Discover how to read your dog's body language, from tail wags to ear positions, and improve your communication for a happier pet life.


How to Understand a Dog’s Body Language

5 min read

When was the last time you were stuck staring confusingly at your dog and thought, “it would be amazing if I could only talk with Snowball..”. If you are like most dog owners, this is likely a recurring thought. What if I told you that dogs are communicating way more than we might think, and all we need to do is learn to listen.

Although dogs use sounds as signals, much of their communication is conducted through body language. Here we will teach you the basics of how to understand your dog’s body language!

What is a Dog’s Body Language, and Why Does it Matter?

Although dogs can’t speak, dog language is not all that different from human communication. Their language consists of body posture, vocal communications and facial expressions.

Like amongst us humans, the vocal part of their language barely scratches the surface of their communication.

By considering the body posture and facial expressions, a dog’s body language, we are able to look deeper into just what our companions are thinking.

It is essential to be able to understand this form of communication in order to prevent accidents, keep you and your dog safe, and help each other live happy, stress free lives.

How to Understand Your Dog’s Body Language

Even though a dog’s body language can be complex and difficult to understand, if you can learn to read these 5 main body expressions based on stress levels, you will be able to understand your dog so much more.

The key parts to keep track of are:

Tail: Is it up, down, waging, etc?

Ears: Are they straight up, leaning forward, moving around, etc.?

Head: Is it low to the ground, held high, etc.?

Mouth: Is the mouth open, teeth bared, tongue hanging out, etc.?

Stance: Is the body straight, leaning backward, crouching, etc.?

Let’s take a look:

#1 Calm and Relaxed (Stress Level 0)
Calm and Relaxed (Stress Level 0).png

This is the body expression that your dog should exhibit the most often. To the dog there is no immediate concern or potential threat in its environment and they are calm or relaxed.

When meeting another dog with this combination of body expressions, they are most likely saying “I am no harm” and can even show off their tummy or lick the other dog’s face to show their calmness.

Although a dog is generally easy to approach when showing this body language, be careful with rushing into a greeting as it can disrupt them from their calm and relaxed state.

#2 Uncertain, Alert (Stress Level 1)
Uncertain, Alert  (Stress Level 1).png

When a dog is showing the expressions related to Stress Level 1, they are most likely saying, “I am not sure..” or “Something could be wrong..”.

This means that the dog is alert and paying attention, still uncertain if there is any threat or necessary action required.

While showing signs of being alert is important not to startle or threaten the dog as the signs of alertness can quickly dissolve into aggression even easier than becoming friendliness.

#3 Fearful Aggression (Stress Level 2)
Fearful Aggression (Stress Level 2).png

Fearful aggression is a sign that something is not right, there is something in the environment or social atmosphere that is stressing them.

Caution is required as the dog might not be under control and can suddenly attack if feeling threatened. Sometimes, the signals are not aimed at anyone or thing in particular, but represent the dog’s overall emotional state.

On a single occurrence make sure to give space and try to get rid of any stressful factors, but if your dog regularly shows this body language, it is a good idea to look into professional training.

#4 Alert Aggression (Stress Level 3)
Alert Aggression (Stress Level 3).png

An alert, aggressive body language is communicating both confidence and dominance. The dog is expressing their feeling of social dominance, with the warning that they will act aggressively or violently if their status is challenged.

It is a very tense state which can quickly turn into more aggressive behavior so it is important to notice this communication sign early and carefully observe how other dogs behave in that moment.

#5 Playfulness (Stress Level-Controlled)
Playfulness (Stress Level-Controlled).png

The final main type of body language is playfulness! This is a basic invitation to play and shows that the dog is excited, happy and ready to have fun!

Dogs often don’t remain in this position for long and will quickly break into a run in a random direction.More so than the calm and relaxed condition, a dog showing signs of playfulness is okay with being approached and shown attention.

It is easy to tell this state by looking for a dog’s butt high in the air and their paws lifted in a friendly invitation.

There is a lot more to dogs than just being the adorable and loving best friends that always know just how to cheer us up. More often than not they are telling us more things than we realize and as dog parents it's our responsibility to learn to listen.

Start watching your dog’s body expressions to begin recognizing their level of stress and what they might be saying. Your dog will thank you for learning to listen and communicate better together!


Chin, Lili. Understanding Dog Body Language, Communication & Signs.” Pet Insurance, 22 July 2020, Accessed 29 July 2022.

Coren, Stanley. “How To Read Your Dog's Body Language.” Modern Dog magazine, Accessed 29 July 2022.

Gibeault, Stephanie. “Understanding Dog Body Language: Decipher Dogs' Signs & Signals.” American Kennel Club, 27 January 2020, Accessed 29 July 2022.


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