Quick guide to crucial dog body language

Animals don’t speak in the same way as we do, but they do use body language to communicate with us. By ‘listening’ closely to the signs that they’re giving us, we can get a good idea of what they want. Something that is very critical to remember is that body language shouldn’t be ‘read’ in isolation. We need to take the entire scenario and context into consideration before we make any assumptions.

As a result of years of domestication, dogs have developed an integrated system of communicating with us, and they have also learnt to read our facial expressions, up to a point. We can compare their understanding of us to that of a toddler.



Question Is he sleepy or did he just wake up? Or is the yawn ‘out of the blue’?

What it could mean Your dog could be yawning because he is actually tired. But often, your dog’s yawning means something totally different. It might be that he is feeling stressed, and this is one way your dog can show you that he is not comfortable with the situation. However, it could also mean that he is content to be spending time with you.


Lip licking

Question Has he just finished a meal?

What it could mean When your dog has just finished a meal, there is a slight chance that he might lick his lips, but dogs don’t lick their lips like we do. If your dog licks his lips, look for other signs as well, as he is most probably feeling anxious or wants to avoid some form of conflict. He might also show other signs, like whale eye, and he might even yawn as well. This combination of signs means your dog is uncomfortable or anxious about something.


Whale eye

Question Are his eyes open wide, and can you see the whites of his eyes?

What it could mean If you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes, it means he is most probably scared of something or uncomfortable with a situation. He wants some space. One example is if someone hugs a dog. If the dog is not happy, you’ll see whale eyes. Watch out for other signs as well, like pulled back ears.


Tail wagging

Question Is he really happy?

What it could mean We’re conditioned to believe that, if a dog wags his tail, he is happy. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. A wagging tail means your dog is emotionally aroused. Depending on the speed of the wagging, the position of his tail and the direction of his tail, he might be frustrated with something. If his entire body wags with his tail, and you can see his smile and soft eyes, then he is most probably happy.


Eye contact

Question Is he looking at me with ‘puppy eyes’ to make me soft?

What it could mean If your dog’s eyes are clearly soft and you can see a smile on his face, he is most probably trying to tell that he loves you and that he is happy. Or he might be waiting in anticipation for a treat or a pat on the back, or just some attention. Sad puppy eyes, on the other hand, could obviously mean that he is sad. Keep in mind that dogs aren’t capable of feeling guilt – so, it’s never a guilty look.



Question Is he happy?

What it could mean If it looks like your dog is smiling, his eyes are soft and his body is relaxed, then he is most probably smiling. But if his eyes appear hard, his body is tense and you can clearly see his teeth, he is most probably getting aggressive. This is his way of telling you to back off. An actual growl might follow this gesture.


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Q & A: Yawning puppy

Q: What is the difference between a tired yawn and a yawn when my puppy is uncomfortable? A: The difference is in the context and