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How To Read Your Dog's Body Language

What is your dog trying to tell you?

Dogs have a language that allows them to communicate their emotional state and their intentions to others around them. Although dogs do use sounds and signals, much of the information that they send is through their body language, specifically their facial expressions and body postures. Understanding what your dog is saying can give you a lot of useful information, such as when your dog is spooked and nervous about what is going on, or when your dog is edgy and might be ready to snap at someone. You do have to look at the dog's face and his whole body.

Relaxed / Approachable

This dog is relaxed and reasonably content. Such a dog is not concerned nor threatened by any activities going on in his/her immediate environment and is usually approachable. 

Alert / Checking Things Out

If the dog has detected something of interest, or something unknown, these signals communicate that he is now alert and paying attention while he is assessing the situation to determine if there is any threat or if any action should be taken.

Dominant Aggressive

This is a very dominant and confident dog. Here he/she is not only expressing his/her social dominance, but is also threatening that he/she will act aggressively if challenged.

Fearful and Aggressive

This dog is frightened but is not submissive and may attack if pressed. A dog will generally give these signals when he/she is directly facing the individual, dog, or object who is threatening him/her.

Fearful and Worried

This dog is somewhat fearful and is offering signs of submission. These signals are designed to pacify the individual who is of higher social status, or whom the dog sees as potentially threatening in order to avoid any further challenges and prevent conflict.

Extreme Fear / Total Submission

This dog is indicating total surrender and submission. He/she is trying to say that he/she accepts lower status by groveling before a higher ranking or threatening individual in the hopes of avoiding a physical confrontation.


Here we have the basic invitation to play. It may be accompanied by excited barking or playful attacks and retreats. This set of signals may be used as a sort of "punctuation mark" to indicate that any previous rough behavior was not meant as a threat or challenge. 

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