Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

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Your pooch will use his or her mouth, eyes, ears, and even the tail to express emotions. By reading the combination of body signals, you should be able to work out who is top dog in any situation!

Tail wagging

  • Free and exaggerated tail wagging, which sometimes extends to the entire rump for dogs with very short tails, indicates pleasure or friendliness.  
  • A tail waved slowly and stiffly, in line with the back, expresses anger. 
  • Clamped low over the hindquarters is a sign that the dog is afraid. Anxious or nervous dogs stiffly wag their drooping tails as a sign of appeasement.

Facial expressions

  • His ears prick up when he's alert or listening intently, but are held back or flattened onto the head when expressing pleasure, submission, or fear.
  • The narrowing or half-closure of the dog's eyes indicates either pleasure or submission, but when his eyes are wide open, he's signaling aggression.

Eye contact

  • In the wild, the pack leader can maintain control simply by staring at a subordinate dog. You should not try to outstare your dog if he has aggressive or has nervous tendencies because this could provoke an attack. 
  • Nevertheless, regular, gentle eye contact reassures the dog and reinforces your relationship.


  • Submissive dogs may appear to be "smiling" when they open their mouth to show their teeth in a lop-sided grin of friendliness. 
  • If both lips are drawn right back to expose most of the teeth, this is a sign of aggression and is often accompanied by a growl.


  • A dog will indicate his desire to play by raising a front paw, or by performing the play bow, which is often accompanied by barking to attract attention. 
  • Other gestures include offering a play object or bounding up to another dog to invite a fun and friendly chase.


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