How to Read a Dog’s Body Language

Dogs and humans share a close bond, and you probably know your own dog pretty well, but we can improve our understanding of how dogs are feeling by getting to know the more subtle signs of canine body language. Here are a few indicators of a dog’s mood that you might not already know about.



Dogs will seldom look each other directly in the eye, but they do make eye contact with humans. Normally, it’s a sign of friendliness and interest. But a direct, tense stare could be a threat as well. A dog that avoids eye contact is telling you that he is submissive and not a threat. When dogs look at you out of the corner of their eye and you can see the white part, this is called “whale eye” or “half-moon eye” and is a sign of aggression. Dogs often do this when protecting bones or toys.



Did you know you can learn a lot about how a dog is feeling by observing his coat? Dogs “blow their coats” when they are scared or stressed, shedding more hair than usual…something commonly seen at the vet’s office. When a dog’s hair stands up along the spine, it’s a sign of arousal. It could be positive, like extreme excitement, but it’s more commonly seen as a negative sign of fear, anger, or insecurity.



A yawn means a lot more than just “I’m tired.” Dogs yawn when they are bored to signal that they want to play. Dogs can also yawn when they are nervous or anxious, trainers often see this in obedience classes when a dog doesn’t understand what he’s supposed to be doing. Dogs will also yawn when they are excited, as a way of preparing themselves for a burst of physical activity.



Most dog owners would agree that jumping up on people is an undesirable behavior. But what most people don’t realize is why dogs jump in the first place. It’s commonly believed that jumping is a sign of dominance in dogs, but experts say that jumping is an active submissive behavior. When you greet a dog and he jumps on you, he’s trying to appease you, not dominate you.



A dog’s natural ear position could be either floppy or straight, but you can still understand how a dog is feeling by looking at his ears. Ears that point forward indicate focus and attention. If a dog moves his ears back and forth it’s a sign of concern or indecision. Dogs that lower their ears against their heads can be either happy or nervous. A dog will drop his ears and wiggle his body when he gives you a lick to tell you he’s harmless. But a dog with tightly pinned ears and a tense, lowered body is scared or fearful.


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  • Aaron Seminoff
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