How to Read a Dog’s Body Language

Reading a dog’s body language is essential for understanding his feelings, moods, and intentions. This is especially important when introducing your canine friend to new people, animals, or situations, as it can contribute significantly to the safety of those involved. 

As we know, dogs can’t speak to us, so they must communicate primarily through their body language, which includes their posture, facial expressions, tail movement, and more. 

While each dog is different, having their own personality and quirks, some dog body language patterns are typically universal; this post is going over them, so you can always play it safe with your dog and others. 

Common Dog Body Language Patterns to Know & Understand

Body language is the best way to determine what a dog is thinking, feeling, and considering. You should always pay attention to a dog’s behavior, whether you know the dog or not, to ensure the dog and those around the dog aren’t in harm’s way. 

Here are some key aspects to consider when interpreting dog body language:


The position and movement of a dog’s tail can convey a lot about their emotional state. A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a happy dog; the speed, height, and stiffness of the wag are important. A raised, stiff tail might indicate alertness or dominance, while a lowered tail could signify submission or fear.


The position of a dog’s ears can show whether they are feeling relaxed or alert. Forward-facing ears indicate attentiveness, while ears pinned back against the head might indicate fear or submission.


A dog’s eyes can reveal a lot about their emotions. Dilated pupils can indicate excitement, fear, or aggression. A direct, unwavering gaze could indicate assertiveness or aggression, while avoiding eye contact might signal submission or discomfort.

Mouth & lips

Bared teeth, growling, or snarling are obvious signs of aggression. However, a relaxed open mouth with a hanging tongue can indicate a happy and relaxed dog. Licking lips can be a sign of nervousness or submission.

Body posture

A dog’s overall body posture speaks volumes. An upright, tense posture might indicate alertness or dominance. A crouched or lowered body suggests submission or fear. Relaxed muscles and a loose body often indicate a content and happy dog.


When a dog’s fur along the back and neck stands up (known as hackles), it can indicate excitement, fear, or arousal. This response is often involuntary and is triggered by strong emotions.

Play behavior

Playful dogs often have a play bow stance, where their front legs are lowered, and their hindquarters are raised. This signals an invitation to play and is often accompanied by wagging tails and bouncy movements.


Dogs may yawn when they are stressed, anxious, or uncertain. It’s not necessarily an indicator of tiredness.


While panting is normal after exercise or in warm weather, excessive panting, especially when combined with other signs like pacing or restlessness, can indicate anxiety or discomfort.

Whining & barking

Different vocalizations can convey different emotions. Whining can indicate anxiety or a desire for attention while barking can signify excitement, alertness, or sometimes frustration.

It’s crucial to observe your dog’s body language in context. Consider the situation they’re in, their surroundings, and their past behavior to get a clearer understanding of what they might be feeling. 

Every dog is unique, so you must learn your own dog’s typical behaviors and nuances. Over time, you’ll become more adept at reading their body language and responding appropriately to their needs.

How to Interact with an Unfamiliar Dog

We know you love petting dogs, and you love letting your dog play with other dogs. And, in most cases, it’s not a problem. But you must follow some rules to do it correctly and keep you and your dog safe. 

If you’re around a dog you don’t know, never approach her without the owner’s consent, which means if the owner isn’t present, do not try to interact with the dog in any way. 

If the owner consents, you should stand close to the dog, avoid eye contact, and let him come to you first. If the dog shows body language inconsistent with playfulness or friendliness, you should avoid further contact immediately and keep your dog away from him. 

Routine Dog Check-Ups by Your Alpharetta Veterinarian

The best way to keep your dog happy and healthy is with regular visits to the vet. Our Windward Parkway veterinarian will provide quality care and years of insight to ensure your dog is living her best life. 

If you have any questions about your dog’s behavior or body language or want to schedule a visit, please contact our Alpharetta vet clinic today. We know your dog’s happiness and comfort are priorities, and we want to help!

Experience The Best Veterinary Care Alpharetta Has to Offer

Phone: (470) 545-0771

Fax: (470) 468-0143


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6195 Windward Parkway
Suite 109
Alpharetta,GA 30005