They may not be able to speak, but dogs can communicate what they're thinking and feeling through body language. Learn how to pick up on their cues to enrich your relationship and keep both you and your pet safe.

August 24, 2020
lab smiling on bench
Credit: Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty

Understanding a dog’s body language helps strengthen your bond. You probably can tell if your dog is happy, but other emotions can be harder to read. Check the behaviors below to help you identify if and when your dog is showing signs of fear, anxiety, and stress. If he displays these symptoms, identify the trigger, remove him from the situation, or resolve the issue. Use a calm, neutral tone of voice when speaking, and offer high-value rewards to help divert his attention.

Signs Your Dog Is Happy

  • Face: Soft; loose
  • Eyes: Almond-shape; normal pupils; soft eye
  • Ears: Neutral; back, but not flattened; loose
  • Spine/Posture: Flexible neck to tail
  • Tail: Level with back; slightly above or below back; wagging (if your dog has a curly or docked tail, evaluate based on what’s normal for your dog)
  • Mouth: Open or closed; corners are relaxed; lips are long and soft

Signs Your Dog Is Stressed

  • Face: Taut skin; wrinkled brow; lips pulled back; tense jaw
  • Eyes: Dilated pupils; prolonged staring or avoiding eye contact; whale eye (whites showing)
  • Ears: Out to the side; flat against head
  • Spine/Posture: Rigid and/or stiff
  • Tail: High above back; tucked; wagging
  • Mouth: Closed; lips are short, tense; lip lift

A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2019.