How To Read Dog Body Language

Do you have a dog who doesn’t seem to be learning how to
behave as quickly as you’d like, and you’re concerned that if
you don’t figure out how get through to him his behavior is going
to keep getting worse?

If so, don’t feel bad! Getting stubborn dogs to learn how to
be calm, obedient, relaxed dogs is really hard to do if you don’t
understand how to read dog body language.

Not learning how to read dog body language is like trying to
communicate with someone who ignores things like your facial
expressions, eye rolling, or arm crossing when you don’t want to
talk. Ignoring the subtle, nonverbal parts of communication ends up
creating situations like this:

It’s a funny cartoon, but it’s not that funny when you watch
YouTube videos like this, where the dog is OBVIOUSLY giving off
signs that he doesn’t want the toddler to be crawling on him, and
it ends badly. Remember, a dog’s mouth is a very dangerous weapon
if pushed too far, as this poor family found out the hard way:

Obviously, this is an example of a dog showing body language
that leads to aggressive behavior. But, dogs show many other types
of body language signs too…  like fear, happiness & stress.
By learning how to read this canine body language and reading your
dog’s entire body, life with your dog stops being a one-way
conversation and creates a shared communication between pets and
their owners.

Knowing that this Secret Dog Body Language Exists, What Should You
do About It?

Well… have you ever been in a situation where you had to try
and communicate with someone who didn’t speak the same language
as you?

Like maybe you tried to learn where the bathroom was in a
foreign country and the person you asked didn’t speak

What did you end up doing to try to communicate?

Maybe you did some pointing? Maybe you crossed your legs to act
out that you ‘had to go’ to get the point across?

In most cases, whenever we humans know we’re not being
understood, we try to find some sort of a common language. We know
there’s a language barrier, so we turn to other types of

So this begs the question…

What “language” do
canines understand?

While it is true that dogs can learn to understand verbal cues
and vocalizations…

(because after all they need to know that growling from another
pack member means, ‘back the ‘F’ off’)

… vocalizations are NOT the primary way dogs communicate and
learn from each other.

The primary way that dogs communicate with each other is
actually more through NON-verbal communication.

What we tell our clients here at is
that if you have a dog who is ignoring you, it’s usually because
dogs don’t listen with their ears very well… they actually
“listen” more with their eyes. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m
not saying that dogs can’t learn to listen (I’ll actually show
you how to get them to listen later on)… I’m just saying that
it’s not the DEFAULT way dogs communicate.

To show you what I mean here’s a simple ‘Turning Head’
test you can perform on your dog to see if your dog has this same
type of listening problem. By turning your head away from your dog
so he can’t see your mouth or your facial expressions, you can
find out if your dog was actually listening to the words you were
saying, or just reading facial expressions.

Try This Quick ‘Dog Listening Test’

Pretty crazy huh? My dog wasn’t listening at all! He was
reading my facial cues! So the second I hid them from him, he was
essentially DEAF to my commands. And many, many dogs are like

This happens because dogs are experts at nonverbal
communication. They are constantly using their eyes, mouth, tails
and body posture to try to tell us how they’re feeling. If we
want our dogs to learn behaviors as quickly as possible, we first
need to get better at understanding the nonverbal communication
signals they’re sending us ALL day long.

So let’s first start with…

How to Read Your Canine’s Mind Through Their

When learning to read your dog’s eyes, you need to be able to
identify the three different types of eye cues dogs give you, which
are Neutral, Aroused/Anxious, or “Whale Eyes”. Here’s a great
video on reading dog eye cues. See if you can look at the image
below and match the pictures of dog eyes to the appropriate eye cue

Step #1: Match the Dog Eye Images to the Three Types of Dog
Eye Cues

Also… watch for dogs who look at you from the corner of their
eyes, or avert eye contact. This is a common look for dogs who are
feeling fearful. It’s also common for these types of dogs to keep
their mouths closed tightly, and hold their breath. If you see a
dog doing these things, he’s telling you he’s scared!

Watch For ‘Averting’ Eye-Contact

Remember, if you see a dog exhibiting signs of fear or stress,
they will typically respond in one of three ways: fight, flee, or

Humans are pretty bad at actually noticing these signs in dogs.
So bad, in fact, that a
recent study
of dog experts who analyzed dog body language
signs in social media pictures where dog owners were hugging their
dogs, noted that 80+ percent of dogs were showing signs of stress
while being hugged. And the owners had no idea! Learning how to
spot these signs is going to make your pooch’s life so much less

Step #2: Learn How to Read a Dog’s Mind Through Their

The way your dog wags his tail is a fascinating study.

Tail wagging to a dog is like facial expressions to us humans.
So just like how we know a smiling person is approachable, and an
angry person should be avoided… dogs get that same information
from a tail wag.

Here’s a few tips on how to read this nonverbal

Reading Tail Height

How high a dog’s tail is can be a pretty good way to gauge the
intensity of your dog’s emotions.

If your dog’s tail is middle height he’s in a pretty relaxed
state. If the tail goes straight up, the dog is getting too excited
or upset; and the lower it gets the dog is getting more upset or

But height isn’t the only thing to pay attention to.

The direction your dog’s tail wags, and the speed at which he
wags his tail mean different things too.

For example. a tail wagging to the left, like in the images
below, is a negative tail wag. A dog wagging his tail in this way
is in a negative state of mind. A tail wagging to the right says
the dog is in a positive state of mind, and a tail tucked between
his legs means he’s feeling submissive.

I recommend taking this chart and starting to pay attention to
other dogs while out on walks. See if you can gain some more
insights into their emotions. The first time I did this, it was
like those videos of people who have their ears cured and hear for
the first time; because you realize there is this whole level of
communication that your dog has been trying to tell you that you
never new about. It’s really pretty cool.

Step #3: Reading Your Dog’s Posture

There are a few reasons you want to make sure you learn how to
interpret a dog’s posture.

The first is if you are interested in socializing your dog to
other dogs. Socialization is a two-way street with dogs. You need
to be able to look at your own dog and read his comfort level
around other dogs so you don’t push him too fast and CREATE an
anxiety issue. But, even more important, you need to be able to
read BAD dog behavior from afar, so you can avoid them.

You don’t want to blindly let your dog walk up to a dominant
dog only to end up having to break up a dog fight.

The Pass/No Pass Philosophy

Here at we teach a pass/no-pass
philosophy to people who are training their dogs how to properly
interact with others out in the world. What pass/no-pass means is
that we want to stay VERY far away from dogs with certain types of
posture, as we can tell that they are likely to lunge, bark or
attack our dog if we get too close. When people make this mistake
and allow their dog to have run-ins with dogs like these, it builds
their dog’s anxiety “Head Trash” when they see other dogs
(this is especially important when working with a new puppy). So,
instead of praying that a dog-to-dog interaction will go well, just
walk far around these types of dogs, or step off the side of the
path and stay far enough away to prevent an accident.

Here’s an example of dogs you should steer clear of and ones
that are ok to walk by:

Also… if you notice YOUR dog doing any of the behaviors in the
RED zone on the above graphic, please do other dog owners a favor
and steer clear of other dogs, as your dog is not yet ready to
interact appropriately. You won’t be doing either dog a favor if
you try to approach a submissive dog who’s hiding behind his
owners legs, or who seems overly excited to play.

Usually, if you follow those large posture cues you’ll be
doing pretty well. But there are some other, more subtle, body
language cues that you’ll want to learn how to spot.

Identifying the More Subtle Nonverbal Signs in Dogs

A dog’s posture is the next thing you need to pay attention
to, specifically, if you are trying to read a dog who has fear,
anxiety or aggression. As with all cues, some can be subtle, and
some are more obvious.

Here’s a quick list:

  • Excessive Yawning
  • Lip Licking
  • Raised Hackles
    (these differ based on dog breeds)
  • Heavy Panting
  • Avoiding Eye Contact and Lowering his Head
  • Rapid Pacing Back & Forth Like He’s Nervous

And to help you know what each of these looks like, here’s a
video that shows you examples of each.

How To Spot Fearful Body Posture In Dogs

Are you starting to see why learning to read your dog’s body
language is so key in helping him learn how to behave? Who would
have thought that whether or not your dog licks his lips too much
was a warning sign, right?

Once we better understand how to tell what your dog is thinking
through body posture, types of eye contact, and tail position and
movement, the question should be…

What Should You Do When You See Signs of Stress in Your Dog’s
Body Language?

When your dog’s body language suggests he’s stressed, we
believe in using a handful of different strategies for helping them
overcome their fears and anxieties, by working ‘Below their
Emotional Threshold’ with low level stimulus. We even built a
whole course around this called Impulse Control that
you can check out here.

For example…

Let’s say you have a dog who is fearful or anxious around
other dogs. In that situation, take your dog to an area where you
know dogs will be, like a park or trail. Experiment with how close
you can get to other dogs before your dog starts to show body
language cues that he’s feeling stressed. Let’s say in this
example that is 30 feet away, and you notice your dog start to lick
his lips all of a sudden when he’s that close to another dog.

If 30 feet is the distance where your dog starts to feel
stressed, then that’s the place we need to start!

If we try to push it and force our dog to work through his fears
while he’s 10 feet from the other dog, that’s too much
emotional intensity for your dog to make progress.

Be Wary of Forcing Your Dog to Push Through His Fears

There is a very popular dog trainer on TV that has made a name
for himself by using video editing to make it look like he can fix
fearful dogs by dominating them and forcing them to submit to his
ALPHA will.

I cannot even begin to express how dangerous, and harmful, these
approaches are to your dog’s ability to have emotional

When you take the approach of forcing your dog to confront his
fears full on, and at their full intensity, you get one of three
responses. Your dog will try to flee, fight or cower. Just like you
wouldn’t take someone with a fear of spiders and lock them in box
full of Tarantulas (in the hopes that’d they’d just ‘get over
it’), we don’t want to flood our dog’s emotional system with
overwhelming fear and anxiety. Doing so actually makes it MORE
likely that your dog will become MORE fearful, anxious and

Like these poor dogs who’ve been trained to cower submissively
by a dog trainer who uses electric shock as a consequence the
second their dogs get out of line. Is this what you want your dog
to look like?

Don’t Take That Approach, Do This Instead…

Instead of using methods like the trainer above, we want to use
training methods that teach our dogs to be calm and relaxed when in
the presence of things that get them overly emotional.

We want dog’s that look like this while out on a walk: happy,
calm and well adjusted, and NOT like the video above.

By taking the time to learn how to read the different types of
anxious, excited, fearful and aggressive body language that dog’s
are displaying, we take a HUGE leap forward in our ability to be
better communicators with our dogs. Better communication leads to a
deeper bond, and more obedient behavior.


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Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
How To Read Dog Body Language