Canine Body Language

Can you read your dog’s signals? By: Amy DeMuth, MS BCBA, UW-AAB

Humans communicate in many ways; with our words, our gestures, our eyes and in all the ways we move… and even when we don’t move. Think about when you were a kid, and your mom gave you “the look”. We all know it. Her arms were folded, one hip out, unblinking eyes and tight lips… she didn’t say a word, but you knew you were in trouble. Even though our dogs do not have the ability to use words, they are continuously communicating with those around them, including their fellow canines. Understanding what our dogs are trying to communicate to us can make a big difference in how we interact with them. While I’m not going to give an exhausting list, I am going to give a few examples that I think are important to be aware of, along with some resources to look further into if you would like to learn more.

Things to be mindful of:

o A wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy or excited. Make sure to do a quick head to tail scan before approaching, especially if it is not a familiar dog.

o When approaching another dog with your dog, be mindful of what the other dog, and your dog is expressing. Are they alerting us that this is going to be a happy greeting, or could we be setting the dogs up for a scuffle?

o If our dogs body language suddenly changes from typically happy and relaxed to anxious or aggressive, a trip to the vet is a good idea. This could be an indicator that the dog is in pain and needs medical assistance.

o Be mindful of what your dog is telling you. Our pups don’t sugar coat their emotions. If they are giving you signals that they need some space… give them space.

If you would like to dive a little deeper into the subject, check out the following:

Doggie Language: A dog lover’s guide to understanding your best friend by Lili Chin

How to Speak Dog by Understanding Canine Body Language by Sassafras Lowrey

(26) Zoom Room Guide to Dog Play Gestures — YouTube

(26) Zoom Room Guide to Dog Body Language — YouTube

As always, I’m happy to help offer suggestions or discuss any behaviors of concern. You can reach me at



We rescue beagles in the Triangle area of North Carolina, what is your Superpower?

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Triangle Beagle Rescue

We rescue beagles in the Triangle area of North Carolina, what is your Superpower?