Know Your Dog's Body Language

When you think of a happy dog, you might imagine one with his tail wagging. But a wagging tail isn’t always a sign of canine happiness. It could also be a sign of nervousness or aggression.

Your dog’s body language offers various clues as to whether or not he’s comfortable with a situation. By learning some of these often subtle signs, you can react when your dog is feeling fearful or aggressive.

Signs of a happy dog

These are the signs of a dog that is happy and relaxed:

  • His eyes have their normal shape and look soft, with no whites showing.
  • His body is loose with a wagging tail or he’s wiggling all over.
  • His mouth is closed or slightly open and relaxed. The corners of his mouth might be turned up slightly.
  • His ears are in their neutral, natural position or up. Mild curiosity might have his ears perking forward.

Get to know your dog’s signs

Your dog’s signs might vary slightly, as each breed has different neutral positions for tails and ears. For example, an Akita might hold his tail higher than a Greyhound or a Collie. Get to know your dog’s natural body language and it’ll be easy to notice when he’s suddenly tense or fearful.

Signs of discomfort or distress

These signs are often signals of discomfort, nervousness or distress:

  • The body is tense or stiff. His fur might be raised.
  • His tail wags in a way that is stiff and higher or lower than his neutral position.
  • His eyes are rounder with whites showing.
  • He avoids eye contact or looks away from something that bothers him.
  • His mouth is closed.
  • His ears are pulled back or lowered.

When you notice these signs, stop to see what’s disturbing your dog and try to move him away or redirect his attention. By learning your dog’s body language, you’ll be able to keep him safe and can react to avoid harmful situations.