Basic Dog Language Tips

At some point, every dog owner has wished their dog could speak to them. Like in Lassie: “What is it girl? Has the mine collapsed?

What if I told you it is indeed possible? Not like in the “Arf arf, you’re my favorite person” kind of way; but in the dog language they speak every day. Honestly, the combinations for dog language are endless, and there is an art to it. However, with the right tools you can quickly catch onto what Fido is trying to say (hint: it could possibly be “I want more treats”).

Ear Position

One of the first things we as humans notice about our dog is where their ears are. This can vary for different breeds. Some dogs have upright ears, which are a lot more noticeable for changes than say, droopy ears like on a basset hound.

When a dog is relaxed, their ears should be in a neutral position. For a dog such as a husky, this should be ears centered and upright. They are not tense or swiveled in different directions.

If ears are pointing backwards or out to the side, the dog is stressed or angry. Ears flat against a dogs head are a danger warning of extreme anxiety or fear. You should not touch a dog with ears in this position.


Tail Position

Contrary to popular opinion, a wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy. If it is a rapid wag, in a medium position, with a possible butt-wiggle; yes, the dog is happy. A high-wagging tail means the dog is over-confident; meaning this is a dominant dog and you could have a potential issue.


EAST GRINSTEAD, ENGLAND - JULY 1: Fox hound puppies feed from a bucket as hunting season approaches July 1, 2003 in East Grinstead, England. The House of Commons yesterday debated the hunting bill, which saw MP's voting for an outright ban on hunting with dogs. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

A low wagging tail at a high speed means the dog is nervous, but inquisitive. You should use caution with this dog. A slow wagging tail at any position means a dog is hesitant and fearful; when it is in a low position, or the tail stops wagging upon approach, stop. This means the dog is warning you and may bite.

Mouth and Eye Positions

A relaxed and happy dog should look like he is smiling! The mouth is slightly parted, relaxed tongue, and soft eyes. He should not be panting heavily and you should not see any teeth other than the few in the front.


When a dog is stressed, you may see several different expressions. One, is if the dog is panting heavily with wide, dilated eyes. On approach, he may give you what is called “half moon eye”. This means that the dog will probably look up at you without moving his head.

Another sign of stress is a closed mouth and hard eyes. Danger! This dog does not want to be touched! He is telling you to stay away. Of course, if the dog’s mouth is in a snarl or you see a lot of teeth, you probably should not approach either.

Body Positions

The general rule of thumb for body positions in a dog is: the looser it is, the happier the dog. If a dog is too forward or too backward, it is not happy.

Think of a happy golden retriever; when you see them, they are loose, the tail is wagging, they are easily approachable. There is nothing stiff on their body and the eyes seem soft.

frighteneddaschundNow think of a frightened dachshund. It cowers, tucks its tail under, and becomes very small and stiff. He does not look friendly, nor approachable. This is a very easy example of a low position, fearful dog.

Lastly, a Jack Russell terrier. They are very forward; their whole body points forward. They have stiff tails, determined faces, and are high energy. While they may not be ferocious to humans, an over-confident dog can cause just as many issues. To a dog who is fearful of other dogs, a confident dog can be a real spark.


Other ways dogs communicate is through smell, of course, and other ways of body language.

Dogs pee on fire hydrants and smell trees because someone has been there sending pee-mail! Dog urine contains messages for other canines to check up on; this could be that a female is in heat and searching for love, a dog is staking territory, or yet another is just saying hello. This is also why your dog also does that embarrassing task of smelling another pooch’s rear!

Other ways dogs tell humans things are through random actions you never would have thought. When you tell a dog a command and they begin sniffing the ground, they are telling you they would rather not and are pretending they don’t hear you. Shaking their heads and yawning are other ways a dog may tell you it is uncomfortable.

There you have it! The basics of speaking canine. While almost all of these basics can be intertwined to make very complicated sentences, just knowing them can help you better understand what your dog is saying. These “words” will help you when you meet other dogs at the park, when your grandchild starts reaching for your dog’s ear, or the next time it is dinner time!