I decided to write a silly post today about dog body language. I am a huge dog lover and dog owners everywhere know that dogs have their own unique kind of body language.

Here I have listed all of the puppy body language you might see in your canine. I have gathered this information from dog experts (yes, really) around the web since there aren’t many formal research studies on the topic.

How to Read Dog Body Language

First a helpful video:

Now, some other tips:

The Approach

Have you ever noticed that dogs will rarely approach each other (or humans for that matter) from head on. They often make a semi-circle pattern to come up to you. According to Michele Hollow, “Dogs move in an arc when walking toward other canines. While most socialized dogs are use to the more direct human approach, you can make a very submissive dog more comfortable by angling towards her.”

The Smile

“I swear my dog smiles at me.” I hear many owners say about their pup. There might be some truth to this. According to the Dog Lady, when a dog opens it’s mouth and pants, it “is experiencing a bodily adjustment — homeostasis — and not an emotional response. Dogs pant when they are hot, thirsty, excited, exuberant, anxious, sick or out of breath from exercise. A dog’s facial expression may be just his way of saying he’s hot and tired, but we see a brilliant smile.” She adds that there is no harm in imagining your dog smiles.


Oh isn’t it embarrassing when your dog humps someone else’s dog…or someone else’s leg? There is a reason dogs do this. According to Psychology Today, “While mounting is best known for its role in reproduction, it also occurs in many other contexts and emotional states. Dogs mount when they’re excited and aroused and even when they’re stressed and anxious.” And don’t worry it’s completely normal!

Scratch Don’t Pat

Hollow also says that a pat on the head is not nearly as enjoyable for a dog as a scratch behind the ears or tummy.  This is because as you lean over or stand over a dog, you are showing them higher status. If you tower over an aggressive dog, she may growl or snap. However, “If you stand over a submissive dog she may cower or roll over.” The best way according to Hollow, is to “turn sideways, squat, and let the dog approach you.”


Like humans, when a dog is feeling afraid or nervous it tries to become as small as possible. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals dogs who are afraid will have a “body that looks hunched, with his tail held low or tucked between his rear legs and his ears flattened back on his skull. He might cower close to the ground.” They also pointed out that dogs might yawn in an exaggerated way. I have noticed that humans also do this when they are nervous which is counter intuitive because we supposedly yawn when we are tired, not anxious. But I believe it is also a nervous response. I will have to search the research on this!

The Look Away

Don’t take it personally if a dog doesn’t look you in the eyes. Dog’s look away to diffuse tension according to Hollow.  “An alpha dog who’s being pestered for attention by an underling will signal her disinterest by looking to the side.”

Hope you (and your pup) enjoyed this fun post! Any interest in cat body language?

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

3 replies on “Dog Body Language: How to Speak Canine”

  1. Shana Compton

    I read information regarding animal body language the other day and was going to post a question for the group. But you always have so much information on the Science of People that I have a hard time finding a subject you haven’t touched on already! You are awesome Vanessa, I learn so much each time I visit the Science of People website! Thank you for sharing it with us!

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