Understanding the Secret Language of Dogs: Body postures

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Dogs  use their body postures to communicate their intentions by looking normal, smaller or larger

By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Blogger, 

Happy and content

When a dog is feeling happy and contented, everything seems relaxed.  His weight is evenly balanced over his feet.  His eyebrows will be going up and down.  He may be panting but has a happy look about his face.   Likewise, when he’s playing, you may see him bouncing around or running happily with exaggerated movements.  He may perform the playbow.  His body will look comfortable and natural.


When a dog is scared, he’ll flatten his body to make himself smaller.  Sometimes they’ll lower their head or even cower on the ground.  The ears will be close against his head and he may squint his eyes.  His lips will be drawn back and the tail curled under his body.  You may notice him recoil away from whatever it is he is afraid or tentatively approach it by stretching his body while keeping his weight centered over his rear legs so that he can retreat quickly if he needs to.

A submissive dog looks very similar to a frightened dog.  Many times they will roll over to expose their stomach.  They may lick their lips or flatten their forehead.  Some dogs raise their paw as a pacifying gesture.

Assertive or dominant

Dogs that are self-confident and assertive (dominant) appear alert.  They work to make their bodies look larger than normal.  Their muscles will appear tense. They will stand erect, many times with the hair on their neck and shoulders raised.  They will center their weight slightly forward on their front legs, ears forward and alert, eyes focused.  The tail most likely will be raised like a flag.

Angry, aggressive dogs also make themselves look larger in order to be as intimidating as possible. You will experience aggressive threats such as baring teeth, snarling and sometimes growling.  Their head will be held high, whiskers quivering.  Usually the angry, aggressive dog will be tippy-toed, leaving forward over his front legs so that he can lunge or charge forward rapidly.  The tail may be still or with a slow, stiff wag.

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