Discerning Canine Body Language Like A Dog Whisperer
Thu, April 22, 2021

Discerning Canine Body Language Like A Dog Whisperer


Do you know what your dog is trying to communicate? Interpreting your pet’s body language is critical in understanding the peculiarities of canine behavior, stated Jenna Stregowski, RVT, of The Spruce Pets, a pet website. Along with body language, vocalization takes second place in determining your dog’s message. If you can correctly interpret its body language, you can then discern its attitude or predict what it will do next.

Learn the basics of canine body language first. Once you do, consider spending time observing dogs interacting with humans and other animals in different situations. Animals don’t need words as their bodies do the talking. As you hone your skills, you will begin to identify subtleties in your dog’s behavior.

Assessing Adults’ Ability to Interpret Canine Body Language During A Dog-Child Interaction (2016)

A total of 71 adults living in Turkey answered the survey and were included in the analyses, according to Yasemin Salgirli and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate. The authors showed YouTube video extracts of babies or young children interacting with dogs. Titled “Lying Dog,” the video showed a Dalmatian lying on the floor with a ball beside it while a baby crawls towards the dog.

The second video titled “Standing Dog” featured a Doberman in a standing position while a toddler touches and holds different parts of the canine. “Active Dog,” which was the third video, showed a baby crawling around the room as a Boxer follows and licks the newborn’s face. The canines featured in all videos were classified as either relaxed or confident by 68.4% and 65.1% of respondents, respectively. Pre-dominant behaviors of the canines were reported as play (23%) and friendly behaviors (19.2%). Most dog owners (53.8%) classified the emotional states of the canines as relaxed, while for non-dog owners, they said that the canines were in emotional conflict (61.9%).

Dog owners (34.6%) were more likely to assess the dog’s response to the situation as not confident more frequently than non-dog owners (23.8%). In total, 184 behavioral and holistic cues were used by 71 respondents when describing canine behavior. Overall, 9.8% of respondents commented on movement when referring to dogs’ behavioral cues. Comments on the dogs’ ears were given by 4.3% of respondents. Head/eye movement or position was cited by 10.9% of respondents. 8.2% and 15.2% of respondents considered the dogs’ tails and oral behavior as cues, respectively. Meanwhile, 51.6% of respondents commented on holistic cues, with these cues being often mentioned by dog owners without children (40%) than those with children (14.2%).

80% of respondents frequently mentioned tail wagging as a behavioral cue. In fact, 100% of respondents saw it as a cue for positive emotion. They also mentioned other cues such as backward positioning of ears (75%), averting of eye contact (70%), licking (61.5%), playing bow (55.6%), and withdrawal from the baby/child (27.8%). The findings showed that having experience with a dog without any applicable knowledge does not mean that a person can correctly interpret dog behavior. Parents should be educated on canine behavior, including safe practices, to ensure that the child is supervised when interacting with a dog. This would also reduce the chances of children getting bitten by their pet dog.



The Basics of Deciphering Canine Body Language 

1.    Tail Wagging

Does that mean that my dog is happy? Not really. Tail wagging could mean that your pooch is emotionally aroused, noted Stephanie Gibeault, MSc, CPDT, of the American Kennel Club, a recognized and trusted expert in providing information on dog breed and health. Maybe your dog is excited or frustrated. To correctly interpret this behavior, observe the speed, direction, and position of its tail.

Long, slow, side-to-side tail sweeps mean that your dog is greeting you. Meanwhile, a faster twitch-like wag suggests a higher level of emotional arousal, albeit in a negative way. A study by A. Quaranta, M. Siniscalchi, and G. Vallortigara of Current Biology, a bi-weekly peer-reviewed scientific journal, revealed that dogs tend to wag more to the right when they feel positive (ex: interacting with their owner). If they wag more to the left, that would mean that the dog feels negative about something. When the tail spins in a circle, consider it as a happy wag. You’ll see this when your dog greets a beloved person like you or someone else.



2.    Posture

Your pet’s weight distribution can indicate a number of moods and intentions. For instance, when your dog is cowering, it will haunch towards the ground because it is scared or stressed. When your dog rolls over on its back with its belly exposed, it may appear that it wants a belly rub. Your dog only wants a belly rub when it is relaxed. However, it can also be a sign of considerable stress and anxiety. When your canine’s weight is shifted forward, it means that your dog wants to get closer to something. Maybe something piqued its interest. Additionally, it could suggest offensive intentions, especially when it is in conjunction with other aggressive body language cues (ex: twitching tail held high). This means that your pet is trying to make itself look bigger.



3.    Mouth

When relaxed, your dog will have its mouth open and possibly, panting, said ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing animal cruelty. There are no signs of facial or mouth tension. If you see that the corners of your dog’s mouth are slightly turned upward, it may mean that it is relaxed. Some canines flash a “submissive grin” or “smile,” revealing its front teeth. When your dog “smiles,” it will lower its head, wags its tail, and flattens its ears. A soft body posture and squinty eyes is also another sign of a “submissive grin.”When it is fearful or tensed, your dog will usually keep its mouth closed. It may pull its lips back at the corners. Another sign of tension and fear is when your dog is rapidly panting. Drooling when no food is present can indicate extreme fear or stress.


Canine body language can be misinterpreted by dog owners. Body language can be subtle and may require ample practice to correctly interpret them. Owners should spend time observing how dogs behave in different situations.