How to identify 8 key dog emotions and dog body language

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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.

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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 that kind of looks like a dog version of a smile, and their eyes will look natural, relaxed and the whites will barely be visible.

Also, their hair will be smooth rather than standing on end, and your dog 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. Essentially, your dog is checking out their surroundings, judging whether or not there is a threat that'll need their attention and action.

They'll look focused with a closed, tight mouth, they might be leaning slightly forward on their toes as they search the environment and their tail will either be motionless or wagging slowly from side to side. 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, along with flattened ears and a raised paw. Sweaty footprints can also be an obvious sign, along with repeated yawning. Although yawning can be a sign of tiredness, it can also indicate extreme stress.

You might also notice that your dog is licking their lips over and over again, or even licking the air or the face of the dominant dog, which are tell-tale signs of anxiety. 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 to show submission and vulnerability and some will bark or growl as a means of defence.

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, very similar to the signs for anxiety that are listed above.


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 and their belly and throat exposed. But many people consider this to be a sign of wanting their belly rubbed, but it's actually a sign of fear and submission, so just be wary when introducing strangers (both human and hound) to your pet. Exposing their tummy is just your dog's way of surrendering, as their stomach is the most vulnerable area of their body.

You're likely to also notice your dog avoiding eye contact, or their eyes partly closed, their tail tucked and even a few drops of urine.


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. The weight of the dog will mainly be over the front two feet in preparation to lunge and attack. Their tail may either by up and high to show dominance, or it might be tucked under, along with dilated pupils that look dark, hard and imposing.

Alongside this, their mouth may be open with their lips drawn back to bare their teeth, accompanied by a snarl, bark or growl.


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.

When they're feeling generally relaxed, their tail will be down, relaxed or wagging, and their entire stance and expression will appear a lot more natural, loose and content.


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 very bouncy, along with their tail which may be widely wagging from side to side, communicating that they want to play. It's likely that they'll hold this bowed position for a few seconds just before they break free to run in a random direction or of course, get the zoomies.

They'll also have an open, soft mouth, possibly with their tongue lolling out that'll almost make them look like they're smiling.


As a pet parent, it's a good idea to be clued up on the various body language signals that our dogs display. Since we can't talk to our dogs directly, this is our main way of learning what our dogs are thinking and feeling, helping us to properly take care of our pooches.

Although most of the pooch population show similar body language signals, each and every dog displays their own nuanced and unqiue way of communicating, and you know your dog the best!