Dog Expressions: How to Understand That Funny Face

There is a whole world of communication humans are missing out on by not paying attention to dog expressions.

Those puppy dog eyes and drooping ears, their tail tucked between their legs, that goofy smile they give you when you come home after a day at the office: These dog expressions are a way for your best friend to communicate with you. By paying attention to your dog’s body language, you can understand them better and form a stronger bond. Plus, who doesn’t wish their dog could talk? They may not speak like humans, but understanding these dog expressions will help you get pretty darn close.

The all telling eye

dog expressions

Of all the ways your dog can express himself, his face is probably the easiest to read. You can make eye contact and almost always tell what they are feeling.

Dogs usually trust humans enough to communicate with eye contact, but only do so with other dogs if they feel threatened. Ever notice your dog when they see a neighborhood pet or a squirrel? Their eyes practically bulge out of their head, and you know they’re on high alert. Once they make eye contact, it’s almost impossible to redirect their line of sight. This type of stare is indicative of anxiety or stress, so proceed with caution. Never stare back at them, especially if they don’t already trust you. Dogs don’t always understand our words, but they read our body language, and staring back can increase their stress levels and your chances of getting bit.

When your dog is happy or relaxed, they act a lot different. They may squint or close their eyes because they don’t feel the need to be on the lookout. They’re content with their environment, which is a sign that they trust you.

Getting mouthy

dog expressions

They may not use their mouths to form sentences, but there is a lot to be told from the lips of a dog.

Anger is pretty easy to spot because dogs curl their lips up and reveal their teeth. However, when that anger escalates, they may make an aggressive pucker. That is when they pull their lips over their exposed teeth then exhale, trying to make their mouth look bigger. Growling makes it even more apparent, but this is a warning that the dog wants you to back off.

One sign of happiness in dogs is called Hackles, or a submissive grin. You may see this type of dog expression when a dog is greeting someone. They show their teeth, but the rest of their body language is submissive, which helps determine that they are in fact, happy. Dogs who get a lot of affection exhibit this behavior and you can encourage it with training and treats, according to trainer Mikkel Becker.

Telling tails

dog expressions

A dog’s tail can show you a lot about your dog’s mood.

The tail height, stiffness, and speed are all different depending on the situation. Wagging is not always a sign of happiness, so it’s important to observe other dog expressions, especially in a dog you don’t know very well.

According to PetMD, when a dog is alert their tail may stick straight out, but when they are scared or sad, it’s lowered or even tucked between their legs. When they are excited or happy, dog’s tails wag a mile a minute which is cute, but a danger to anything that may be sitting on your coffee table.

Expressive ears



Another great way to determine dog expressions is by watching their ears. There are dog expressionsmany different breeds with different types of listeners, but one thing we can notice from all of them is expression via their ear movements.

A relaxed dog will have their ears in their natural placement while a dog that is sad or anxious would have them lowered or stuck to their head. Perky ears are a sign that they are alert or sometimes even angry, but dogs also use them when they are listening. My friend Hazel has what we call antenna ears. As soon as she hears a noise, sleeping or not, her ears will perk up and turn in the direction of whatever sound she is trying to figure out.

Body language


The overall stature of a dog is very telling, and a difference in posture is one of the easiest ways to tell a dog’s emotional state.

When a dog is scared or trying to show submission, they may cower or get low to the ground. When a dog is alert or angered their posture is upright, and the muscles are tense. They will firmly stand on all fours but lean slightly expressions

In the canine community, size matters. If a dog is trying to appear small, you will know they’re either scared, anxious or submissive. If a dog is trying to look big, it’s a sign of stress, anger or overall alertness. When a dog is calm, their body language is relaxed, and there are no unusual changes in stature.

When you understand dog expressions you are essentially learning to speak dog. Frustration and confusion are practically eliminated, and you can help your pet’s emotional health, and connect with them on a deeper level.

What common dog expressions do you notice in your canine companion? Leave a comment.

Side note: Do you run a business in the pet industry? Would you like to drive more traffic and sales to your site through a search-optimized pet blog? Get in touch with my office-mates at Lantern Content Marketing!

About Napa 'ze Dog

My name is Napa and I'm the Lantern Content Marketing Adventure Company office dog. They create content for business blogs, so I do my part by blogging about pet stuff. My favorite topic is poop! Since you asked, I'm an F2B Miniature Goldendoodle. Everything else you want to know about me is right over here!

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