While you and I can speak English and communicate effectively with our vocals, we can’t speak dog very fluently (though you might be able to understand it fairly well). And while dogs are fairly vocal creatures, they use body language to communicate a large portion of their feelings and thoughts.
If you learn the basics of it, you will be able to understand your dog much better.
Posture is all-important in interpreting your dog’s body language. Know these postures to determine your dog or another dog’s mood:
Normal: A relaxed posture will have the dog’s tail hanging at its natural position, its fur lying down, and its ears relaxed but not pinned back.
Aggressive: An aggressive dog will have its tail raised, its fur on end, its ears pinned back, and its teeth bared. Aggressive dogs should neither be approached or run from, as they will see that as an invitation to chase you.
Playful: A playful dog will most likely wriggle its rump and thump its front paws on the ground. Oftentimes its front end will be lower than its rear.
Frightened: A dog that is frightened or anxious will have its ear laid back and its tail tucked between its legs. It might even shake. Some dogs appear to be slightly aggressive when frightened, but it is highly likely that they are acting in what they perceive as self-defense. Never approach a frightened dog as a frightened dog will bite in an act of self-perseverance.
Submissive: A dog that is submissive to either your will or another dog’s will acts much in the same way as a frightened dog. It will lower its ears, cover its teeth, and probably tuck its tail. It will often roll over on its back, exposing its tummy, and attempt to lick the face of whomever it is submitting to.
A wagging tail doesn’t always mean your dog is happy, though it oftentimes does, especially if you’ve just returned from being away.
Generally, a dog with a wagging tail feels neither threatened nor aggressive.
Dogs oftentimes relax their tail when they aren’t doing much of anything. They use their tail to indicate dominance, submission, aggression, fear, and many other emotions, so pay close attention to where they hold their tail naturally and where they are currently holding it. Aggressive dogs or dogs that are displaying their dominance will hold their tail higher than the dog they opposing. Submissive or scared dogs tuck their tail between their legs.
Pricked ears indicate interest. Your dog is listening to something that interests it, though it is not frightened or aggressive toward whatever it hears.
Ears that are pinned back can be a sign of aggression or fear, depending on its other body language.
A relaxed dog will let its ears hang in their natural position or perhaps relax them against their head, though they won’t pin them back against their skull.
Sometimes your dog’s bared teeth are not a sign of aggression, but merely bared because they are panting or want to play. An aggressive dog will pull its lips back to show its teeth and will likely show the other signs of aggression as well as growl or snarl.
The line between being interested in something and other emotions is sometimes blurred. A dog that is interested in something will likely prick its ears and hold its tail slightly higher. The fur on the back of its neck might also raise up, particularly if meeting a strange dog.
This isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression, but your dog doesn’t want to appear weak or scared when confronting a new dog, other animal, or person, so they will try to make themselves look big and important by doing these things.
A dog that is anxious or afraid is sometimes more dangerous to approach than an aggressive dog. A dog in this mental state will act much out of character with its tail between its legs, its ears pinned, and will probably pace or move a lot. It might even growl and raise its fur ‘” not out of aggression but out of fear ‘” and they will most likely whine and make a lot of noise.
Dogs in this state tend to become destructive, particularly if left alone in a house by themselves. It is best not to approach a strange dog in this state without using extreme caution, and it is best to be careful when handling your own dog in this state as it might attempt to bite you out of fear. While in this mental state, your dog is probably highly confused.
Similar to aggression, though not intended as a mean gesture, a dog that is annoyed might first whine and pin its ears as well as move away from whatever is annoying it. If continued to be annoyed, it might growl and snap.
A dog that is annoyed enough might nip someone or something out of frustrating. This isn’t done to be hurtful. A dog would nip an annoying puppy or another dog to tell it to back off.
The Most Important Thing to Understand
What you need to understand most about dog communication is that they are pack animals and that they consider you part of their pack (and most likely their alpha). They will communicate with you much the way they would with another dog or a with a pack of dogs.
Dogs will learn commands much better if given hand signals, and they read body language much better than they understand vocals (though they can understand roughly 200 words).
Learn to watch your dog’s behavior and be aware that they pick up on signals that you don’t even know you are sending, and you and your dog will get along much better.