How to Know What Your Dog is Saying

Words may be important for communication between humans, but dogs communicate their emotions through body language and sounds. While it may seem that your dog understands your words, especially if you’ve put in the effort to train them on simple commands such as sit, heel, and stay, you also need to work to understand and translate canine body language.

The Sounds

If your dog ever starts speaking to you, please take a video and send it to a celebrity. Until then, consider observing verbal cues for decoding canine body language. Dogs communicate their thoughts and feelings through their physical presence, but there are some sound signals you can rely on to interpret what they’re thinking or feeling.


If a dog is calm, it may breathe quietly. In fact, it may be so faint that you would mistake it for light breathing. When dogs are happy or energetic, they will pant slightly. If you ask your dog to go for a walk with you, their breathing will become slightly heavier. When dogs are nervous, they will also pant.

Heavy breathing is something you should pay close attention to. It’s a warning that there could be something wrong with your dog. When dogs are overheating or suffering from a trauma or chronic illness, they may pant. When you notice that your dog is panting, let them rest and try to keep them cool. If the panting persists for a long period of time, please contact your veterinarian to schedule a check-up to ensure there are no underlying health conditions.


It is difficult to identify whinging as a vocalization. Vetstreet suggests that whining may be a dog’s way of asking for attention or dinner. A dog may be excited or energized. Other dogs communicate their stress through whining. An injured or ill dog may whine to express their discomfort. It’s important to look for other indicators to identify why your dog is whining. Other body language cues, like many of the other dog behavior signs, can help you understand why your dog is expressing a certain emotion.

As you spend more time with your dog, you will begin to notice different types of whining. Some dogs will whine combined with other body cues, in an attempt to get your attention because you are not focused on them. Other dogs may whine and go to the door to let you know that they need to go outside to relieve themselves (congratulations on potty training your pup if this is your dog) In this case, you should consider the dog’s whining to be cute, even though whining tends to have a negative connotation. However, if your dog is whining with no subtle cues that they are happy or that they need to go outside, there might be an underlying health concern for you to address. It’s always best to bring your dog to the vet if they appear to be sick, just to be safe.


Barking is a lot like yelling for humans. Your dog is trying to communicate their feelings, and the only way they can express themselves is by barking. There are different pitches to a dog’s bark, and while some may be more menacing than others, it is always important to pay attention to a dog’s barking. A continuous rapid barking is often an alert. Your dog may have noticed someone in his territory, like a postal worker, and they want to make their housemates and the other dogs in the neighborhood aware, too. Loud, deep barks are often a warning to strangers: “Don’t take a step closer, I don’t trust you.” Follow their advice and proceed cautiously. Finally, a yelping bark often indicates that the dog is in distress. If you come across a dog that’s yelping, call for help. Keep in mind that an injured dog may also be a cautious one, and therefore may not see your concern as an attempt to help but rather a danger signal.

Howling is similar to barking that dogs get from their wolf ancestral roots. It is a higher-pitched, held out note that they use to announce their presence as well as communicate with other dogs in the area. While it can be loud and annoying, it is just another form of communication for your dog.


No, your dog probably isn’t going to be the next world-famous pop star, but dogs are capable of vocalizing their barks in a way that sounds almost like singing. This is typically done when they are happy. It is not uncommon to find dogs that express their happiness when you get home by singing, or that let you know they enjoy playing with you. This form of vocalization is just a way for them to let you know that they are in a good mood.

The Body

A dog’s stance, and other body clues, are methods a dog uses to alert you to their emotional state. How are they holding their body? Are they attempting to make themselves appear larger than they are? Do they appear to get closer to the ground when you approach?

The Hair

If you’re concerned that a dog may become aggressive toward you, and you’re being cautious, you can watch their hair for movement. If you notice the hair on the back of their head, neck, or body lifting up (like it would for a cat), he’s trying to tell you that he wants you to keep your distance. They may be nervous or angry. It’s their body’s way of signaling that they aren’t comfortable with you or something else approaching. This cue may not be directed toward you; it can also be a subtle queue to you that there is impending danger nearby. Because a dog’s sense of smell and hearing are much greater than a human, your dog may be alerted to something you might not notice. He’s trying to let you know to be cautious and keep a lookout.

The Tail

A dog’s tail contains many clues about the dog’s emotions. Do you see a wagging tail? If that is the case, your dog is probably happy or energetic. Is it tucked in between their legs? Tucking is a sign of fear and may mean they are nervous. An alert, erect tail means your dog is paying very careful attention. This stance is often a signal for hunting dogs that prey is nearby and you should be quiet and approach carefully.It can also be a sign that your dog is attempting to establish dominance by taking up more physical space.Welsh Corgi with ears up sitting facing away.


A dog’s body language will often tell you what they are feeling or intending. When a dog adopts a posture with their body close to the floor, keeping their back arched away from you, they are being submissive or may be fearful. If you notice that the dog’s muscles are tightening, and they appear as if they’re trying to make themselves seem bigger than they actually are, then the dog is trying to be the alpha dog. It might be better to let them relax before approaching.

If your dog is feeling calm, they will also have a relaxed body stance. Their four legs will be equally grounded and you won’t see any muscles straining. If your dog is comfortable and there are no stressors present, they may drop to the floor and expose their belly, looking for attention.

A dog may also show his comfort level with you by trying to nuzzle you. This often is a sign that you need to pay more attention to them and he will root his nose under your hand saying “pet me, pet me.”

The Head

There may be differences in the shapes and sizes of heads, depending on the breed. Some ears are long and droopy, others are short and erect. Regardless of how a dog’s ears, eyes, or mouth look, you can learn a lot about dog body language by watching the head.

Head position can also be a sign that your dog is trying to understand what you are saying. Have you ever observed that your dog will slightly tilt their head when you speak to them? This is often just a measure to help them hear you better, reports Vetstreet. Dogs are great at reflecting their pet parents, and their head tilt may be a signal that they empathize with you, are trying to better understand what you are saying, or just realize that it could lead to something good for them like a treat or a nice petting. Sometimes when a cat tilts its head, it’s simply a sign that they’re trying to understand what you’re saying.


A calm dog will have a slightly open, relaxed snout. Calm, happy dogs may even attempt to lick their pet parent. A dog with a closed mouth or clenched jaw is nervous. Here’s another clue submissive dogs show: Some will start to yawn and lick their lips. They do it as a way to calm themselves, but it’s an alert to you that the dog is under duress.

Dogs who show their teeth do so as a warning that they sense danger and want to protect themselves or you. You should be especially cautious, or even disengage, with a dog that’s snarling and baring his teeth.


Just like humans, a dog’s facial expression is largely characterized by their eyes, and knowing a dog firsthand will help you more easily identify what emotions the eyes are conveying. That doesn’t mean you can’t rely on some dog body language clues to decipher what a dog’s eyes are telling you. When a dog is calm and relaxed, their eyes will appear normal. Large eyes that appear out of proportion to the rest of the face are a sign that the dog feels frightened or threatened. However, an aggressive dog’s eyes may appear larger, so be sure to look for other dog body language signs. Dogs who are feeling ill may appear to have watery or droopy eyes.

Ear position

When a dog’s ears are down and toward the back of their head, it typically means that they are being submissive or are ready to be petted. But when ears are down and other body signals, such as bared teeth, are present, it could be a sign that your dog feels threatened and is prepared to go into protective mode. When your dog’s ears are up, it can mean multiple things. Ears up could simply mean your dog is paying close attention to something. For example, if your dog is napping, but there’s activity in the room, you might notice that their ears become more erect, while nothing else changes in their body. In this instance, they are simply listening to his environment to determine if they should be concerned. If your dog’s ears are erect, and they appear focused, but not on anything in particular, they’re also listening. Erect, forward-tilted ears are a sign that your pet is excited and possibly aggressive.

If you have a dog with upright ears, they may have one ear upright and one ear lowered. This is just another example of how he positions his ears when he is listening, but not so intently that he is searching for something.

If you notice a significant change in your dog’s behavior, such as heavy panting or droopy eyes, contact your veterinarian immediately. You may want them to receive treatment for an injury or a sickness, and you’d like them to be seen as soon as possible.

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