Guide to Canine Body Language

How to Interpret your Dog's Body Language, Facial Expressions and Vocalizations

Credits to: Paws Across America (http://www.pawsacrossamerica.com/index.html)

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. 

Aggressive

Alert

aggressive
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.

 

alert
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.

ANXIOUS

CHASE, BEGINNING STAGE

anxious
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.
chase
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.


Curious/Eager/Excited

Dominant

curious
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.
dominant
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.


Fearful

fearful
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

flight
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. 



Friendly

friendly
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.

Playful/Happy

playful
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.

Subordinate (Submissive)

subordinate
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.

Guarding

guarding
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.

Predatory

predatory
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).