We love our canine friends: playing with them, snuggling with them, and just being around them. They know us, and we think we know them pretty well, too. Yet, how well do we really know our dogs? Does that wagging tail indicate contentment? Does panting always mean a dog is hot? How well can you decipher your dog’s body language and his attempts to communicate with you?

While all dogs are different, there are a few common ways our dogs communicate how they’re feeling.

Calm and neutral. A calm, neutral dog is typically ready for you to greet and pet him.

  • Relaxed body posture; no tension
  • Relaxed tail, possibly wagging
  • Possibly panting happily

Anxious or nervous. A dog showing signs of anxiety is nervous about his surroundings, and you should avoid petting him if you don’t know him.

  • Ears are back
  • Tail is low, but the end might be wagging slightly
  • Posture is leaned back or turned to the side
  • Might be panting

Scared. A scared dog should not be approached, because he might bite if he feels the need to defend himself.

  • Flattened ears
  • Tucked tail
  • Crouching lower to the ground

Alert. An alert dog could be curious or interested in what’s going on around him.

  • Leaning forward
  • Ears are forward
  • Mouth might be closed

Aggressive. Don’t run away from an aggressive dog. Stand tall and still and look away.

  • Stiff posture
  • Tail moves back and forth, like a flag
  • Might show teeth and/or growl

Dominant. A dominant dog is showing another dog that he’s in charge.

  • Standing up tall and leaning forward
  • Tail held high

Submissive. This position is most common when two dogs interact. One dog is telling the other he “gives up.” Abused dogs will sometimes display this behavior toward humans.

  • Laying on his back
  • Paws and tail tucked in

Playful. This dog is ready for you to chase him or throw the ball for him.

  • Might “bow down” with tail in the air and wagging and front legs and chest on the ground
  • Might be panting or barking

Excited. Sometimes, overly excited dogs can inadvertently scratch, jump up, or knock someone down in their excitement.

  • Forward ears
  • Tail wagging quickly
  • Alert and ready to pounce
  • Likely panting

You can also click here to read about physical and behavioral signs that your dog may be in pain. 

As you’re interacting with your dog, you can look out for these physical signs to better understand what he’s trying to communicate to you. If you have any questions, please contact us.

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