scared

Body Movements

  • Pawing is an appeasing gesture
  • Licking another dog's face is an invitation to play or a sign of deference
  • Play-bowing (front legs extended, rump up, tail wagging) is an invitation to play and a asign of happiness
  • Draping the head over another dog's shoulder is a sign of boldness
  • Freezing in place means a dog is frightened
  • Rubbing or leaning against another dog is a companionable gesture

Mouth and Lips

  • Panting means that a dog is feeling playful or excited, or maybe he's just hot
  • A dog with a mouth and lips closed is uncertain or appeasing
  • Licking the lips is a sign a dog is worried or is being appeasing
  • A relaxed mouth means a dog is calm 
  • Lips pulled back are a challenging or warning sign

Hackles (the hair on the shoulders and hips)

  • Raised hackles indicate arousal, either because a dog is frightened or is challenging another dog
  • Smooth hackles show a dog is calm


  • A relaxed tail means a dog is calm and at ease 
  • Tail down indicates worry or uncertainty
  • Tail held up and wagging fast indicates excitement
  • An erect tail is a sign of alertness
  • A tail between the legs is a sign of fear


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