Dog language – understanding your dog

Do you speak dog? If not, I bet you’d like to – after all, as a dog lover you surely want to know your dog’s happy, or if they’re not happy then what’s wrong?

Well, you may not be aware of it but dogs have a language that’s all their own. And there are a couple of obvious benefits to be had from learning to understand this dog language:

  1. You’ll improve the relationship you have with your dog a great deal if you understand what they’re trying to tell you.
  2. You’ll also find that communicating with your dog on their level helps with dog training. In fact, you’ll likely notice a big improvement in the results of your training.

Sadly, you can’t go out and buy a Dog/Human dictionary like you can when learning other languages. But you can read the rest of this article!

I explain some of the most important elements of dog language below. Recognize these cues and you’ll soon have a better understanding of what your dog is trying to tell you. This in turn will help you to better bond with your dog.

You may not be aware of it, but dogs have a language that's all their own. And there are benefits to be had from learning to understand this "dog language".

Dog language 101

Here are some of the most important “dog language” cues you’ll get from your dog:

Your dog stands tense and still

When a dog stops moving and stands still and rigid, it can often mean they want you to leave them alone.

It can also mean they’re protecting an object or possession. If you want to see this in action, give your dog a treat or a toy when there are other dogs around. Then watch what happens.

Your dog exposes their teeth

Again, this indicates a dog wants to you to leave them alone. Indeed this is the first warning they’ll give you to stay away. If you don’t know the dog, you’re advised to leave well alone and keep away.

Your dog starts growling

If showing their teeth doesn’t work a dog will then often escalate to growling. And if this doesn’t get the response they’re looking for, then the dog may attack.

You’ll find many people will punish or shout at their dog for growling or showing its teeth. This is a dangerous thing to do though and you should avoid doing it.

The reason is simple. If you stop the dog from giving its warning, then you increase the chances they may go straight to an attack. And you don’t want that to happen.

Your dog raises their hackles

When your dog raises the hair on their back, they’re trying to look bigger than they are. They do this to scare off a perceived threat.

So when a dog does this it usually means they’re scared and they may well attack out of fear.

Your dog may also raise their hackles when they’re angry too.

Your dog puts their tail between their legs

When a dog puts its tail between its legs, this again can often interpreted as a sign of fear.

That said, it can also mean that the dog is anxious or uncertain for some reason. There can be many causes of this. For example, their owner leaving the house, or introducing the dog to a stranger.

Your dog puts their head down

This action can have a couple of meanings depending on your dog’s demeanor. It can be a sign of submission or it can mean your dog wants to play.

Your dog raises their paw

This is an easy one. A raised paw from your dog is a playful gesture. Your dog is saying, “Let’s be friends”.

Your dog wags their tail

This is another piece of dog language that seems easy. However, the tail is a powerful dog communication tool.

A wagging tail is usually interpreted as a friendly gesture by many people. But this is only true if the tail is wagging loosely.

If the tail is rigid and flicking slightly from side to side it means your presence is bothering the dog.

And if the dog holds their tail down between the legs and wags it slightly, this can mean insecurity or fear.


Dogs communicate much more than you may realize. They do this through body language and gestures.

It’s true that you may teach your dog to obey vocal commands. But in the dog world, actions speak louder than words and learning to understand dog language opens up a whole new channel of communication. And this helps your relationship as you better understand what they’re telling you.

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