BBS Training Tip #10: Canine Body Language

Training Tips from BBSTraining your dog can be exercise in patience. Then again, it doesn’t have to be! Dogs are incredibly expressive creatures and if you know what to look out for, you’ll be amazed by how much your dog is telling you — a lot of times we’re just not speaking the same language. There are consistent bodily expressions all dogs show. And lucky for us, this doggie dialect isn’t too hard to pick up! If you aren’t already, BestBullySticks will have you talking with your dog in no time.

Speaking Dog

There’s a whole lot to cover when it comes to canine body language. Your dog uses nearly every part of its body to express feelings and emotions – so instead of trying to describe specific situations, we’ll focus on key expressive behaviors your dog uses to communicate. This way you will be better prepared to figure out what a dog is trying to tell you at any given moment. You’ll be surprised just how much your pup can say with their furry faces and wagging tails!

Eye Contact

Dogs seldom make eye contact with each other. Catching a direct gaze from another dog is usually a sign of aggression. However, for people, this isn’t always the case. If your dog has a relaxed facial expression and he keeps making eye contact, chances are he’s just looking for some attention.

If a dog holds a tense fixed gaze he probably doesn’t want much to do with you. This type of eye contact is usually regarded as a sort of “first warning” by other dogs. The same goes for people, too.  

Indirect eye contact may also spell trouble, though. Dogs are naturally protective of their possessions. In the presence of food, toys or any other item the dog wishes to guard you may notice a dog keeping watch from the corner of their eyes. This type of behavior, especially when the dog is also showing tension, is followed up by a display of aggression.

How to Read Canine Body LanguageEars

How your dog uses its ears to communicate depends on their ear type. Floppy ears like that of a Basset hound aren’t as expressive as the semi-pricked ears of a Collie. Some owners and breeders choose to crop their dog’s ears. There is no sound reason to crop a dog’s ears and it is strictly a cosmetic procedure. BestBullySticks discourages the cropping of dog’s ears as it causes unnecessary pain and discomfort.

As a rule of thumb, a dog’s ears are at rest when they’re relaxed. Of course, this varies by dog and greatly depends on ear type. When alert, a dog will perk up its ears toward a point of interest.

A dog’s ears can point up and forward or lay back flat when aggressive. This usually depends on the situation and if the dog feels frightened or threatened. Use sound judgement when attempting to read a dog’s mood. Always err on the side of safety and don’t make assumptions.


Just like eyes, a dog’s mouth is a telltale sign of a whole host of different moods and emotions. A frightened or submissive dog usually keeps a closed mouth with the corners slightly pulled back occasionally licking the air. In extreme cases, dogs will also pull up their lips showing their teeth just a bit. Sometimes confused as an aggressive snarl, it is usually accompanied by easier to read submissive body language (we’ll touch on that later).

Dogs generally don’t jump straight into a full-blown show of aggression. Instead, a dog will first shoot off a direct stare, lay their ears back and pull their lips forward over the teeth. More often than not, this is enough to get the point across and deter any unwanted advances. If not, it is usually followed up by a lowered stance in preparation a forward lunge and full reveal of the teeth.

A Tail’s Tale

Just like ears, a dog’s tail type will dictate how expressive it may be. And just like cropped ears, tails are sometimes docked — another unnecessary cosmetic procedure. A happy dog will sometimes, but not always, wag its tail. Extremely excited dogs sometimes wag their tail so hard their whole rear end swings!

BBS Dog Body Language GuideWhen submissive or frightened, a dog will usually tuck its tail between its legs. The difference between submissive and frightened is usually highlighted by a slight wag of the tail. A slight wag shows submission, while a stiffly tucked tail is a sure sign of fear.

Confusingly enough, an aggressive or confrontational dog might also wag its tail. The biggest difference between a happy wag and an aggressive wag is its stiffness. Happy tails flail around wildly. When taking an aggressive stance, a dog may “flag” its tail by holding it stiff and rigidly waving it back and forth.

From Wet Nose to Wagging Tail

Every dog has its own unique personality and their means of communicating differs from creature to creature. Learning a to recognize a dog’s non-verbal language will give you the tools to get a better grasp on their emotions, and more importantly predict behaviors.

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