Learning the Body Language of Your Dog

Updated: May 18


Imagine this scenario: You have loved dogs all your life, have always wanted one, and finally have the chance to get one of your own. However, never having had the chance to spend a lot of time around dogs, you do your homework and research all you can to make sure your new friend is well contented and happy in her new home. By all accounts, everything you have read says that if she is happy, she'll wag her tail. This leads you to believe that as long as she is wagging her tail, you don't have anything to worry about.

Eventually, you decide to take your dog to the dog park, and the first thing she does is walk up to another dog, her tail wagging low. They touch noses, then she goes on the defensive and tries to bite the other dog. You are completely confused and have no idea why this is happening. Obviously, a wagging tail does not always indicate contentment. The question is, how do you tell the difference?

For most dogs, the cues that determine whether a dog is happy, scared, or angry can be subtle and easy to miss, unless you are paying attention and have a lot of experience dealing with them. Keep in mind that she may also use a form of tail wagging to indicate things like alertness or even pain. Sometimes she may even wag her tail to show you that she is in a submissive state. The first thing to take notice of is the way that she is holding her head. If her ears are up and her head is looking at an object with an alert but relaxed form, she is probably just curious about something. In this case, the tail is usually either still or it is wagging in a relaxed manner. If she is excited, her ears will be perked up and her tail might even be wagging in a circle, looking more like a propeller than anything else.

On the other hand, a dog that is angry or feeling dominant will approach other animals or human beings with its tail flopped over its back coupled with a rigid body. This body language says they are in control. If anyone tries to argue that point, it could result in someone being bitten. Conversely, a scared dog will usually hold her head low and flatten her ears. You can usually see the fear in her eyes as the whites of them show. She will probably hold her tail between her back legs or wag it. This is not the happy wag of a relaxed dog, but the low-hanging and rapid tail wag that comes with anxiety and uncertainty. She is probably asking for reassurance. However, if you are the person she is fearful of and you back her into a corner, she may bite as a last-ditch attempt to get you to leave her alone.

As you can see, learning the body language of your new pet is going to take a while. The body language of a dog can differ somewhat with each animal, as their personalities are different. If you pay attention to body language, you can learn how to better communicate with your pet. You must build on this information at all times. With both time and practice, it will become easier to understand what your dog is trying to tell you.

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