We all know the happy dog tail, wagging back and forth to express joy at a bone or a new toy.  But dogs use much more than their tails to communicate and a wagging tail, when paired with other movements, doesn’t always mean a happy pooch.  Here are four other ways your dogs is trying to tell you how they feel.


In many animals direct eye contact is seen as a threat or display of dominance, so your dog will very rarely stare at you – unless you’ve got a steak in your hands.  What a relaxed and happy dog does is called loose eye contact where their gaze occasionally meets yours, but is also observing the rest of the environment.  A dog with a fixed, unblinking stare has either found something to chase, or is feeling threatened and deciding whether to fight or flee.  Another way to tell is if you can see the whites around their irises.  Just like people who are scared or shocked, a dog’s eyes will widen in times of fear or stress.

Are they up?  Are they down?  Are they to the sides like airplane wings?  Dog ears have a much wider range of movement in their ears than humans do.  Ears that are up and pointed forward are alert, they’ve heard something and they want to know what it is.  Ears to the side (commonly called airplane ears) are a sign of appeasement and relaxation.  Ears that lay flat against the head are a huge red flag, the dog is either terrified or aggressive and should not be approached.

Dogs have lips like people, just much more drooly.  A relaxed dog will have loose lips, the slobbery jowls we’re used to.  But a dog who is uncertain or feeling threatened will have them drawn tight against their jaw, you’ll notice that sloping jowl line is gone.  If they are panting and licking their lips, but it isn’t hot out, they are stressed and anxious.  Some dogs even ‘smile’, which is a submissive gesture where the dogs bears their teeth, but their lips are much more relaxed than when they are snarling.  It looks scary at first, but you can tell the difference if you pay attention to the rest of the pooch’s body language.

Just like we fold our arms and square our shoulders to come off as tough, dogs do their own stances to communicate different moods.  A dog who is stiff and unmoving is focused on something, either a toy, a stranger, or some other stimulus.  Depending on the surroundings this could be either gearing up for a fight, or just trying to find that squirrel.  Lowering to the ground, backing away with tail tucked between the legs is fear.  Happy dogs are really wiggly and squirmy, their butts shake and they can’t stand still, many roll over and show their bellies begging for attention.


We may not be any closer to dog translation collars, but with a little practice and some careful observation, you’d be amazed at how much your relationship with your dog will grow just by listening to them.