How To Read Your Dog's Body Language

How To Read Your Dog's Body Language
Body Language Basics


What is your dog trying to tell you? Dogs have a language that allows them to communicate their emotional state and their intentions to others around them. Although dogs do use sounds and signals, much of the information that they send is through their body language, specifically their facial expressions and body postures.

Understanding what your dog is saying can give you a lot of useful information, such as when your dog is spooked and nervous about what is going on, or when your dog is edgy and might be ready to snap at someone. You do have to look at the dog's face and his whole body.

To help you, I have created a sort of visual version of a Berlitz phrase book to allow you to interpret the eight most important messages your dog is sending to you.

1. Relaxed Approachable

This dog is relaxed and reasonably content. Such a dog is unconcerned and unthreatened by any activities going on in his immediate environment and is usually approachable.

2. Alert- Checking Things Out

If the dog has detected something of interest, or something unknown, these signals communicate that he is now alert and paying attention while he is assessing the situation to determine if there is any threat or if any action should be taken.

3. Dominant Aggressive

This is a very dominant and confident animal. Here he is not only expressing his social dominance, but is also threatening that he will act aggressively if he is challenged.

4. Fearful and Aggressive

Fearful and Agressive

This dog is frightened but is not submissive and may attack if pressed. A dog will generally give these signals when he is directly facing the individual who is threatening him.

5. Stressed and Distressed

This dog is under either social or environmental stress. These signals, however, are a general "broadcast" of his state of mind and are not being specifically addressed to any other individual.

6. Fearful and Worried

Fearful and worried

This dog is somewhat fearful and is offering signs of submission. These signals are designed to pacify the individual who is of higher social status or whom the dog sees as potentially threatening, in order to avoid any further challenges and prevent conflict.

7. Extreme Fear- Total Submission

Extreme Fear-Total Submission

This dog is indicating total surrender and submission. He is trying to say that he accepts his lower status by groveling before a higher ranking or threatening individual in the hopes of avoiding a physical confrontation.

8. Playfulness


Here we have the basic invitation to play. It may be accompanied by excited barking or playful attacks and retreats. This set of signals may be used as a sort of "punctuation mark" to indicate that any previous rough behaviour was not meant as a threat or challenge.

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Comments (46)

My husband and I have two dogs, a nine yr old siberian husky/australian shepard and an 18 month old black lab. Both are females. The younger dog began defending her toys and food at about 6 months of age, and some scuffles had us very worried...We had to change our behavior with both dogs and express our dominance by putting toys away after play time, feeding them separately and putting dog dishes away after they are done eating, teaching sit-stay, and other helpful commands. Their behavior has improved. They had one playtime incident where the puppy was bit by the older dog, and has never occured again...the Vet called it a playtime accident. The younger dog gave a yelp and they separated immediately. I just caution people who get to large dogs to learn these visual and auditory signs and definitely learn how to be the pack leader! Too many animals end up in shelters, and dead because people don't take the time, patience and sacrifice to learn this stuff. It is worth it.
Wed, 12/26/2012 - 07:33
The bad behavior of my dog forced me to investigate how I could train him. I found this system online and it has given me excellent results, ! He no longer bites my furniture, or my shoes, no longer urinates in the room, and no longer barks like crazy!
Mon, 10/08/2018 - 06:07
5 1/2 years ago we were given a Great Perineese/Australian Shepard mix. She weighed 8 lbs. We took her to a nationally known pet store for puppy training. We all learned so much. She now weighs 83 lbs. My kids are grown and I live by myself with her. She's a great dog most of the time. We moved from a farm into town in April. Our house is close to others and I have a mailbox on my porch; it was 1,000 ft away before. Please tell me why she hates the mailman? And a few times she's acted aggressive towards other dogs. My backyard is fenced in and is 50ftx100ft., we walk 2 miles every other day. She's had hip issues in the past and we've worked up to this. She generally a very loving dog and runs like the dickens trying to catch squirrels in the backyard.
Fri, 12/28/2012 - 19:00
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Mon, 10/15/2018 - 02:40
None of these stupid myths are true my dog dosnt do any of that crap except pee and poop
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 13:06
I am very concerned that this article uses outdated terms such as dominant and submissive. Articles published prior to 2009 have made available to the public (never mind publishers) that dominance is descriptive of a relationship, not a personality trait. Dogs are not naturally pack animals and domestic dogs to not assert 'dominance' in the household. Please, please get your facts straight and current before using such dangerous and inflammatory language in your descriptions!
Wed, 09/04/2013 - 11:53
I grew up with dogs, so all these "posturing" are a part of Me. But I have not had a clear-cut way to eplain 'em to other people. Now I do. Thanks.
Sun, 09/15/2013 - 14:27
You have provided very helpful information, and by providing pictures of different body language signs, you made it more comprehensive. I really like reading such stuff. My dog is taking training from Cali K9 San Francisco and I am very much happy with the results.
Thu, 01/23/2014 - 22:03
If this is MODERN dog magazine why are you still taling about dominance and submission in the illustrations above?
Thu, 02/06/2014 - 02:47
The "dominant" and "submissive" postures you are referring to are misleading and incorrect. Dominance theory is old and outdated, and furthermore has been disproven several times over by leading researchers and biologists. There may be a wealth of different reasons for a dog to offer postures like that and depends on such variables as the dog's early development and socialization history, current situation and potential threats. We know so much more about the rich emotional lives that our animals lead, and it's an insult to their emotional intelligence to round everything down to social hierarchy. If you'd like to learn more about the dominance debate, I highly recommend "Dominance theory and Dogs" By James O Heare, "Dominance, Fact or Fiction" by Barry Eaton or any of Dr Patricia Mc Connell's books. these authors are all leaders in the field of animal behaviour and learning, and their information is based on well researched facts and the most recent research on animal emotionality. In no other field of science is the information so outdated, So many "behaviourists" and "trainers" are living in the dark ages of dominance based training and "therapy" techniques that often do more damage than good. Modern Dog Magazine should be at the forefront of providing its readers with information that is current, and beneficial to the bond between people and dogs. I like Modern Dog, and am very surprised at how misinformed this article is.
Mon, 02/09/2015 - 05:58
Super info it is definitely. Friend on mine has been waiting for this tips.
Sun, 07/01/2018 - 17:44
charlie u fool waa
Sat, 09/01/2018 - 05:34
I have a 1.5 year old Dogo Argentino/Am Bulldog mix and she's a great dog. I've done a fair amount of research on dog language but I can't seem to figure out what it means when at the dog park, her tail is high and curved (dominant), yet her ears are more back than forward (submissive). They're not flat to hear head, but they're certainly not up and forward. What could her mixed signals mean?
Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:04
he's mad
Sat, 09/01/2018 - 05:48
he's mad
Sat, 09/01/2018 - 06:33
Very interesting topic , appreciate it for posting . The friendship that can cease has never been real. by Saint Jerome. fbeccdebbefk
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