top of page

Canine Communication: What are our dogs trying to tell us?

Our dogs are always talking.

But it's up to us to learn how to listen.

Compared to humans, who are primarily verbal communicators, dogs are visual communicators first, verbal second.

Dogs communicate using their

  • body posture

  • mouth shape

  • tail, ear & head position

  • facial expression

  • eye gaze

  • Behaviors like yawning, licking, scratching or sniffing

  • Verbal sounds like barking, growling, whining

Being observant of our dog's body language can help us know what they're feeling;

if they're happy & relaxed, excited or aroused, anxious, fearful, stressed, upset or even in pain. When interpreting a dog’s body language, it's important to look at their entire body posture and facial expressions as well as the context of the situation. No one signal acts alone.

Common dog body language signals and what they mean

  1. Tail wagging: Can indicate excitement, happiness, or nervousness depending on the speed and direction of the wag.

  2. Ears pinned back: Indicates fear, anxiety, or submission.

  3. Lip licking: Can indicate nervousness or stress, or can be a calming signal in social situations.

  4. Raised hackles: Indicates fear or arousal and can also be a defensive posture.

  5. Yawning: Often a calming signal in dogs and can indicate stress or anxiety.

  6. Whale eye: When the white of the eye is visible, it can indicate fear, anxiety, or aggression.

  7. Paw lift: Can be a playful invitation or a sign of anxiety or discomfort.

  8. Play bow: Indicates an invitation to play and can be a signal of friendliness.

  9. Mouthing: Can be a playful behavior in puppies but can also indicate discomfort or anxiety in adult dogs.

  10. Growling: Indicates that a dog is feeling threatened or defensive and can be a warning sign of aggression.


About the Author: Ashley Diaz is a dedicated pet owner and animal lover with over 10 years of experience providing professional pet care. With certifications in applied animal behavior & training, she shares her knowledge and insights on pet ownership, behavior, and welfare in her blog. Outside of her work with animals, Ashley enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, practicing yoga and playing the piano.


bottom of page