Canine Body Language and Training

How many nonverbal cues do we humans give on a daily basis? Well, let’s think- winking, waving, slouching, eye-rolling and the list goes on. We are lucky because when these nonverbal cues fail to communicate our message, we have a vocabulary to fall back on. Hopefully, the words we choose don’t get us in trouble. Our dogs don’t have this luxury. Certainly, they can make some vocalizations, but for the most part, body language is their form of communication. As such is the case, understanding these nonverbal messages is essential to successful training. So, what are a few of the more common messages that our dogs are trying to tell us?

Exaggerated Yawning

Most of the time when my Golden, Ivy, yawns, I just ask her, “Awwe, are you a tired baby?” Although their yawns are cute, they are not always an indication of needing a nap. Overly-expressive yawning can mean that your pup is stressed. Training should be fun and not stressful. If your dog is sending you this cue, it may be time for a quick break.

The Eyes

The eyes tell a lot. This is true for humans and dogs. When they are happy, your dog’s eyes will look round or almond-shaped. An angry dog typically will open his or her eyes widely. If your pup is stressed or in some discomfort, they may squint their eyes. Avoid direct eye contact. Often, direct eye contact can be interpreted as aggression. There are other ways to communicate that you’re serious. Your tone of voice will tell your dog a lot.

Tail Position

The tail will tell the tale. In other words, what your dog is doing with its tail communicates a lot. If your dog’s tail is at mid-height, they’re probably pretty relaxed. A tail that is tucked between their legs means that he or she is highly stressed. Now, a wagging tail doesn’t always signal happiness. The speed at which a dog wags its tail indicates its level of emotion. A slow wag usually means a relaxed dog. Wagging quickly, on the other hand, means intense emotion. A recent study from Current Biology indicates that wagging to the right means happiness. Then wagging to the left indicates stress. Pay attention to the tale of the tail.

The Mouth

Our dogs can’t speak words, of course. But they can tell us things with their mouths. Licking lips and excessive panting is a sign of fear or stress. A happy and confident dog will usually have their mouth closed or only slightly open. Angry dogs will pull their lips back to reveal teeth. The mouth of a dog expresses more than we think.


Just like with humans, posture says a lot. A dog that is hunched toward the ground is stressed. They are trying to appear small or move away from something stressful. Leaning forward shows that the dog is interested in something. Then there is the “Play Bow”. This is when the pup places its chest on the ground and backside in the air. The “Play Bow” tells humans and other dogs that it’s time for some fun.

It’s important to remember that all dogs are individuals. So, some of these patterns may not hold true. That’s why it’s important to put in the time and work with your dog. It also makes a world of difference to have an expert on your team, like our Bambi Pinkerton. Please give us a call for your pet sitting and dog training needs



1 Comment

  1. Tim Reiling

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