In life, one of the most important yet challenging things we do is communicate with others. Even if we master human communication, it isn’t quite as easy to communicate with our fur babies. What makes this more challenging is we focus on verbal cues while our dog is focused not on what we say, but how we say it. The question is, how can you communicate with your dog in a way they understand? The answer: through your body language. Clear communication with your dog begins with understanding what their body language means. For example, if your dog is upset, anxious or scared they take a different stance than they would if they’re happy or excited. The difference, however, isn’t noticeable to the untrained eye. Let’s take a look at various dog postures and what they mean for your dog.  

The Dog Stare—What Does it Mean?

You’ve probably seen this stance before, your dog stands still while staring intently into your eyes. This common dog posture usually means your dog is calm and happy. If she’s shifting her weight to her hindquarters while staring at you, she’s likely about to playfully pounce on you. However, if your dog is leaning away from you, she could be frightened. If she’s leaning on her back paws, she could be about to take off to her favorite hiding spot. Be aware that this could mean she’s going to make a bad decision and she’ll need your guidance to stay calm. These are subtle differences in your pet’s body language. Tune into these nuances to keep her safe and happy.  

Their Movement

Another area you want to pay attention to is how your dog runs. There are two distinct “runs” that represent different doggie moods. The first is the straight line. If a dog moves quickly towards you while facing you head on and making eye contact, he or she likely isn’t coming in for a cuddle session. Dogs typically only take this provocative stance when they’re upset or feel threatened. The best action to take is to look away from the dog to avoid further antagonizing them. Don’t run, since the dog’s instincts might take over making you look more like a rabbit or squirrel than a human. The second is a zig zag motion. Dogs who are happy, excited or just want to play move in a weird zig-zag or even curved motion when they run. Go in for pets if and when a dog exhibits this behavior. You’re safe to go in for all the love.

Doggy Facial Expressions

While there are far too many meanings behind your dog’s facial expressions than we have the time to discuss here, the following are some of the more common “dog looks” and what they mean.

Soft Eyes

Your dog is leaning in to get pets and her eyes go ‘soft’. She looks 100% content with the world and all the things in it (even cats—gasp!). That’s because she is. Soft eyes are a tell-tale sign your pup is utterly enamored with you.

Hard Staring

A straight stance with all four paws on the ground with a forward lean and piercing eyes mean your dog is possibly in the ‘pre-aggression’ phase. She needs correction quickly to refocus her attention and avoid a possible brawl.

Eye Contact Avoidance

If a dog avoids meeting your eyes or those of other dogs she’s likely fearful of something that’s going on. However, it could also be a sign she feels safe with you and isn’t the alpha of the pack. You can easily train your pup to make more eye contact with you, but that typically requires you to reward her heavily each time she looks at you.

Pinned Back Ears

Ears that are pinned to the back of your dog’s head could mean several different things. She could be stressed, fearful, or happy. To determine which she’s feeling, analyze the rest of her body language.

Open Mouth & Freeze Stance

Open mouth panting usually means your dog is happy, but if she stops mid-pant and then her body freezes use caution! She could be about to bite.

Wrapping it Up

These simple body language tips can help you get to know your dog on a deeper level while keeping you safe in the face of dogs you don’t know. The more you know, the safer you’ll be. Dogs are amazing furry creatures, and when we take the time to get to know them better, we enrich our lives and theirs.