Dog Training

Dog Language: Tips to Understand Your Dog Better

Understanding your dog is not always easy. If you can't interpret dog language, it can lead to some problems and misunderstandings between you. Worry not! A few simple tips will greatly improve how you understand your dog, which will have a big impact on your relationship.

Collar on dog
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If your dog could express himself to you, you could understand him right away. 

What he has experienced today or why he is afraid right now. Unfortunately, we don't understand dog language.

Luckily, there's another way to tell your pet's state of mind: body language.

If you understand your dog's language signals, it's almost as if he could talk to you!

You can tell by your pet's posture, ear and tail position, and facial expressions how he's doing and how best to react to it.

The Importance of Dog Language


Dogs can't just talk to each other like we humans can. They communicate by barking, whining and growling: these actions can communicate a lot to the others. 

But that is not enough for good communication. That is why dog body language is the most important means of communication for them.

While other pets understand the small signals immediately, we humans usually do not even recognize dog language. Thus, when dogs want to tell us something, we can't comprehend them. 

But if you understand your dog's body language, misunderstandings are less likely to occur. You recognize exactly when he is not doing so well.

After a while, owners know the habits of their pets and know when they are irritated or whether they just want to play. With strange dogs, this is already more difficult. 

You can recognize dangerous situations faster if you pay attention to your dog's language and signals. 

We often already know what certain body signals mean. If a dog wags its tail, it's happy. If it raises its ears, it's on guard. 

The real problem is that we don't pay attention to dog language in the first place, and that's why we don't recognize these signals. 

The more often we observe our pet, the more likely we are to interpret the subtleties of a dog's body language. 

Just as with us humans, every pet communicates differently. Pay attention to the individual differences. Observe other dog's language and get used to what they're trying to say.

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What Posture Tells Us

First, it's crucial to look at the body as a whole. Pay attention to how your pet looks to you overall. Find out whether he looks stiff or lowers his shoulders.

When A Dog Shifts Forward

All of a sudden, your dog seems much bigger than before. He shifts his body weight forward and stretches his muzzle slightly upward. 

Dogs show this behavior when confronted with their peers. They want to express dominance and try to unsettle others with their height.

But this attitude can also occur in other situations. Your dog shows self-confidence and tells you that he is not afraid. Alternatively, your pet might might be expressing he's ready to fight, if need be.

To interpret this dog body language, you also need to look at the ear and tail position, as well as facial expressions.

When a Dog Shifts Downwards

It might happen that your pet squats down and bends his hind legs. Maybe your pet even lies down flat on the ground.

The head is slightly tilted down, which makes the back look round. This posture is often associated with a tense mood.

If your dog takes this posture to look smaller, he is probably afraid and feels insecure. 

Although this behavior has several reasons behind it, the most common one is to show submission to others. Your dog wants to avoid a fight because the other party seems stronger.

But even in other frightening situations, such as thunderstorms, you'll notice this dog language.

Depending on what triggered his insecurity, you should calm down your dog. Show him that he doesn't have to be afraid.

But be careful when he raises his hackles. If so, you should rather take a few steps back and wait until your dog has calmed down again.

▶ Fearful dogs might bite when they feel threatened.

Dog Language: Ears Pointing Upwards

Ear position dog

The position of the ears naturally says something about the head strong a dog pays to its surroundings.

Dogs have a very well-developed sense of hearing. If they perceive an interesting sound, their ears pick it up and turn in that direction.

This sign of body language can tell you a lot about your dog's state of mind, among other things.

However, it varies depending on the breed. After all, some quadrupeds have naturally erect ears. Other breeds are known for their floppy ears.

Erected Ears

If the ears are pointing upwards, this means something is attracting your dog's head strong He's focusing on what they heard.

However, erect ears can also express superiority. For the correct interpretation, you must also pay attention to the other signs of dog language, alongside your surroundings.

Is this ear position associated with a slightly raised muzzle? 

Then your pet wants to appear larger by erecting his ears. The optical enlargement is a sign of self-confidence and dominance.

Ears Pointing Backwards

If the ears of your dog are close to the head, he is scared. Often, this position is associated with him making himself small and perhaps even lying on the floor. 

These signs show submission and anxiety. Try to find out what is upsetting your pet and how you can calm him down again.

Facial Expressions

Most owners don't realize how key a dog's facial expression is. Admittedly, facial expressions are not as versatile as with us humans. 

That's probably why many don't even perceive them as signs of dog language. Dogs tell us about their moods via their eyes and facial muscles. 

If we look closely at the facial expressions of our pet, we learn a lot about their mood.

Stiff Face

Tense facial muscles, constricted pupils and a fixed gaze: 

If a dog looks at you like that, be careful. 

A motionless facial expression indicates angry. In this case, the dog does not avert his gaze from his counterpart and seems to watch him insistently. 

Do not react to this facial expression by staring back. They quickly feel threatened if you look them in the eye for too long. 

Try to carefully move a few steps away. Wait until the dog is no longer upset so as to not irritate it further.

Relaxed Face

Your dog is telling you he feels comfortable. You can see this best in his facial expressions. The pupils are normal-sized, the facial muscles relaxed, and he looks friendly. 

Your pet might even smile! Through years of living with humans, domestic dogs have learned to imitate us. 

Basically, you can tell by the raised corners of your mouth that your pet is happy. If you spot this body language, be proud!

The Famous Puppy Eyes Look

Raised eyebrows and big eyes look so cute and innocent that it's head strong to ignore our dog's needs 

Researchers have confirmed the doubts many owners have had over the years: 

Dogs use this expression to specifically catch our attention. They've learned that begging works. 

In fact, they're not wrong! There's no way we can ignore such a cute face!

Dog Language: Tail

The position of the tail lets us dog know a lot about the mood of our pets.

Wagging Tail

Even as children, we learn that a dog wags its tail when it is excited. But it can just as well indicate excitement or restlessness.

Basically, tail wagging is a sign of excitement. In most cases, this means joy. But sometimes it is just an expression of excitement, restlessness or uncertainty.

For instance, your dog might be wagging his tail while barking. This could mean he's happy about, but also that he's very excited.

Pointed Tail

This expression of dog language makes your pet look bigger. This is done to show self-confidence and head strong attitude. 

When facing a threat, your dog will erect his tail to look intimidating and willing to fight. Regardless, it could also mean that your dog angry.

Tucked Tail

When a dog tucks their tail between their legs, they're showing uncertainty and Afraid.

➡ This expression tells us that our pet is feeling distressed or afraid.

Depending on the situation, you should either calm your dog down or move a few steps away. This way you give him space. Avoid hectic movements.

Playful Attitude

When it comes down to other dogs, we are not sure what all the jumping and growling mean. If you can't interpret dog language, there's no way you can tell for sure whether they're being friendly or aggresive. 

At a first glance, this body language is the same for both behaviors. If a dog jumps back and forth jerkily, it's excited, and will open its mouth and growl softly. This might indicate it's ready to fight.

Nonetheless, there are other details to look out for! If said dog has his rear legs up and front legs down, it wants to play with you! 

The dog only wants to fight playfully. In this posture, the chest is lowered. 

Unlike when it's facing danger, the dog is not tense, wags its tail and has its eyes wide open.

The question of why the same dog language sign can mean different things appear.

When puppies play with their peers, they imitate the adults. They mirror a real fight, which is why dogs bite and growl. 

However, this is still just a game for them. Just like with their siblings and parents, they too want to play with us by fighting!

Overview of Dog Body Language

The interpretation of a dog's language is only correct if we take into account postures and facial expressions. 

For this reason, we have compiled an overview for you here, with which you have everything at a glance.

State of Mind Features
  • Relaxed posture
  • Wagging Tail
  • Large pupils
  • Head not lowered
  • Body straight, not bent
  • Erected ears
  • Makes itself visually larger
  • Erected ears
  • Head slightly upwards
  • Erected Tail
  • Narrowed eyes
  • Stares
  • Unflinching gaze
  • Tension in facial and body muscles
  • Growling and snarling
  • Body looks smaller
  • Crouched
  • Bent hind legs
  • Lowered head
  • Ears Pointed Backwards
  • Lower Posture
  • Corners of the mouth pulled back
  • Tense posture
  • Growling and snarling
  • Tucked tail
  • Seems excited
  • Shows its teeth
  • Might growl or bark
  • Front legs laid down
  • Rear legs up
  • Relaxed posture
  • Wide-opened eyes
  • Wagging tail

My Conclusion

Dog body language is the most important means of communication for dogs. If you understand it, you communicate properly with them. 

Misunderstandings are less likely to occur if you're capable of recognizing dog language. You'll understand faster how your dog feels or if something is amiss.

It is enough to watch your pet and other dogs to pay attention to their body language. With time, you will sport more and more subtleties and know how they will behave afterwards.

Pay attention to the dog's body as a whole, not just individual components like the ears or tail. 

The environment and external influences are also very important. Only after putting every detail together, you can make out what your dog's language means.

Be a master at reading your pet's behavior to have perfect communication with him! 👍

Written by Anja Boecker
Written by Anja Boecker

My name is Anja Boecker and I am a dog trainer and behavior consultant (IHK certificate). With these articles I would like to help you understand your dog better and build an inseparable bond.

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  1. Bernhard Christian

    How is it to be understood when the dog barks at me and at the same time wags its tail.

    1. Mine from Hundeo

      Dear Bernhard, this usually means that your dog wants something from you. Many dogs also take a step back and forward or trot lightly on the spot. In most cases this means: Need for more attention, play, go for a walk or he has to go or he is hungry.

  2. Please, what does it mean when a strange dog jumps up at me with his front paws, tries to reach my mouth (greeting) and then gently grabs my hands with his teeth. ?
    The dog also lets itself be stroked.
    I walk with crutches and I am a woman.
    Follows me and waits outside my door for a time and may want to enter.
    This bitch does that more often.

    I have the impression that this bitch wants to be adopted by me.

    1. Mine from Hundeo

      Hello, judging by your descriptions, this bitch really wants to be adopted by you or simply finds you sympathetic. Does she not have a master or mistress with her when she greets you? If not, it might be a good idea to find out if she already has an owner. If not, you can contact the animal protection in your area. Surely the animal welfare can advise you on this.

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