Week 8: Understanding Dog Body Language

Welcome to Week 8 of Bark Better Live Better!

This week, we're exploring how dogs communicate with us.

Learning your dog’s body language is just as important as learning the language of a person you love if they were to speak a foreign language.

Your dog will learn your language and try to understand you, so it seems only fair that we learn theirs as well.

Understanding your dog better will also strengthen the connection between the two of you and make sure that your pup stays happy and healthy.

Dog Language Checklist


How Do Dogs Communicate?

Dogs are pretty good at telling us how they feel.

They use a blend of body language, facial expressions, and even sounds to let us know what's up. Some signs are obvious, but others can be more subtle.

Learning to pick up on these cues can help you avoid situations that might stress or upset your pup.

As part of this week's challenge, we've got a handy freebie for you to check out. Take a peek and use it to get a sense of what your dog looks like when they're relaxed. Just watch them when they are hanging around doing nothing. Once you are familiar with what your dog looks like when they are at ease, you’ll be better equipped to spot other emotions they might be feeling.

Below you can find the most common body language signs:

Tail Wagging

A happy tail is usually a sign that your dog is happy and excited. However, let’s not forget that the way a tail moves as well as it’s position can give more insight into their mood. A slow, relaxed wag means that they’re likely feeling chill and content, whilst a fast, energetic wag with their tail help up high suggest that they’re feeling exited.

Just as a little anecdote; When our dog Louie was a small puppy he was a little unsure meeting other people and dogs. He showed us this by putting his tail between his legs. Sometimes, his tail would start wagging, despite still being tucked in. This did not indicate happiness or excitement, but rather that he was unsure on how to handle the situation.

Ear Position

Your furry friend's ears are like little mood indicators. When they're perked up and facing forward, it means they're curious or paying attention. But if they're flattened against their head, it might signal anxiety or fear. And if their ears are tightly pressed back, it's a sign they're uncomfortable or possibly feeling a bit defensive.

Keep in mind, it might be a bit harder to read signs in dogs with floppy ears, but with some practice, you'll become a pro at understanding their ear language!

Facial Expressions

Just like us, dogs can express a lot through their faces! A happy dog usually has a relaxed look with soft eyes, while a stressed or anxious pooch might furrow their brow and stare intently.

Some breeds, especially those with dark fur or squished faces, might be a bit more challenging to read. But with practice, you'll become a pro at understanding your pup's expressions!

happy dog

Body Posture

Your pup's body language speaks volumes about how they're feeling. A happy dog usually shows it with a loose, wiggly body and a wagging tail, maybe even throwing in a playful bow. But if they're tense or uncomfortable, you might notice signs like raised hackles or a stiff posture, signalling a need for space and care.

Instead of just focusing on one thing, it's best to consider your dog's overall body language to understand their mood. With practice, you'll soon be fluent in deciphering every head tilt, ear flick, and tail wag!

How Do We Know A Dog Is Anxious, Uncomfortable or Scared?

Anxious dogs, or those feeling uneasy or fearful, might seem quite similar to when they're relaxed, making it a bit harder to spot the signs.

However, there are three stages of these behaviours which can help you detect the body language signs early and take action to protect your pup.

Stage 1

This stage is where your dog is trying to avoid conflict or shows so called ‘Appeasement and Displacement Behaviour’. The signs are subtle, but it is important to recognise these signs, so your dog’s behaviour does not escalate.

  • Turning head away
  • Blinking
  • Yawning
  • Lip-licking or lip-smacking
  • Furrowed brow
  • Tension in muzzle without teeth showing
  • Low head and low ears
  • Turning body away

Stage 2

This stage is where your dog is becoming scared or frustrated. The treat or situation remains or the previous behaviour has been ignored. This is called ‘Escalated Discomfort Behaviour’.

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Pacing
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Bulging eyes showing whites (known as whale eye)
  • Tail between legs or still
  • Lying down with leg up, showing belly
  • Ears back or flat against head
  • Muscles tense
  • Mouth closed
  • Raised front paw
  • Moving away to escape the perceived threat
  • Cowering
  • Yawning excessively
  • Continued lip licking

Stage 3

At this stage, your pup might start acting defensively, sort of like when we raise our voices to make a point. It's best not to approach them then, as they might feel trapped or scared. This stage is often called ‘Escalated Fear & Frustration’ behaviour.

  • Fixed stare
  • Ears forward
  • Tense body with weight leaning forward
  • Lifting of lips to show teeth
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Snapping
  • Lunging
  • Tail still and wagging rapidly
  • Biting

Once you catch on to the early signs of discomfort, you'll be able to steer clear of situations that could prompt your dog to act this way.

How To Deal With Dogs Who Show Signs Of Distress, Reactivity or Aggressive Behaviour

Tackling the issue as soon as possible is essential:

  1. Create A Safe Space:
    Make sure your dog has a cozy area to chill out in, maybe with some barriers or gates to keep them comfy and relaxed.

  2. Use positive reinforcement:
    Use treats, praise, or toys to reward your dog when they do something you like. This positive reinforcement helps them learn what's good.

  3. Avoid punishment:
    Avoid yelling or physical corrections, as they can make things worse. Stick to positive reinforcement and training instead. It is important to remember that your dog is not being ‘naughty’ - they’re simply expressing how they feel.

  4. Understand the trigger:
    Try to figure out what is instigating this behaviour and try to address it. Start with controlled training sessions where your dog's behaviour stays relaxed and below the threshold of triggering. Reward this relaxed behaviour, and slowly expose your dog to more challenging situations when they seem ready.

  5. Keep training sessions short:
    Keep your dog training sessions brief and upbeat to prevent your dog from feeling overwhelmed. It's better to have shorter, positive sessions rather than long ones that might cause your dog to become stressed or triggered.

With a little patience and positive reinforcement, you can help your pup feel more secure in no time.

But if you're still worried about your dog's behaviour, it's smart to reach out to a qualified dog behaviourist. They can pinpoint what's causing the behaviour and come up with a plan to tackle it.


So, to sum it up, dogs are awesome at telling us how they feel, we just need to learn their language. By keeping an eye on their body language and understanding their cues, we can build a stronger bond with our furry pals.

So, why not grab that freebie, spend some quality time observing your pup, and see how their mood changes in different situations?

It's a fun way to get to know them better and make your relationship even stronger!

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