Reading Canine Body Language in Frederick, MD

Ranee’s dog, Rocket, making a new friend at the dog park.

Just as people do, dogs convey a lot through their body language.  Since they are unable to verbalize their feelings, they must use body language to convey if they are happy and want to play or if they are scared and want to be left alone.  We can learn to read canine body language so we may have positive experiences with our doggie friends.

Ranee’s dog, Rocket, happily playing with a new friend.

Happy  When a dog is happy, his body language is relaxed.  He holds his tail and ears in a natural position.  He may wag his tail from side to side or in a circular motion.  His muscles are relaxed and the corners of his mouth may be turned up as if he is smiling.

Alert  When a dog is on alert, he is intense and focused.  He will stand upright with his weight centered on all four legs.  His ears will be held up and forward.  His tail is rigid and held in the regular position or straight up.  The hair on his back may be raised.

Playful  When a dog is playful, he will have jerky and bouncy movements.  He may paw at you then take off running to ensue a chase.  He may play bow by lowering his front legs and head and raising his rear end in the air.  This position conveys that he wants to initiate play.  A playful dog may also make high-pitched barks.

This dog is displaying fearful behavior.

Fearful  A fearful dog tries to make himself look small.  His back will be hunched and he will hold his tail low or tucked between his legs. His ears will be flattened against his head.  He may lean to the side and back away.  The muscles of his body and face will be tense and rigid.


Dominant  A dominant dog will stand tall.  He will try to look large.  His neck will be arched and he will appear tense.  His tail will be held high and rigid.  He will make direct eye contact.  He may also growl, usually with a closed mouth.

Submissive behavior

Submissive  A submissive dog will try his best to look as small as possible.  His back will be hunched and he will stay low to the ground.  He will hold his tail low and may tuck it between his legs.  He will flatten his ears to the side of his head. He will not make direct eye contact and may urinate.

Fearfully Aggressive  A fearfully aggressive dog displays the same body language as a fearful dog.  He may show his teeth and growl.  He may cower.  He may snap or try to bite then retreat as far away as possible. 

Offensively Aggressive  An offensively aggressive dog may be experiencing anger and confidence at the same time.  He is on attack and may not stop if the offender retreats.  He tries to look large and intimidating.  He will hold his head high and his ears up and forward.  His tail is held raised and rigid.  He will growl, snarl and bark in a threatening tone.

Defensively Aggressive  A defensively aggressive dog would rather not get into an altercation.  He would rather be left alone, but will stand up for himself.  He may be experiencing fear and anger at the same time.  He tries to look large and intimidating.  He will hold her head high and his ears up and forward.  His tail is held raised and rigid.  He will show his teeth and may growl and snarl.  His bark may be high pitched.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s behavior, call for an appointment at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital at 301-631-6900.  One of our veterinarians, Dr. Brent Cook has an interest in behavior and will consult with you and your pet to get to the root of the problem.