Dogs signal emotion with body language

Dogs almost always signal their intentions. While they may not speak the same language people do, they do have an extensive body language. If you pay attention, you know exactly how your dog is feeling. 

Their emotions are right there to see. Through their body posture and attitude, dogs let us know when they’re happy, sad, worried, afraid, unsure, apprehensive, delighted, bored, tired, silly. Dogs aren’t deceptive beings – they don’t lie and they can’t hide how they feel. 

How do you know?

Dogs are social animals and use body language to communicate with each other and with humans. Their body language can be very subtle, so pay attention to all of the signs, not just one or two.

Some of the most common dog body language cues:

  • Ears: Ear position can indicate a dog’s mood. A dog with ears held high is usually alert and interested, while a dog with ears held low may be feeling fearful.
  • Tail: The position and movement of a dog’s tail can also indicate its mood. A dog with a wagging tail is usually happy or excited. While a dog with a tail held between its legs is usually feeling fearful. Dogs without tails (like all of ours!) wiggle their whole back ends to show when they’re happy. 
  • Eyes: A dog’s eyes can also give clues to its mood. If you can see the whites of a dog’s eyes, it generally means that they’re uncomfortable, or frightened.
  • Mouth: A dog’s mouth can also be a source of information about its mood. A dog that is licking its lips or yawning may be feeling anxious or stressed, while a dog that is baring its teeth is giving a very clear warning to stop and back off.
  • Body posture: A dog’s body posture can also be a clue to its mood. A dog that is standing tall with its tail held high is usually feeling confident and assertive, while a dog that is crouching down with its tail between its legs is usually feeling submissive or fearful.

If you know there are certain situations that stress out your dog, you can help them by teaching them some training games that will help distract them. Getting them to focus on you, and a game they enjoy, will provide stress relief and let them “default” to something they like.

Not every dog’s the same

Picture of a happy dog to illustrate Dogs Signal Emotion with Body Language

It is important to remember that dog body language can vary depending on the individual dog and the situation. However, by paying attention to all of the signs, you can get a good idea of how a dog is feeling and how to best interact with it.

Here are some additional tips for interpreting dog body language:

  • Consider the context: When interpreting a dog’s body language, it is important to consider the context of the situation. For example, a dog that is wagging its tail may be happy or excited, but it could also be feeling threatened or aggressive.
  • Pay attention to the dog’s overall demeanor. In addition to looking at individual body language cues, it is also important to pay attention to the dog’s overall demeanor. A dog that is relaxed and playful is likely feeling happy. While a dog that is tense and stiff may be feeling stressed or fearful.
  • Trust your gut. If you are ever unsure about how a dog is feeling, give the dog some space. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Believe the owner and the dog

You know your own dog best. If your dog is uncomfortable in a situation, speak up. If there’s another person involved. Get some distance from whatever person, dog, or thing is making them wary. As people with little dogs, we’ve all been in positions where other people want to interact with our cute pups. Check with your dog before you ever agree. If the dog is relaxed, happy, and comfortable, go ahead. If not, just make an excuse (sorry, she’s not feeling well today) and walk away. In a situation (like a vet exam) that has to happen, be prepared with some favorite treats to distract your dog.

Dogs almost always signal how they’re feeling. Just by paying attention to your dog’s body language, from eyes to tail, you’ll get better at knowing how they’re feeling. Not only will it strengthen your bond with your dog, but they’ll be more confident knowing you always have their back.

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2 thoughts on “Dogs signal emotion with body language

  1. Stefanie Newman

    Hello ! Hope and I graduated the same year from Niles West.I used to follow your blog, lost the link and found it again. I appreciate the way you emphasize context in interpreting dog behavior giving hard and fast rules. My lemon beagle mix seems very relaxed around me which is gratifying. Perhaps too relaxed? When we sit on the couch she always turns with her butt toward me for a scratch above her tail .I guess I should be flattered ? Congratulations on your retail shop and your blog


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