How to Interpret your Dog's Body Language, Facial Expressions and Vocalizations
Over the centuries wolves evolved an elaborate system of body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations to communicate with each other. Domestic dogs also use this means of communication, and all of these signals are easily understood by other dogs. If you can learn to interpret how your dog is feeling by observing its posture and expression and listening to it, you'll be well on the way to successful communication with your pet and better equipped to solve any behaviour problems that arise.
Following are some major attitudes and their typical outward manifestations.
EARS: Forward or back, close to head. EYES: Narrow or staring challengingly. MOUTH/ TEETH: Lips open, drawn back to expose teeth bared in a snarl. Possible jaw snapping. BODY: Tense. Upright. Hackles on neck up. Completely dominant position. TAIL: Straight out from body. Fluffed up. VOCALIZATION: Snarl. Growl. Loud bark.
Ears: Perked-up. Turning to catch sounds. Eyes: Open normally or wide. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth closed or slightly open with teeth covered. Body: Normal. Possibly standing on tiptoe. Slightly dominant position. Tail: Up. Possibly wagging. Vocalization: None. Low whine or alarm bark.
CHASE, BEGINNING STAGE
Ears: Partially black. Eyes: Slightly narrowed. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth closed, or slightly openin a "grin". Body: Tense. Slightly lowered in a submissive position. Tail: Partially lowered. Vocalization: Low whine or moaning-type bark.
Ears: Perked-up, forward-pointing. Eyes: Wide open. Very alert. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth slightly open. Body: Excited panting. Tail: Tense. Crouched low in a predatory position. Legs bent, poised to run. Vocalization: None.
Ears: Perked-up, forward-pointing. Eyes: Wide open. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth open, teeth covered. Possible panting. Body: Normal stance. Possible wiggling, standing on tiptoe, or pacing. Tail: Up. Wagging. Vocalization: Excited short barking, whining.
Ears: Up straight or forward. Eyes: Wide open, staring. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth closed or slightly open. Body: Very tall posture. Hackles may be up. Tail: Stiffened and fluffed. Up or straight out from body. Vocalization: Low, assertive growl or grunt.
Ears: Laid back flat and low on head. Eyes: Narrowed, averted. Possibly rolled back in head, whites showing. Mouth/ Teeth: Lips drawn back to expose teeth. Body: Tense. Crouched low in submissive position. Shivering, trembling. Possible secretion from anal scent glands. Tail: Down between legs. Vocalization: Low, worried yelp, whine, or growl.
Flight, Beginning Stage
Ears: Back. Eyes: Wide open. Possibly rolled back with whites showing. Mouth/ Teeth: Slightly opened mouth. Possible drooling. Body: Tense. Shivering. Low, poised to run. Tail: Low or between legs. Vocalization: None. Possible yelp or whine.
Ears: Perked-up. Eyes: Wide open. Alert look. Mouth/ Teeth: Relaxed, possibly slightly open, "smiling" mouth. Body: Normal posture. Still, or possible wiggling of whole rear end. Tail: Up or out from body. Wagging. Vocalization: Whimpering, yapping, or short,high bark.
Ears: Perked-up and forward, or relaxed. Eyes: Wide open. Sparkly/merry-looking. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth relaxed and slightly open, teeth covered. Excited panting. Body: Relaxed, or front end lowered, rear end up in the air, wiggling in a play-bow. Excited bouncing and jumping up and down. Circling around and running forward and backin an invitation to play. Tail: Wagging vigorously. Vocalization: Excited barking. Soft play- growling.
Ears: Down, flattened against head. Eyes: Narrowed to slits or wide open, whitesshowing. Mouth/ Teeth: Lips pulled way back from teeth in a "grin". Nuzzling or licking otheranimal or person on face. Body: Lowered to ground, front paw raised. Lying on back, belly up. Possible urine leaking/dribbling. Possible emptying of analscent glands. Tail: Down, between legs. Vocalization: None, or low, worried whining.Possible yelping/whimpering in fear.
Ears: Perked-up. Forward. Eyes: Wide open, alert. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth slightly open, teeth bared. Snapping or gnashing of teeth. Body: Tense. Rigid. Hackles up. Standing very tall in an aggressive or dominant stance. Tail: Rigid. Held straight out from body. Sometimes fluffed. Vocalization: Loud alert bark. Growl. Snarl.
Ears: Alert. Held forward or backward to catch sounds. Eyes: Wide open. Staring, focusing. Mouth/ Teeth: Mouth closed. Body: Rigid. Low to ground, ready to spring forward. Quietly sniffing the air. Tail: Straight and low. Vocalization: None (so the prey won't be alerted).