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Updated: Apr 25

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What is Your Pet Trying to Tell You? 

Oh, the power of body language. Have you ever heard that a majority of our communication is nonverbal? Well, guess what? The same is true for dogs. Your dog relies heavily on his or her non-verbal communication to carry the conversation with you. Therefore, you need to understand your dog’s body language to understand what they are saying, feeling, and communicating. To interpret your dog’s body language, you must pay attention to certain body parts of your pup. The most important body parts to observe are the tail, the ears, and the mouth. Let’s look at each body part and what the body language means for each.  

The Tail:

Let’s start with perhaps the most recognizable form of body language from a dog; the tail. A tail wag obviously means your dog is happy, right? Well, not necessarily. The tail wag is one of the most recognizable and perhaps the most misinterpreted body language signals. The truth is, the tail wag can mean different things. The most common interpretation is a tail wag means your pup is happy or excited. But this all depends on the movement, the direction, the position, and the speed of the tail wag. The faster the tail wags, the more aroused the dog. Pay attention to the wag. You know when your pup comes to greet you? The wag that sometimes moves the whole body and sweeps side to side? This is the wag of a happy dog.


Think of the tail as a kind of emotion meter. There are three primary sources of information from the tail. They are movement, position, and the side the tail is on (left and right). lol First, recognize when your pup’s tail is in a relaxed and neutral position. From here, observe how the tail lies. If the tail is in a higher position, this shows aggression and dominance. A tail in a lower position signifies a submissive or nervous state. This is especially true for a tail tucked between their legs. 


The breadth of the tail wag also gives you subtle cues of your dog’s emotional state. For example, a slow tail wag in a neutral position most likely means the dog is happy. A tail wag that is neutral and fast means a dog is excited, and finally, a tail wag that is high up may show aggression and dominance. A study has shown that a tail wags more biased to the right of the dog means a positive, relaxed, and approachable dog. But a wag dominating the left side of the body can mean negative feelings, such as stress, nervousness, anxiety, or aggression. So if your pup is showing off a wag dominating his left side, they are having negative feelings.


The Ears:

Watching the ear position of your dog is also a powerful indicator of what they are communicating. Erect ears may indicate multiple things. They can mean having a heightened awareness and listening intently. Ears that are lowered most definitely mean that your dog is in a submissive state. 

The Mouth:

The last portion of body language has to do with the mouth. The mouth, just like the tail and ears, can indicate a variety of communications. Signs of aggression, such as baring their teeth, it is a sign your pup is in a defensive or protective mode Yawning, lip licking and chewing, can all communicate something from your dog. 

Yawning doesn’t just mean your dog is ready for a nap. Yawning is seen as an appeasement behavior, or “non-confrontational body postures meant to indicate to another individual the desire to interact in a friendly way.” This means a dog is communicating submissive and nonaggressive behavior. Next is lip licking. Now, lip licking doesn’t simply mean that your dog is eyeing a juicy snack. Lip licking is also, like yawning, an appeasement behavior. Finally, we have chewing, which can signify a feeling of boredom or anxiousness. 

Other behaviors 

We have covered other strange dog behaviors in the new life k9’s blog. And we will mention them again here. Other body language cues include shaking, ground scratching and trembling. Read our article to learn more about these behaviors and what they mean.


Final Thoughts

I am confident you have a good grasp of your dog’s non-verbal cues. But it is worth reviewing to make sure you understand what your pup is trying to tell you. Understanding their body language won’t only help you understand your dog, it will help strengthen your bond and understanding. We hope you take these body language tips to better understand your dog. Remember to follow the New Life K9s blog for weekly dog content! 

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