Tips & Information

Dog body language cues and what they mean

Written by

Pam Hardman


Published on: Jul 10, 2019

Dog body language cues and what they mean

We all wish we could have a conversation with our dogs, to know what they’re thinking, what they think of us or even what they do when we’re gone. As neat as that would be, just because dogs don’t speak, it doesn’t meant they don’t communicate.


The biggest indicator of mood when it comes to your dog’s eyes is the white part. If your dog appears to be giving “side eye” or if there’s a lot of white showing, it could be a sign of stress. Dilated pupils could also be a sign of fear, giving the eyes a “glassy” look. A relaxed dog’s eyes may appear squinted and likely won’t have any white showing at all.


Ears are an easier indicator on dogs who have ears that stick up, but dogs with floppy ears show cues by moving the base of their ears forward and back. When your dog’s relaxed, his or her ears may be slightly back or to the sides. When he or she is excited, the ears will move forward and point to whatever he or she is interested in.


If your dog is relaxed, her mouth may be open and panting, with no mouth tension. The corners of her mouth may also be turned upward, some might say in a “smile”. If your dog is fearful, she will likely keep her mouth closed and may pull her lips back at the corners. She may also be panting rapidly. Drooling when there’s no food around is also a sign of extreme stress.


The hair on a dog’s back is often raised when he or she is upset or worked up about something, much like we get goosebumps when we’re nervous or excited. You’ll normally see it across the shoulders, down the spine and above the tail. This doesn’t necessarily mean the dog will be aggressive; it can also mean she’s excited or upset about something. A stressed or frightened dog may also shed more than usual (this is true for cats too).

Body posture and movement

When dogs are eager to play, they often start with a bow and then follow up with facial and body movements. If your dog is feeling playful, he or she will be moving loosely and freely, with lots of movement and pauses during play.

If your dog is fearful, he or she may lean away, tremble, crouch, or roll onto his side or back. If they’re extremely afraid, they may also freeze completely or frantically try to escape.

A dog who’s displaying aggressive body language will make himself look large, standing with his head up above his shoulders. He’ll be tense and may be leaning slightly forward onto the front legs.

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