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To communicate with each other and with people, dogs use a rather sophisticated, non-verbal language. Let’s look at seven tips that can help us understand what dogs are saying.

We’ve organized the tips into seven essential areas of the body language of dogs. However, think about the parts operating as one whole rather than separately. Considering all the factors helps when attempting to understand what your dog is saying.

Ready to learn what your dog has to say? Let’s take a closer look.

1. The Tail

Probably the most encouraging indicator of a dog’s behavior is her tail. Note two things as you observe it: how the tail moves and its position. When relaxed, a dog’s tail is in the neutral position. The neutral position is when the tail extends directly horizontal from her spine or just slightly below.

When she is aroused or excited, her tail shifts above the horizontal to an upward angle. In a happy dog, the tail moves in a rapid, side-to-side or circular motion, and the speed of the movement increases as she becomes increasingly excited.

When a dog is afraid, the tail movement and position can vary. It generally points downward. The dog may also put her tail between her legs, hold the tail stiffly against her belly, or wag it rapidly back and forth, up and down, or in a circular motion.

2.The Fur

In some respects, we can compare a dog’s fur to our own human bodies when we get goosebumps. When a dog is aroused or upset, the fur on his back rises. The technical term is “piloerection,” but we often call it “raised hackles.” The coat gets stiff across his shoulders, on top of his tail, or along the spine.

When his hackles are raised, it may not always mean he is becoming aggressive. It may only mean that he is excited or upset.

Stress or fear can also cause a dog to shed more fur than usual.

3. The Ears

Dogs have many types of ears — from long and floppy to short and stiff, and everywhere in between. Dogs’ long, floppy ears exhibit the same ear reactions as those with short ears — you just may be unable to see them.

A relaxed dog’s ears lay back slightly or out to the side. When she is aroused or on the alert, her ears move forward and point at the object of interest. You can bet she’s intent on hearing, smelling, and seeing what’s ahead. She wants to discover what’s going on. When a dog’s ears move forward, her forehead wrinkles, too.

4. The Eyes

A dog’s eyes appear differently under different conditions. Note the intensity and focus of his eyes. They can tell you something: fear, interest, or just rest.

If he is feeling nervous or tense, his eyes may be more round than usual. He may also reveal more of the eyes’ white part (called the sclera) if he is tense. Some people call this “whale eye.”

If the dog’s eyes are more dilated than normal, it can indicate arousal, stress, or fear. When enlarged, his eyes will look more glassy, too. If he is relaxed and happy, he may squint his eyes to an almond shape with none of the whites showing at all.

5. The Mouth

Your pup’s mouth is another expressive area to pay attention to. The mouth of a dog at rest may be open. She may pant and display no tension at the mouth or on her face. The corners of her mouth may turn slightly upward.

If she is afraid or tense, she keeps her mouth closed and pulls her lips backward on the corners. The expression is sometimes called “long lip.” She may pant rapidly. If she is panting, then suddenly closes her mouth, she may be responding to something that is causing her stress. If she drools with no food near, this often indicates acute nervousness or fear.

If the top of her muzzle is wrinkled and she shows her front teeth, she is probably exhibiting a warning. The expression is known as the “offensive pucker,” where she shortens her mouth and forms a “C” shape. She also may tense her forehead, harden her eyes, and growl. Combined, these are a warning device aimed at anyone coming near.

Some canines show a grin or smile, indicating relaxed friendliness. Along with this, she might show her front teeth (not in an aggressive way), lower her head and ears, wag her tail, exhibit a relaxed body posture, and have squinty, soft eyes.

Licking and yawning may indicate stress, especially when her mouth is tight and she whines.

6. Sweat

Dogs don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies like people. Instead, they pant to dissipate heat. Panting can also indicate stress, especially if he is panting rapidly, and his mouth is tight with creases around it.

However, dogs do sweat through their paws. If your dog leaves wet paw prints on the floor, it may indicate he is under stress or is upset.

7. Whole Body Movement and Posture

When in play mode, a dog often begins with a bow and then follows up with a very animated body and facial movement. His body is wiggly and loose, displaying a lot of motion and short pauses.

If he is stiff, moves sluggishly, or moves away from other dogs or people, he is most likely not interested in interacting. Sniffing around, looking distracted, lying down, or scratching usually indicates the end of playtime.

If he leans back or away, crouches, trembles, lowers his head or body, or rolls over onto his back or side may mean he is afraid. He may accompany this behavior with his eyes opened fully with big pupils, forehead wrinkled, and tail tucked or lowered. An intensely fearful dog may freeze totally, may make a frantic attempt to escape, and may even defecate or urinate.

A dog that displays aggressiveness looks large, standing with his head up above his shoulders. His body is tense, and he may center his body’s mass, place it on all four paws, or he may lean forward on his front legs only. He may also display short lips, a wrinkled muzzle, and hard eyes when he feels aggressive.

Final Thoughts

Using the seven tips above, you can understand your dog’s current emotions and state. Plus, understanding dog body language also helps you identify any potential health concerns and other sources of trouble.

Your dog has a lot to say, but it’s up to you to learn how to “listen.” Have fun communicating with your best friend in a whole new way!

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