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Updated 5/2014

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Dog Language

Before you look at the site - please read the Picture Notes page.

A rudimentary understanding of dog body language is crucial for anyone who will encounter a dog - and that is everyone.  As you go through this site, please look at the body language in the pictures, see if you can figure out what may be going on in the dogs' minds.

This is just an overview of basic dog body language that all of us should know:

For more information I highly recommend Turid Rugaas's books and Dr Sophia Yin both of whom have wonderful resources.

Dog Language

Dogs do not have words like we do to express how they are feeling. We expect them to learn very fast how to interact with us and live in our foreign world.   Yet, we do little to learn how to understand them.  We often misinterpret their language and this can be dangerous. Let's look at some common dog language.

      Aggressive - this is often based in fear and the dog is trying to drive something bothering him away.  This dog is not happy with the presence of something. He is not dominant!  Do not challenge him! Just back off!!!

        Dog will try to make himself look big - hair on back and shoulders raised and he will be up on his toes

        Ears will be pinned back and eyes narrowed

        Body will be stiff and tail out straight or raised up slightly

        Teeth will be shown with or without snarling

        Could be a precusor to a lunge if you do not back off.



        Aroused/Alert - Something is going on, caught his attention and he is probably determining what to do next.

        Dog will be standing or sitting up tall with or without hair on shoulders raised

        Mouth closed

        Ears erect and forward and eyes wide

        May be woofing or growling

        Tail raised high and may be slowly wagging



        Dog will cower down and try to look smaller

        Ears will be pinned and eyes averting gaze

        May show teeth

        Tail will be tucked and dog may back away

        Dog may be shivering

        He may growl while backing away, may show teeth

        Extremely fearful dogs may cower and slink

        Mildy worried dogs may look confused, eyes wider (whites showing)


      Happy/Wanting to play

        Ears will be pricked forward and tail wagging

        Eyes will be bright and happy and mouth open slightly but teeth covered and dog may be panting excitedly

        Dog may be bouncy, circling, yipping, mock growling

        Dog may play-bow (lower front end with tail high in the air and wagging)


        This dog will just look "chill."

        His ears will be relaxed, mouth slightly open

        Tail will be hanging and wagging in a relaxed manner (normal tail carriage for the dog, not pitched high overback or tucked - unless the dog is one with a tail that normally arches over his back)

    Dogs will also use various signals to try and calm down a situation:

        Lip licking

        Averting gaze

        Lowering head and even the whole body

        Sniffing the ground

      A dog who is afraid, worried, stressed will:



        Stand with a foot raised

        Look away

        Be hyper-vigilant

        Refuse to eat when should be hungry

        Yawn when not tired

        Move slowly

        Move away

This is just a brief look at some more common dog body language. Dogs who are acting aggressive of fearful are more likely to bite and should be left alone.

Some dogs can be very overt in their body language while others can be very subtle.  If at all in doubt about how a dog is acting, a child should walk away.  Never should a child approach a dog when the owner AND a parent or guardian is not there no matter how the dog is behaving. And for safety sake, NEVER should a child approach a stranger no matter how cute the dog is or how "lost"" the dog is."



© copyright 2002-2014 Karen Peak, The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

No part of this website may be used without written permission of Karen Peak, all pictures and writings are property of Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training unless otherwise noted.

The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project is property of West Wind Dog Training.

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