One Way Dogs Communicate is Through Body Language

Have you ever looked at your dog and thought “Why is he doing that?” or “Hmmm, what is my dog feeling?” One way dogs communicate is through body language. Reading a dog’s body language and accompanying behaviors can provide you with a lot of information about how your dog is feeling and what his next step might be. This becomes especially important when trying to keep yourself and your children safe from dog bites. Today we will be discussing the behaviors of an anxious dog.

One raised Paw:

This can indicate uncertainty, or may be a metasignal warning that an agonistic behavior is coming next. Some dogs do point as a model action pattern in
certain breeds. Don’t pet the dog or put yourself in his space after we assessed the whole context and feel its uncertainty. Walk away!

Half Moon Eye (AKA whale eye):

If the dog appears to be looking at you out of the corner of his eye, this also indicates that the dog is worried. Many
times dog will display this behavior when someone tries to hug him. Keep in mind that many dogs do not like to be hugged!

Displacement Behaviors:

Often times our dogs will display a seemingly ordinary behavior but at a possibly unusual time. We call these behaviors displacement behaviors.
Essentially, the dog wants to do something but he is holding back. He will displace the behavior that he is holding back on and instead display another behavior. Ordinarily, there is a sense or anxiety and/or the dog is in a situation of uncertainty. The displacement behavior is a result of that inner turmoil. Remember, these are ordinary behaviors but pay close attention to the context in which the dog is displaying them. If your dog is yawning at
bedtime, that’s ok but if he’s yawning while your child is hugging him that could be a clear sign that he’s experiencing anxiety.

Examples of displacement behaviors:

  • Sudden sniffing of objects or the ground
  • Shaking as if he’s wet but he’s not
  • Biting at his paws or other areas of his body
  • Licking his mouth when there’s no food around
  • Yawning when he’s not tired
  • Sudden scratching of his ears or other body parts

Avoidance Behaviors:

There are often clear signs that your dog is upset and wants no part of the people or situation that he is currently in. If your dog is displaying any of
these behaviors, allow him to retreat to a safe place. If you are around someone else’s dog and he’s displaying these behaviors, you and/or your children must do the retreating. A dog who displays avoidance behaviors may feel cornered or threatened and may end up biting.

  • Tail straight or down
  • Tail between his legs (may or may not be wagging)
  • Hiding behind people or furniture/objects
  • Turning his head away
  • Barking and moving away
  • Getting up and retreating
  • A Low tail with just the tip of the tail wagging
  • Rolling over on his back (more of a stiff movement rather than loose and wiggly)
  • Heavy panting
  • Ears back
  • Ears turned sideways (for dogs with erect ears ie. German shepherd)
  • Urinating or defecation (may be confused as spiteful behavior or a housebreaking issue)

The signs that we have discussed today are all signs that the dog in question is feeling uneasy. While an anxious dog is not always an aggressive dog, any dog that feels cornered or threatened may attempt to bite to protect himself from perceived danger. Always allow your dog a safe place to retreat to and educate all family members and visitors to stay away from your dog if he chooses to retreat.


Learn the signs to help canine & humane relationships, set everyone up for success!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top