• Cierra Voelkl

Animal Behavior Essentials: Know Your Dog's Body Language

Updated: Jan 17

As a dog owner or even someone who's around dogs a lot (whether it be your job or anything else), it's crucial to understand at least the basics of dog behavior. Understanding these can help possibly avoid a dangerous situation. Since dogs can't vocally tell us what they are feeling, it's up to us to be able to read their body language. We've put together some essential behavior signs that you should be able to react to.

1. Excessive Panting

Panting in dogs doesn't always equate to being hot or tired from doing a lot. Dogs can also pant excessively when nervous or stressed.


2. Tail Between Legs


Photo Credit: Eric Isselee

3. Yawning

Yawning is also a signal of being stressed. It's a natural bodily reaction to a stressful situation. Yawning helps ease the pressure and tension that they may be feeling.


4. Licking Lips

Excessive lick lipping is also equated to being stressed about something or uncertain about the current situation. If your dog is licking OTHER dog's lips, this isn't always then trying to be friendly and "give kisses." It can often mean that they aren't ready to make friends just yet.


5. Bowing

Bowing is a behavior that everyone should be able to recognize. It's often referred to as a "play bow" because dogs will do this when trying to get you or another dog to play with them. When bowing, dogs will lower their chest to the ground and raise their hips upwards, often wagging their tail and wiggling their body.

Photo Credit: mccun934 via photopin cc

6. Mounting/Humping

There's nothing quite as embarrassing as being in public or around other people and have your dog suddenly humping you, another dog or an inanimate object. You wonder what he could possibly be doing if he's neutered. Or he's humping another male dog! Humping doesn't always mean they are actually trying to perform a sexual act. To other dogs, it can be an act of dominance. They might also be humping an inanimate object, you or dog out of stress. A "polite" mounting onto you could be them asking for attention. But if it becomes excessive, such as they do it whenever excited, it's a habit that you definitely want to try and break.

Photo Credit: Unknown

7. Pacing

You'll often see dogs in kennels at the shelter pacing back and forth. Pacing can mean any of the following: nervous, excited, or bored. Try and read the context of the situation and access it appropriately.


8. Wrinkling Muzzle

Let's get one thing straight: A SMALL DOG SNARLING IS NOT CUTE! PERIOD! Whether it's a 5-pound chihuahua or 110-pound Doberman, a dog showing their teeth should be taken seriously. They are warning you that they are upset and that warning shouldn't' be taken lightly. They are either showing aggression, fear-aggression or dominance. It shouldn't be rewarded but don't simply ignore it as it can lead to them biting you.


Photo Credit: plysuikvv.gmail.com

9. Exposing Belly

Dogs will often roll over and expose their belly out of submission or respect to your or another dog. It's also an act of wanting to play or wanting their belly rubbed! Either way, it's a positive behavior so go ahead and reward them with some belly scratches!

Photo Credit: Unknown

10. Raising Hackles

See those tufts of fur that are raised on the dog's back in the photo below? Those are called hackles. Hackles stick up in different situations but there are a few that are the most common. Those are


Photo Credit: Unknown

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