Understanding Your Dog’s Language

Dogs are expressive animals that use their entire body to express their feelings. There's nothing better than watching a tail wag so hard that their hindquarters shake while accompanied by barks of joy. Or seeing a big grin of happiness on your dog's face when they see you. Dogs also use their body language to convey subtle messages, show you that they're defending you, or give you the signal that they're not feeling well. Sometimes it's difficult to figure out what your dog is trying to tell you and you might miss a sign that your dog isn't feeling well because of mixed signals. Here's a look at the language of dogs and how to interpret the behavior you're seeing and hearing.

The Language of Dogs

Dogs are capable of making around 100 different facial expressions that involve their eyes and ears. Here's a look at some of the more nuanced expressions your dog employs to speak without words.

Face:

  • Eye contact: Constant eye contact is a sign that your dog is comfortable with you and is looking for love or approval from you.
  • Raised eyebrow: A dog really is trying to figure out what you're thinking when it raises one or both eyebrows while looking at your eyes.
  • Raised eyelid with open eye: This expression is sometimes accompanied by the tongue out. It's a sign of a relaxed dog, but if panting is involved the dog may be feeling stressed.
  • Ears up: When the ears are up, the dog is alert, relaxed and happy. They're in "listening mode" and waiting for instruction or play.
  • Ears down: When combined with droopy eyes and the muzzle pointed down, the dog is in a submissive or sad posture. If the dog is alert and focused, the dog has sighted something or is on guard.
  • Ears flat: This is usually accompanied by growling, baring teeth, and lowering the snout parallel to the ground. The dog has discovered a threat and is alerting everyone in the vicinity to the threat.

Body:

  • Yawning: Sometimes a sign of tiredness, but also a sign of stress.
  • Freezing in place or barely moving: Can be a sign of a perceived threat or a target (foe, friend, toy, prey, etc.) has been spotted and the dog is deciding on appropriate action.
  • Jumping up and around another dog or person with licking behaviors: A sign of greeting and happiness to see that individual again.
  • Rolling around on its back with legs in the air: A sign that they're done with the interaction or simply wants a belly rub from the human.
  • Tail carried low or tucked between legs: Sign of emotional or physical discomfort, submission to another individual or complete trust.

It's theorized that the body language of dogs evolved over time for the purpose of communicating with humans. And people get to know their dog's body language quickly because they live with them on a daily basis. If you ever notice a change in body language or an overall lack of expression, it may be a sign that your dog isn't feeling well. Make an appointment with your veterinarian for an exam to find out what's going on and rule out any major problems. Your knowledge of your dog's body language becomes invaluable when it comes to your dog's health.

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