How to Identify 8 Key Dog Emotions and Dog Body Language
Dog-owners wanting to better understand dog behaviour and their dog's emotional state should read on to find out how to translate eight dog emotions and canine body language. Just like humans, dogs are capable of feeling anxious, angry and playful, and these positive or negative emotions are primarily conveyed through their body language.
Owners should pay special attention to the dogs’ tails and ears. Just like humans, dogs can show their emotions through the way they handle their bodies. Whilst a happy dog will have its ears up straight and a wagging tail, an anxious or fearful dog will avoid eye contact, cower, and tuck its tail between its legs, whilst a dog who licks you could mean a variety of things.
Nobody knows their dog better than the owner. The more time they spend together, and the better the human is at reading their dog, the stronger the relationship will be.
Your dogs’ ears will be up (not forward) with their tail down and relaxed unless of course, it’s wagging which is a good indication any dog is happy. They will have a soft, open mouth and could even be playing bow or rolling over to show their belly.
The main sign of an alert dog is the ears being forward and they may twitch if they’re trying to listen out for a specific sound. Their eyes will be open and bright as they concentrate. They'll look focused with a motionless tail and closed mouth. Some dogs may even growl or bark depending on the situation.
Avoiding eye contact is a key trait of an anxious dog. Their body and tail will be still and slightly lowered. Sweaty footprints can also be an obvious sign, along with a raised paw and ears flattened. In this situation, dogs will typically convey a submissive body language with their neck low to the ground and in some more extreme cases, urination.
Dogs can show fear in different ways. Some will cower, others may roll on their back and some will bark or growl. A tucked tail and darting eyes whilst they concentrate on the source of fear is often a giveaway. Many will try and make themselves as small as possible and their body posture will be tense and low to the ground.
Many dogs can feel unsure about meeting new people, making them feel vulnerable. They may roll onto their back with their paws in the air. But many people consider this to be a sign of wanting their belly rubbed, so be wary when introducing strangers to your pet.
Dogs will make themselves look as big as possible in the face of a threat, so a stiff body and fur standing on end is to be expected. Their mouth will also be open as they bare their teeth. The weight of the dog will mainly be over the front two feet in preparation to lunge and attack.
A relieved dog can often be easy to spot when its position changes from a previously angry or anxious position. They will visibly relax, with the eyes softening and head returning to a lower position.
Resting on the front legs with a raised bottom and a wagging tail are the main giveaways of a playful dog. Bringing a toy over is a pretty good sign too! Their body will be held high and will be very bouncy as the dog communicates they want to play. They'll also have an open, soft mouth almost looking like they're smiling.
- Hasegawa M, Ohtani N, Ohta M. Dogs' Body Language Relevant to Learning Achievement. Animals (Basel). 2014;4(1):45-58. Published 2014 Feb 27. doi:10.3390/ani4010045
- Amici, F., Waterman, J., Kellermann, C.M. et al. The ability to recognize dog emotions depends on the cultural milieu in which we grow up. Sci Rep 9, 16414 (2019).
- Dogs Have Feelings—Here's How We Know National Geographic
- How To Read Dog Body Language American Kennel Club