Canine Body Language: A Beginner’s Guide

Canine Body Language – Are You Fluent?

dangerous dogI might get some flack from my dog friends for sharing this with you, but as a human-lover, I feel bad for any two-legged friend who can’t interpret what their canine is trying to communicate. If you are looking to understand your dog, you’ll need to put effort in learning canine body language. We don’t us words like you do, but we do “speak” with our entire body.

Choose Your Words Wisely

No, we don’t speak English. Yes, we do understand much of your language. But gosh, when you start rambling, we can’t keep up. Keep your comments simple. Ever wonder why we do so well with “Sit” and “Stay” and “Heel?” Once you start rambling about chewed up toilet paper all over the dining room and guests are coming over and your voice is raised, you lose us. Listen, I’m still back with the chewed-up toilet paper. That sounds like fun.

What Is Really Important Is Body Language

Some may call us expressive, because we use our entire body to communicate with other dogs (and people, too)! If you’re trying to learn canine body language, here are the most important things you can pay attention to.


When approaching a new dog for the first time, pay close attention to his body language. Does he seem relaxed? Most often dogs who are feeling playful or calm keep very “normal” posture. His four feet may be planted evenly on the floor and all muscles will be relaxed. Is the dog’s body arched away from you or toward you? This is usually a sign that he is being very submissive or dominant. If a dog pulls his body close to the floor, arching away from you, it most likely means he is being submissive or fearful. If a dog’s muscles seem tense and he is trying to make himself appear larger, this is likely a dominant dog.


Calm dogs will generally keep a slightly open, relaxed mouth and jaw. They won’t be showing teeth as a threat. In fact, when meeting a calm dog, he might try to lick you. If a dog’s mouth is closed with a tensed jaw, this may be a sign that the dog is nervous. Dogs who are feeling submissive have been found to lick their lips and yawn often if their mouth isn’t closed. One obvious sign to be aware of is if a dog shows you his teeth. Depending on the attitude that comes with the teeth baring, the dog may be giving you a warning, or he might be about to attack. Nothing good comes from flashing teeth, so be sure to keep a respectful boundary.


Would you rather a dog be panting quietly or barking aggressively? I’ll bet you picked the panting. Correct. If a dog is calm he may pant slightly, or maybe you won’t notice a change in sound at all. Dogs who bark are usually trying to tell you something. All barks mean something different, and if I told you what they all meant, I’d probably be blackballed. Just think of barking like someone yelling at you, but in a language you don’t understand. Usually people yell because they aren’t feeling happy, right? Same with dogs. Regardless of the message we’re sharing, always think of barking as a big caution sign.

Once you’ve mastered the understanding of body stance, mouth, and sounds, you’re ready to observe more of our communication techniques. 

Some things you may want to be aware of on a dog are their facial expressions. Does their entire face appear at ease, or is it tense? A dog’s eyes and ears can communicate much of how he may be feeling. Watch the dog’s hair, as well. If the hair on the back of his head lifts, it is a way for them to communicate that they are nervous, aroused, or angered. How about the tail? Is his tail tucked in between his legs? That may mean he’s fearful. Is his tail alert, standing straight up in the air? This means the dog is paying very careful attention. He could be trying to make himself appear larger in and more dominant.

Even if you consider yourself a canine communication champion, remember that just like humans, all dogs are different.

Some really love human attention (like me!), but others aren’t as friendly. Learning canine body language means that you’ll meet all different kinds of dogs. Consider them all your teachers, and just like you’d respect your teachers’ boundaries, respect the dog’s as well.

What have you learned from your own dog’s canine body language? Please share your tips in the comment section!

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!

4 comments on “Canine Body Language: A Beginner’s Guide

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