Understand A Dogs Body Language | Hidden Meanings

When you meet someone for the first time one of the ways that we can tell a bit about them, is their body language.  A person’s body language is a nonverbal way of communicating.  Things like their facial expressions, the way they shake your hand, or look at you when they talk to you.  These movements are very similar to the way that a person that plays poker that has a tell shows us.

understanding a dogs body language
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Things like a strong handshake means a person may be confident, while a weak one can mean they are insecure.

Well what about a dogs’ body language?  What can their tells teach us about how they are feeling about meeting a new person or another dog.  Dogs just like people give things away when you meet them.

Learning to become aware of these physical indications we see can go a long way in better understanding our dogs’. It is their way of communicating with us.


Because our dogs’ can’t talk and tell us things that they feel, they do it instead in their posture and movements. Everyone wants a confident and happy dog, but what does that look like.  How do we know?

Well there are clear and present indications that we can look for that show us.

  • Ears up straight
  • Standing up straight like at attention
  • Head held high
  • Mouth appears calm
  • Tail hanging in a relaxed position

dog confidence

These indicators will tell us that our dogs’ are open and comfortable with their surroundings.  This is would be a great time to introduce them to other dogs’, or new people.  They are ready for new experiences with an open mind.


One of the easiest times I find to read a dogs’ body language is when they are exhibiting playfulness.  They crouch down with their legs stretched forward, tail wagging and their mouth open with a smile.  Yes a smile!  Dog laughter and open mouth smiling is easily spotted.

With their ears perked up and maybe even some jumping or running around is your dog telling you that they are ready to go.  Let the games begin.

dog submissive

Their posturing is much more relaxed, not stiff or unnerving.  You can feel the excitement and happiness that they are sharing.

My doodle FINN, was the most playful dog and his indications were impossible to miss.  His movements, just made you laugh and giggle.  He would start with the crouch down than move like a fast rabbit sprinting and bouncing all over the yard.  Then just stop on a dime and make funny little barking or squealing sounds.  Honestly he would just make me laugh so hard. We used to say he was a like a deer out there. LOL.

Being playful is one of my absolute favourite times around any dog.  It is like being surrounded by puppies, even though you are actually surrounded by older dogs’.  Their inner puppy in them is bursting out of their body.


I said above that playfulness was my favourite body language from a dog, well aggressive posturing is my absolute least favourite.  An aggressive acting dog appears with extreme signals :

  • A Stiff tails
  • Standing with a bit of a lean forward
  • Ears forward spread apart in an almost V shape or completely bend back
  • Crinkled up nose
  • Mouth open but showing teeth
  • Lips curled
  • Hair standing up on their back

Aggressive dogs’ are very unpredictable simply because that aggression is likely from fear that they are feeling.  They are acting completely unsure of the situation and are on an on-guard type position.  Like at any point they could or will lunge forward towards the oncoming movement.  Barking loudly and repetitively with growling teeth is also very evident.

dog aggressive

When you are in a situation where you see the dog giving you see this type of reactions, it can also be their way of showing dominance.  They feel like they are the ones being threatened.

In these types of situations, I would never approach a dog that is acting this way.   If you are with your dog and you see this from another dog, you and your dog walk away.

We don’t get the luxury of knowing what that dog has been through in their life and how they may react if we approach.  Protecting you and your dog is the most important thing.

Fear and anxiousness

A dog that is aggressive is stiff while a dog that is full of fear or anxious exhibits a much overall lower stance.  They are usually crouched very low with their tail completely tucked between their legs.

Their eyes squint or narrow and they generally they will not look in your eyes simply because they are looking elsewhere.

They can appear to be shaking, trembling, even growling.  The difference between a dog growling from fear than aggression, is very different from each other.  The growling may appear more like a meek whine and mild-mannered from outright angered growling.

scared dog

This fear is their way of saying that they are not comfortable in the current social situation.  If this behavior is coming from your dog, immediately leave the area with them.

It is best not to force your dog into a situation that they are afraid of.  Appear calm and confident for your dog as you leave.   This may help them feel a little less stress.   Dogs certainly do pick up on our body language, so if you are afraid or unsure they will pick up that feeling from you.

Do not punish or even comfort your dog at this point for their behavior.  Just remove yourself and dog from the situation.

Submissive or acting dominate

One of the more difficult and hard to read actions from our dogs’ is submissive vs dominant behavior.  It is very easily misunderstood.

When 2 dogs’ are playing is probably the most obvious situation is one standing over the other.  While the other maybe laying on their back with their belly exposed.  Now this is not a dominant behavior, but a way that 2 dogs’ see themselves in dog hierarchy or pecking order if you will.  It is a natural situation between dogs’ that just happens.

The dog laying on his or her back is submitting effectively saying that it means no harm at all.  They are of no threat. While the dog standing above isn’t really acting dominate, but more playing a part of in overall dog dynamics.

Dogs that are truly acting dominate does not come from a behavior so much as just exercising their play in a relationship with another dog or person.

When we had our 2 boys, they always got along so well, but funny enough our little dog BOO was the more dominate one over FINN who was the much larger dog.  FINN would be the one on the ground with his belly exposed while BOO was almost bouncing on him as they played.

dog on back

Dominance is not aggressive behavior, which is why it is the so misunderstood. As you get to know your dog and their personality you will be able to easily spot their body language.  You will develop a great understanding of what their movements and postures tell you about them and how they are feeling.

Anytime you are concerned or feel uneasy around a dogs’ behavior, always take yourself out of the situation. Unpredictability in a dog can be scary and take a bad turn very quickly.  Nobody wants to get caught in a bad situation.

I hope my tips on how to understand a dogs’ body language offer you some insight into what our dogs’ are trying to tell us.

10 thoughts on “Understand A Dogs Body Language | Hidden Meanings”

  1. Bonjour Coralie,

    My tiny experience with some dogs (maybe just the small ones) is that they tend to mirror their owner’s personality.

    This has always been a subject of curiosity for me. 

    We have a lot of dog owners in our community so i have spent time observing but obviously my samples are very limited a not scientific at all. 

    Am I too far off base with my observation ?

    • Hello,

      No I do not believe that you are off base at all. Any experience that you have with dogs in your life, is still experience.  A little still goes a long way in learning to understand dogs.  The best part is even if the dog is not yours, it is still good information to know what their body language is telling us. 

      I thank you for sharing your comments on my post.


  2. The show of confidence is one thing that my dog does so well and surely I have never paid attention to it before. Thankfully you have shared it here. Seriously, I found some things very shocking here because I never bothered to pay attention to them. My dog often display most of these but then, I always think them to be normal and does not hold any meaning. But from this moment onward, I will try to be more cautious in my dealing with her

    • Hi,

      I am excited to hear that you have found my post full of good information, that will help you and your dog.  Listening to them when they are trying to tell us something is important and yet fascinating at the same time.  They really do have their way of communicating things to us, we just need to be able to see it.

      Your dog sounds like she is very smart and intuitive. Enjoy her and every moment you have together.  Always watch for the signs that she is showing you.  Best of luck and thank you so much for your comments.


  3. I’m a new adoptive mom but I found it so difficult to read how my dog communicates with me. In fact, I had to go back to the store. I decided to look for information on the internet and I came across this. This is really helpful and enlightening. Thoughtful of you to share this here.thank you

    • Hi Bella,

      It is always great to hear when people find my posts and can somehow relate to the information I am sharing.  Congratulations on being a new adoptive mom.  Enjoy every moment, as it goes by so fast.

      Best of luck to you and thank you for your wonderful comments.


  4. Understanding the languages of our pets is very important because some things that require immediate attention might need to be taken note of from their actions or expressions they give. I once neglected the body language my buddy was giving me which I felt was her needing attention but in truth she was having issues breathing and that almost cost me my pet. I see it as very important to take note of these languages.

    • Hello Benson,

      I thank you for telling me your story. Listening to how your dog was trying to tell you what wrong, is exactly the reason I chose to write about this topic.  We easily miss the signs from our dogs, if we don’t know to look for them.

      Throughout my own experience with the many dogs I have had in my life, I have learned to understand that their certain body language is always for a reason.  Listening to them is important, so I am glad you also had a similar experience.

      I am so glad that it all worked out for you.  I appreciate your comments, so thank you very much.


  5. Hi Coralie, thanks for sharing this helpful information about, it is a very good thing to learn body languages in our dogs and I have been thinking of adopting a new pet which will be my first pet ever. I am pleased to get some insight about the behaviour of dogs which could be a means of sending messages to us. Cheers.

    • Hi Bella,

      It is great to hear that you found some good insight in my post.  Must be exciting to be thinking about getting a new dog. You won’t regret it.  They really are the best things.

      I wish you the best of luck and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me.  Cheers to you also.



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