ANATOMY CANINE BODY LANGUAGE: LIPS, EARS, TAIL, ETC LEARN TO READ THE WHOLE DOG

NOTE: This section is in progress and will be updated daily! We have added the most widely recognized and just enough to advance any skill levels

Anatomy

Whether we simply are living with dogs, or training them we all need knowledge of canine physical structure. First thing any professional would recommend in a sudden change in behavior is a full veterinarian check up. If we are observing any behavior that is not normally characteristic such as sudden observable behavior related to any type of aggression get a full vet check. Here we will learn about external anatomy to better understand how your dogs may be feeling in any environmental context.

Ears Erect or Angled Forward

Dogs whose ears are forward convey alertness and confidencenext

Ear Positions

A good rule to follow when looking at ears and body language is:

Everything Being Pulled Forward Can Mean:

  • Alert
  • Offensive
  • Confident (Which can also include threat or aggression)

Everything Being Pulled back:

  • Relaxed
  • Defensive
  • Submissive
  • Appeasing
  • Frightened (Which can also include threat or aggression)

 

Ears Back

Appeasement

Ears back but not flattened convey appeasment. next

whale eyes

Seal Ears

"Ears pressed back they virtually disappear" (Goodman, et al, 2002)

Dog with seal ears, in this display of appeasement tinged with submission and fear.

ears back

Ears Flattened Back

Dogs that are frightened may flatten their ears against the sides of their heads. In this position it may also suggest an antagonistic response to a perceived threat.

semi-erect-ears

Ears Semi-Erect, Turned Outwards Towards Sound

A dog is alert and listening. Note that ears also can move independently of each other, in order to narrow down location of sound.

shortb tense lips

Airplane Ears

When a dogs ears are extended out to the sides of their heads, they are usually in the state of conflict, most likely experiencing more than one set of feelings, confused on how to make a decision or how to react. Always check each dogs natural position as some my be extended out naturally.

With this dog possibly a visual stimuli something is approaching which has his ears in an airplane position, some whale eye and we see the beginning of lips getting small and commissure of the lips is moving forward.

relaxed ears

Relaxed Ears

In this photo we can see ears are relaxed an flopping with movement. The dog without the ball has ears that are in a relaxed alert movement.

 

pinched-ears

Pinched Ears

Pinched ears are only visible in floppy eared dogs like Goldens, Labs or Hounds. The ear is turned parallel to the side of the face (not back or forward) and pulled to the head. Pinched ears usually happen when a dog is very stressed or fearful.

dog

 Eyes 

Dogs eyes express many feelings or a state of mind at any given moment. Remember when reading dogs we always take into account the environmental context and read the whole dog. Most body language signals happen in sequence. Learning to read dogs will become a big part of your skill to help and assess all dogs and help predict what a dog might do next.

dilated-eyes

All dogs eyes dilate from low light and from any situation that triggers sympathetic stimulation. Dilated eyes can also be a sign of arousal or fear, these can make the eyes look "glassy," which can suggest that a dog is feeling threatened, stressed or frightened.

Dilating Eyes

shortb tense lips

A hard eyed stare is when a dogs pupils contract. His eyes will be partially open with a brow wrinkled, very intense stare. A hard stare is one of the hardest to explain o how it looks. Most professionals will tell you that you will know when a dog gives you a "hard eye stare".

Hard Eyes

whale eyes

Whale Eye happens when a dog is stressed or threatening and showing the whites of its eyes. This is a warning signal and is often accompanied by hard eyes, freezing, stiffening up, and/or growling. Obviously, this is somewhat breed specific

Whale Eyes

soft eyes

Eyes are partially closed as if squinting in the sun; all other anatomy, facial expressions are loose and relaxed and non-threatening. 

Soft Eyes

dog

 Lips and Commissure of Lips 

Lips tell us so much when viewed in context. The changes dogs lips make in positions communicate many subtle and bigger dramatic expressions of emotions. Commissure of lips is where the upper lip and lower lip meet and will definitely hear this term in the profession. Observing the commissure of the lips gives us very important information about aggression or other emotions.

shortb tense lips

Lips are tense and shortening, commisures are coming forward. An agonistic pucker is just beginning.

Short Tense Lips, Mouth Partially Open

long lips

Lips are tense and shortening, commisures are coming forward. An agonistic pucker is just beginning.

Long Lips Tense, Mouth Open

commisure-C-1

Extra long lips forming the a shape "C". Dogs mouth is wide open and all teeth are visible.

Long lips Forming a "C" Shape, Mouth Wide-open, Teeth Visible, Front and Back

long lips

Dog is alert but lips are relaxed and not tense.

Long Lips & Mouth Open

short-lips-mouth-open1

We observe Agonistic Puckers during ritualized aggression and aggression with intent to do harm or warn. Always remember we have to read the whole dog and the environmental contest not necessary the length of the lips.

Short Lips Mouth Partially Open, Front teeth Visable

tail icon

 Tail Positions 

We are going to start with one of the most misconceptions about a dogs tail. The myth that a dog wagging its tail is happy and friendly. Of course some wags are associated with happiness but most of the time we look at a tail wagging as arousal. Some wags are associated with fear, social challenges or even a warning on approach, you are likely to be bitten. One important thing to always remember when looking at body language, we need to read the whole dog and environmental context always.

A dog's tail positions change with activity and attitude. We should keep in mind each dog breeds natural tail position to learn how it changes in all different environmental context.

"Tail-wagging is a context-specific behaviour, which signals excitabiltiy or stimulation, such as friendliness/confidence, anxiousness and even a threat of aggressive behvaior" (Serpell, 1995, p.119)

tail level

Tail Level with Topline of Back

This is a natural tail position for this dog.

tail-tucked

Tail Tucked

A big indicator of fear is a tucked tail and remember to always read the whole dog. In this dog you can also observe dilated eyes, ears back or airplane ears (state of conflict).

90066E4B-CA21-4453-919D-7D403822E88D

Tails Raised

The black dogs tail slightly raised less than the tan dogs. Both tails suggest alertness and aroused. You notice also ears forward and bodies seem to be stiff like they just heard a noise.

72142060-BAF1-4B71-9FDD-B41E9BB8EA75

Tail Lowered below Topline

A Husky that has a natural tail carriage that is high and curled over the back, a lowered tail is a big observable change. In order for us to know the relevance of any body part we must know the natural relaxed position for the tail. We also must understand the environmental context in that moment. Remember we always read the whole dog.

2BDA8E95-6F9A-41E6-A19B-06EB570CCDE5

Tail Raised High Over Topline of back

This dog has a raised tail that may suggest arousal.

tip-of-tail-raised

Tip Of tail Raised Slightly

This dogs ears are forward with tip of tail raised. Good sign of alertness and excited.

raised-curly-tail

Tail Raised, Curling Above Topline.

With this husky, the raised, loosely curled tail can be his natural relaxed position. If he would get more aroused the tail may raise higher with a tighter curl. Always watch each dogs natural tail position and how it changes depending on the environmental context.

Scroll to Top