How to read your dog’s body language

Stress Awareness Month gets us thinking about the causes of our stress and how to deal with it.

But what about our dogs? Unfortunately, our canine companions can get just as stressed as we do.

Learning how to spot the signs of stress will help you keep your little pal feeling happy, relaxed, and ready to take on the world.

What’s my dog thinking?

What is my dog trying to tell me? New owners, lifelong dog guardians and even the occasional pup-snuggler have all, at one point or another, wondered what a pooch is thinking.

Not being able to ask your four-legged friends “what’s wrong?” can be difficult and leave you feeling frustrated. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Your pooch’s body language can tell you a lot about their emotions and how they’re feeling. So, sit back, grab a cuppa, and let us tell you how to read your dog's mind (crystal ball not required).

Signs of fear or anxiety to look out for

  • Leaning away whilst lip-licking  
  • Yawning, leaning away
  • Ears back, lip-licking
  • Pausing with ears back, tail lowered, paw lifted
  • Leaning back with tail tucked, ears back
  • Lowered body posture, tail tucked
  • Approaching with low, wagging tail and ears back 
  • Teeth exposed in ‘smile’ shape, ears back, eyes squinted/ shut tightly

Signs that your dog needs space immediately  

  • Crouched and growling with ears back and tail under
  • Tense, leaning forward, tail outwards/up, staring, snarling, growling
  • Rolling onto side or back, tail tucked, ears back, tense, one or both back legs raised

It’s important to remember…

Not all dogs will show these signs or in the combinations described, and others may show some of these signs in other emotional states. The whole body, context and individual dog must be considered when reading your dog’s body language and deciding how you should react.

We know you love your dogs as much as we do. They provide invaluable emotional support and comfort, which has never been so important. So, don’t we owe it to our pooches to do the same in return?

Being able to recognise when your dog might be feeling worried or stressed will help you respond appropriately, and keep you, your dog, and others safe.


How to help if your dog is showing signs of stress.

Body language is just one of the things to be aware of when trying to understand your dog. Check out our other behaviour advice pages for more tips and tricks.

Or if you’d prefer tailored expert advice and practical training, you can book a course with Dog School. We'll help you and your pooch understand each other better with our affordable coach-led classes.

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