What is my dog trying to tell me?

  • by DR Roxanne Jones
What is my dog trying to tell me?

Do you ever wish your dog could talk, just so you’d know what she’s thinking? Well, we haven’t yet figured out how to bridge the language gap between human dialect and doggy barks, but we have deciphered your furbaby’s body language to help you get into her head.

Here’s what your pooch is (probably) thinking when she displays one of these common behaviours.

The four states of doggy behaviour

  1. Excited

You can tell when your dog is excited by noting the following in her body language:

  • Tail straight up in the air
  • The full-body tail wag
  • Being wide-eyed while moving her body at the same time (a wide-eyed dog standing still may be feeling afraid or tense).

  1. Submissive

Your dog is showing that he’s feeling submissive if:

  • His tail is relaxed
  • He looks away (especially around people or other animals – this shows trust)


  1. Timid

When a dog is feeling timid, afraid or ashamed, she’ll try to make herself seem as small as possible. You’ll notice:

  • Tail tucked between her legs
  • Yawning. This is a way to diffuse internal fear or tension
  • Eyes wide open (extremely wide eyes are a sign of fear)
  • Ears pinned back, against her head
  • Shivering or trembling, which can mean anything from fear to illness or extreme excitement. Paying attention to your dog’s shivers over time will give you clues as to what she’s feeling (ie, some dogs may have experienced past trauma that causes shivering in certain circumstances, while other dogs tremble out of excitement or nervous tension).

  1. Aggressive

An pooch in an aggressive state will display the following behavioural hallmarks:

  • Tail tense, rigid and pointing into the air. Or, tail wagging while the body is still.
  • Closed mouth while his attention is held by something (especially another dog)
  • Raised hackles. If the hair on the back of his neck is standing up, it’s a sure sign he’s angry and feeling aggressive.

Other common body language signs that are easy to interpret

  • Eyeballing you: if your own dog is in a relaxed state and looking you straight in the eye, it means she’s showing her affection for you.
  • Standing up straight with ears perked up: your pooch is alert to something
  • The ‘whale eye’: your dog turns her head away, but keeps staring at a perceived threat, showing the whites of her eyes. This shows she’s feeling threatened or afraid.
  • Lip licking: your doggie is feeling nervous or may be in pain (sometimes you’ll notice your dog licking his lips when you treat a wound, for example).
  • Ears relaxed or completely back: Ears in a relaxed position show that your doggy is feeling calm at ease. Ears down flat show your dog is feeling submissive or fearful.

  • Jumping on you: your doggie may be trying to establish dominance over you, or she may be simply showing her affection for you and excitement to see you.
  • Licking your mouth: as pups, doggies lick their moms’ mouth to get bits of food. It becomes a greeting among dogs, much like humans shake hands. So, when your furbaby jumps up and tries to lick your lips, it’s a clear sign that they’re excited to see you, essentially saying, “Hiii! How are you?”
  • All about the bark: dogs have lots of different kinds of barks, and they all have different meanings. Generally speaking, higher pitched barks are friendly, while deeper, lower barks are signs of unhappiness or aggression.
  • Walking in a straight line vs a curved path: a dog that walks towards you (or something/someone else) in a straight line may have an aggressive intention. Dogs walking in a curved line are probably feeling friendly.
  • Check out these great doggy body language charts from Barkpost.com for more.

By taking note of your dog’s stance, ears, tail, eyes and even the sound of her bark, you can start to gather information about what she’s feeling and needing. But every dog, like her owner, is unique! The more time you spend with your dog and the more closely you interact and bond, the more you’ll begin to understand her needs and what she’s trying to tell you. Here’s to better bonding with your furbaby!

Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.

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