Reading Your Dogs Mind - The 8 Most Important Behaviors To Watch For - Can Dogs Eat This


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Understanding your dog’s body language can transform the relationship you have with them, and bring you even closer.

Dogs are able to communicate their emotional state and their intentions. Sounds are one way that they do this; however the information they convey through body language is far greater.

Facial expressions and body postures are key signifiers, and if as owners we can tap into what these mean, it can only bring about a happier dog and a closer friendship.

There are all manner of behavioural signs that your dog can give you to communicate their emotional state.

In this post I have created a visual guide as to the 8 most important messages your dog will send you.

1. Signs of a Relaxed and Approachable Dog

signs of a relaxed dogA relaxed dog will generally be approachable. A dog in this state feels unthreatened by their surroundings, and is unfazed by activities that may be going on around them.

Tell tales signs of a relaxed dog are the following:
  • Tail Down and relaxed, it may well be slowly wagging from side to side.
  • Their mouth will be slightly open, with the tongue exposed. Their teeth will not be shown however.
  • Their head can be high, and ears up but not pricked forward. Forward pointed ears are a sign of an alert dog.
  • Their stance will be loose, with their weight flat on their feet. They feel no reason to be ready to pounce.

2. An Alert Dog

Signs of an alert dog

If your dog has detected something of interest, the signals that they communicate will show that they are alert and paying attention. This is a natural reaction as your dog is assessing the situation to determine if there is any threat or if any action should be taken.

Signs that your dog is in an alert mode include:
  • An alert dog will have their ears pointed forward.
  • The ears may also twitch as they attempt to catch a sound.
  • Your dog’s eyes will also be wide.
  • The mouth will be closed, with their snout pointing forwards while they smell.
  • An alert dog will stand tall on their feet with a slight lean, the stance used should action need to take place.
  • The tail will also be horizontal and will sway from side to side.

3. The Dominant Aggressive Dog

signals of an aggressive dominant dogThe above is an example of a dog when it is feeling dominant and confident. Here he is not only expressing his social dominance, but is also threatening that he will act aggressively if he is challenged.

Tell tale signs of a dog feeling dominant and aggressive are:
  • The tail will be raised and the hairs bristled,
  • The ears will be forward. The ears may also be spread slightly to the side to form a V-shape.
  • Your dog may well be snarling, with his lips curled and nose wrinkles.
  • This will lead to your dog’s teeth being visible, as well as their gums.
  • Your dog’s forehead may also show vertical wrinkles.
  • They will have a stiff legged stance, with their body leaning forward ready to pounce if required.

4. Signs of A Fearful and Aggressive Dog

signs of a fearful and aggressive dog


The dog above is frightened, however he is not acting submissive and could attack if provoked. A dog will often give the following signals when they in direct line with the threat.

Signs include:
  • Tail tucked between their legs or to one side and beneath them
  • Ears pulled back
  • Pupils dilated, nose wrinkled and lips slightly curled revealing tops of teeth
  • Corner of mouth curled back.
  • Hackles raised with a stance that is stooped forward in subordination

5. Signs of a Stressed Dog

signs of a stressed dog

This dog is under either social or environmental stress. These signals, however, are a general “broadcast” of his state of mind and are not being specifically addressed to any other individual.

Body language will include:
  • Tail down and between the legs
  • Body lowered
  • Ears back
  • Pupils dilated
  • Rapid panting with corner of the mouth open

6. Signs of a Fearful and Worried Dog

signs of a worried dog

A dog in this state will show signals designed to pacify the treat that they are being exposed to. The aim is to avoid any further challenges and prevent conflict.

Signs of a fearful and worried dog include:
  • Tail down and wagging slightly
  • Body lowered
  • Ears back
  • Forehead smooth
  • Eye contact brief and indirect
  • Licks at the face of dominant dog, or at the owner or to the air
  • Corner of the mouth back and paws raised

7. Signs of Extreme Fear and Total Submission

signs of a dog in extreme fear

The dog above is showing signs of total surrender and submission.

He has demonstrated that he accepts his lower social status and is in fact grovelling before the pack leader or threatening individual in an attempt to prevent physical confrontation.

Signs of a dog in extreme fear include:
  • Their tail being fully tucked in
  • The dog may roll onto their back and expose their stomach and throat, (complete submission)
  • Their ears will be flat and back
  • Eyes may be partly closed
  • Nose and forehead will be smooth
  • The dog may sprinkle a little urine

8. Signs of Playfulness

signs of a playful dogHere we have a dog that wants to play. We have all seen this, and thankfully it is the common behaviour state for most dogs.

A playful dog may also give off excited barks or playful attacks and retreats.

The body language of a playful dog includes:
  • Having their tail up and wagging
  • Ears will be up
  • Their pupils may be dilated
  • Their mouth will be open with tongue exposed
  • The stance will be stooped forward, their front end lowered with bent forepaws
  • The dog will hold their position before breaking into a run and the stopping, jumping forward, returning and retreating. The behaviour is playfully erratic

[Photo Credits:]

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  • Särah Stegeman

    I don’t really like the use of “pack leader”, it’s outdated terminology
    and shouldn’t be used when referring to humans or really any being at
    all. Dog social hierarchy is much more complex than an alpha/beta linear

    I’d also like to add that the Dominant Aggressive dog will typically
    be showing only the front teeth and gums, while the Fearful Aggressive
    will be showing all of them. Confidence and security determine whether
    the dog feels it needs to show few or all of its assets.

    • dc13

      Out of curiosity, what term would you use when, for instance, my dog glances to me for approval and is less obedient to others until he’s learned that they are his “boss” as well?

      • Särah Stegeman

        Why are you assuming that your dog is looking to you for approval? Assigning human motives to animals is called anthropomorphism and is one of the main reasons why we have issues communicating with them.
        You give your dog treats and praise on a regular basis when he behaves, so he listens to you. If others are not actively involved in his training, and thus haven’t established that they give treats and praise regularly, he has no reason to listen to them.

        • Kristin Mosley

          Guess what? Your dog doesn’t care what you call yourself. People like to disregard the term pack leader because it makes them sound like they have all the modern next new thing answers to dog training. I have a pack. Two dogs and two cats. I’ve spent thousands training them and I am the leader. And their compassionate guide through this world with different rules and regulations. People who want to waste time mincing words and splitting hairs about terminology are missing the point. Cesar Milan and all his teachings have been beneficial to me. I don’t do everything he says, nor have I done anything every trainer has told me to do. I’ve had training (training is about the human not the dog) in everything from the Koehler method to 100% positive, and have taken what my dog needed from each genre of teaching. Guess what? Your dog couldn’t care less what you call yourself and you shouldn’t either.