Understanding Dog Body Language: 6 Things to Look For

woman learning dog body language

For those of us with dogs, it can be a constant struggle to figure out what your pooch is trying to tell you. Dogs communicate largely through their body language, so it is important to understand what different body postures and movements mean in order to better interact with your dog and to help keep them safe.

Here are 6 of the most common ways a dog will try to communicate with you and what they mean. 

Facial Expressions 

Dogs use their faces to communicate much like humans do, and by being aware of what each expression means, you can better interpret your dog’s moods and intentions. Just like humans, dogs smile and frown. They also will choose to engage in eye contact when feeling love, or avoid it when sensing trouble. 

Dog Tail Wagging

The speed and intensity of the wag will depend on how happy or overwhelmed the dog is. Slow, thoughtful wags can show that a dog is happy and content and feeling loved. Excited, vigorous wagging will mean that your dog is ready to play. Pay close attention however, because sometimes this vigorous wagging means they are overwhelmed or anxious. 


An easy way to understand your dog’s body language is to pay attention to their mouth. Is their jaw relaxed, mouth open with their tongue hanging loosely? Or is it clenched, strained and lipless? A relaxed mouth and face indicates contentement and trust. A clenched, stressed mouth will usually reveal that the dog may be under duress, or worried about something. 


When humans are frightened, normally we will feel the hairs on the back of our necks stand straight at attention. The same goes for dogs. When the fur on a dogs’ back or hind quarters bristles, it normally means that they are on high-alert and ready for action. 

Baring Teeth 

When a dog bares their teeth, it usually means that they are feeling defensive or aggressive. When a dog is feeling scared or threatened, they may bare their teeth as a way to try and scare off the other animal. Dogs that are feeling aggressive will often bare their teeth as a warning to the other animal to back off. 

Growling Dog 

Growling is a dog’s attempt at vocalization, and a good way to understand your dog’s body language. While there are many different forms of growling and barking, here are three specific types to keep a lookout for: 

  • Low Growl: Low-pitched growling normally means the dog senses danger, or is attempting to ward off something or someone they don’t like. 
  • High Growl: High-pitched growls, often called yips, most often signify that your dog is having a great time! You may hear this type of growling during games of fetch, or tug-of-war. 
  • Long Growl: Long, sustained growling means that your dog is uncertain or uncomfortable in the given situation. This can be their form of letting you know that they are still assessing what’s going on. 

The Bottom Line

Dogs have complex body language that can be difficult to interpret. By understanding your dog’s body language, we can better communicate with our furry friends and avoid potential conflicts. 

For more information about caring for and understanding your dog, visit Rocky Mountain K9.