Even though dogs can’t speak to us in human languages, they are constantly communicating! Dogs “speak” in a variety of ways—most notably through body language. Sometimes, their human companions misread these signals, leading to miscommunication.
The position of your dog’s tail, ears, and eyes, and even the full-body movements they make when playing, can all help give you a clue into how they’re really feeling.
Play bows are one of the most common and easiest dog body language movements to translate. A play bow is your dog signaling to you (or another dog or human) that they’re ready for action! You’ll spot key characteristics, such as a loose, wiggly body, their bottom up in the air, a wagging tail, and other invitations to play, such as excited barking.
While yawning can indicate tiredness in people, it has a second meaning for dogs. When your dog is stressed, they’ll perform various body actions to help reduce that stress. A yawn helps your dog calm down and can also signal they’re not feeling very comfortable in the situation. Taking some time to move them to a quieter space can help.
We may think of tail wagging as a sign that our dogs are having fun—but that isn’t always the case. A slow, hesitant tail wag can actually let you know that your dog is feeling unsure of the situation. They may be meeting a new dog for the first time, watching a noisy child, or standing in a busy part of the park. A slow tail wag doesn’t mean you have to take action, but it is a sign to pay attention to what’s going on.
A full-body shake is one of the body movements your dog uses to let off some steam and stress! If you notice your dog has a good shake after a meet-and-greet or play session, it’s a good sign. This is a great way for your dog to let off some energy in a safe, productive manner, and it shows that your dog is also good at alleviating stress.
If you spot your dog licking their lips, you may think they’ve just tasted something delicious. But in dogs, lip licking can indicate fear or uncertainty about a situation. A nervous dog will often lick their lips as a way to show they’re not a threat and also that they’re ready to run away if things get scary.
The sun may not be in your dog’s eyes if you catch them squinting. A squint, or “soft eye,” is actually a good sign! It shows that your dog is feeling comfortable and content in the situation. In addition, you may notice a relaxed body posture, such as being flopped on the floor. And an even happier dog may even have their tongue out as well!
Just like people, dogs pace when they’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable. An agitated dog that isn’t having fun in a situation may pace back and forth to try and relieve stress and excess energy. Nervous or anxious dogs can also pace to self-soothe. If you see your dog pacing, try to bring them to a different room, spend some time together, or distract them with a fun chew toy.
Panting is one way your dog cools off on a hot and sunny day. But excessive panting without a slight "smile" can be a sign that something is wrong. A dog that is constantly panting may be expressing that they’re very uncomfortable. You may also notice pacing, a stiff body, or avoidance of whatever is causing them stress. If your dog is panting a lot, try taking them to a calmer, quieter location.
A whale eye is when your dog shows part of the white of their eyes when looking at something, similar to a “side eye.” This is generally a sign that your dog isn’t comfortable with what is going on and is keeping a close watch on what to do in the event of sudden changes. If you notice your dog eyeing something or someone down, it’s a good idea to step in and help them relax.
Stretches are great for many reasons! When your dog stretches, they’re not only relieving stress, but they’re showing how comfortable they’re feeling. A happy, relaxed dog will stretch out happily after a good play session or if they’re ready to just snuggle up at your side. If you notice your dog stretching, you can be assured that they’re doing OK.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information