Understanding Canine Body Language

Canine body language refers to how dogs use their bodies to communicate. Stress, excitement, curiosity, grief, bliss, and other feelings are communicated through dogs’ bodies. Understanding the body language of dogs is necessary for dog owners and in various scenarios. The more we understand the body language of dogs, the easier we can live together in social harmony.

As a means to prevent dog bites and other bad experiences, learning about body language can be a game changer. As highly expressive, social, and order-driven creatures, dogs often have a lot to say. Understanding dog body language can empower us to more easily enjoy the many benefits associated with canine companionship.

The Basics of Canine Body Language

Whether they use their faces bodies, tails, or postures, dogs can be clear communicators. Like all social creatures, dogs seek to effectively communicate the state of their emotions, needs, and motivations, while paying close attention to the messages emanating from others. Let’s take a closer look at the communication patterns dogs utilize. 

The Language of a Dog’s Facial Expressions and Mouth

A dog’s mouth is one of its most important communication tools. When feeling anxious or stressed, they lick their lips and yawn repeatedly and show their teeth as a sign that they’ll bite if they feel it is necessary. When hungry, they’ll salivate and lick their lips lightly. When relaxed, the mouth is opened slightly with what often looks like a friendly grin. 

A dog’s face can be expressive and boisterous. Their eyebrows raise or furrow when curious or concerned. Their eyes are known to tear up when they are sad or in despair. When they feel guilty, their eyes beg forgiveness. When they’re ready for combat they squint their eyes and scowl. Likewise, half-moon eyes, also mean fear, anxiety, and a desire to avoid.

The Language of Dog’s Ears

Dogs can also communicate using their ears. Forward-facing ears communicate attentiveness and keen interest. Fear, submission, and anxiety are often indicated by ears pinned back against the head. Confusion is often communicated by having one ear facing forward and another backward. Ears straight back means they are listening behind them.

The Language of the Tail

Dogs’ tails are perhaps their most active communication tool. A tail pointing straight up means confidence, assertiveness, and eagerness to challenge or be challenged. A relaxed and loosely wagging tail communicates a friendly and open disposition. A fast wag communicates excitement or joy. A tail tucked between the legs signals fear or submission.   

The Language of Posture and Body Movements

Dogs also communicate with their posture and body movements. Lying on their back means total submission out of either fear or trust. Standing or sitting in a relaxed manner communicates comfort and confidence. Stiff body language usually means they’re processing the stress of fear or readying for a fight. Bowing down with their tail raised is usually an invitation for play. 

Nuanced Body Language in Dogs

Dogs communicate a lot with how they interact with their environment in more subtle ways. Sniffing, scanning, and pacing are actions that usually mean taking in information through observation. Head tilts with raised ears signal curiosity. Aggression towards another animal is signaled by raising hackles and pointing their body directly toward the perceived challenger.

Smaller breeds like Chihuahuas and Yorkies are known to shake to communicate nervousness, excitement, or simply to keep themselves warm. All dogs typically sneeze or take their paws to their muzzle when they’re dealing with an irritant or an allergy. Nail chewing can also communicate stress/anxiety, physical discomfort, or a compulsive tick. 

If you were injured by an animal through no fault of your own, consult a dog bite attorney right away. 

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Lee Clarke
Lee Clarke
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