What your dog is trying to tell you – 10 emotions you should recognise

Just imagine what your dog would say if he could speak. But he can’t. Dogs use body language to communicate with us and it is up to us to learn to try and understand them.

Although sometimes your dog shows you clearly what he wants, at times it can be difficult to understand him.  Here are a few things to look out for that should give you an indication of what he is trying to tell you. You will notice that some of the signs overlap. For example, a dog whose ears are flattened against his head can mean he is anxious or that he is scared, as dogs can also feel more than one emotion at the same time.

Important: If you are in any doubt or the signs your dog is showing appear conflicting, immediately give your dog space. See if his body language changes. Early intervention is key.

1. “I’m relaxed”

The dog may be sitting, lying down or standing. His body is relaxed. His mouth is relaxed and may be slightly open, with his tongue protruding. His ears may be alert, but won’t be flattened against his head or too erect. If he is standing, his tail will be down. If he is lying down, he may look sleepy. Look for soft eyes and regular, comfortable breathing or panting.

2. “Boy, am I happy to see you!”

Look for his tail wagging really fast, either round and round or from side to side. Sometimes his whole bum wiggles, and his body does not look tense. He may pant or his tongue lolls to the side of his mouth. He may offer you a paw, jump up to greet you, run fast circles around you or even run madly around the house or garden. His body will be super excited, but his eyes and mouth will be soft.

3. “I trust you”

The dog rolls over and exposes his tummy. His body and ears are relaxed. This shows that he enjoys the interaction with you and trusts you. However, the same stance would be one of anxiety, fear or submission if the dog’s body is rigid and his ears flattened against his head.

4. “I’m not comfortable”

The dog licks his lips or yawns (without being tired). He is concerned about the current situation or he may be trying to appease a person or another dog. He may also sniff the ground and look away to avoid eye contact. He may start scratching or lift a paw.

5. “Excuse me, but I’d really like you to stop”

The dog turns his head to the side, licks his lips and/or yawns. He really isn’t enjoying the situation and wants you to stop. He may become rigid and show whale eye. He may also lean his body away from you, even just a few centimetres. Pet owners who hug and kiss their dogs should look out for these signs and respect the dog’s feelings. Obviously, if the dog enjoys the cuddle, he will lean in to get closer to you.

6. “I’m anxious”

The dog yawns when he isn’t tired. He is anxious and he wants you (or another dog) to move away from him. He may start to lick his lips and he’ll likely avoid eye contact. His body is stiff, his ears lowered and might be panting.

 7. “Come play with me”

The dog leans forward on his front legs and lowers his body – this is called a play-bow. He is signalling that he wants to play. He may bark excitedly to engage the other party.

8. “I am really scared”

The dog holds his tail very low or between his legs. He crouches or cowers down, avoiding eye contact. He holds his ears down, flattened against his head. He is very distressed and may urinate. He may back away or even run away with his tail between his legs.

9. “I’m frustrated and getting more irritated by the minute”

The dog has a defensive, stiff posture and may bark to voice his frustration. His face is intense and his eyes fixed. He is focused on a particular point or cocks his ears to hear more clearly. It is best not to approach a dog in this posture. This is a warning sign.

10. “I am very angry now”

If the above situation escalates, the dog will start to show his teeth (wrinkly muzzle) and he may growl. If the dog or person still continues, the dog will freeze, his posture will become rigid and he will stare intently. He holds his ears flat against his head and the hair on the back of his neck, back and rump stand up. This is a serious stance – and the situation can very quickly escalate into a bite. Immediately stop what you are doing and move away. If you are visiting a dog park and another dog freezes with your dog in his sights, move away very quickly. Remember to never punish your dog when he growls. This is his way of showing you how uncomfortable he is.


The above article is taken from South Africa’s Dog Directory 2020. For more of these educational and interesting articles, order the South Africa’s Dog Directory 2021/22 online.


Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Monthly Newsletter

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.
On Key

Related Posts

The black-footed cat

Night stalker, Africa’s smallest feline, the black-footed cat is a shy, nocturnal species rarely seen in the wild

5 steps to responsible pet ownership

Pets are treasured members of our families who bring joy, companionship and endless entertainment to our lives. However, with the privilege of pet ownership comes

Q & A: Jumpy lap dog

Q: How can I get my dog to sit still on my lap and not jump up when somebody moves in the house? A: Without

Rally dogs have more fun

Rally dog is an exciting dog sport that was first recognised in South Africa in 2020. In a rally dog test, the handler and dog