How to Talk to Dogs - Rescue Dogs 101

How to Talk to Dogs

Are you wondering how to speak dog language? Is it even possible to speak “dog”?

The answer is a big YES! Once you understand dog body language, it is easy to speak “dog”. Dog’s speak with their body, tail, ears, eyes, and mouth. Think about dog language as a form of sign language.

Dog looking with titled head. How To Speak Dog Language

As a foster family for dogs, we have been blessed with so many different dog personalities. We’ve had dogs from every end of the spectrum, from dominant to scared dogs.

When we adopted our dog, Ginger, we realized she has resource guarding issues. By watching and learning her body language we have really been able to help her tremendously.

These experiences have helped us understand dog body language even better. Honestly, this all has helped us realize how important talking with our dogs is.

Dog Body Language 101: Talking to Your Dog

Do you know if your dog is happy, sad, scared, or being aggressive? Most people know when a dog’s tail is tucked between his legs, he’s scared. But do you know a wagging tail doesn’t always mean the dog is happy or friendly? And believe it or not when your dog yawns, it doesn’t mean he’s ready for a nap.

Please take a moment to watch the video below. I talk about the importance of learning your dog’s body language, especially if you have kids!

How to Learn What Your Dog is Saying

Learning how to read your dog’s body signals is a great way to truly connect with your dog. It will help you understand what he is feeling and thinking, and your dog will be so thankful that you actually understand what he’s telling you!

Each part of your dog’s body provides a signal to you, and yes sometimes they are hard to read. Dogs come in different shapes, sizes and builds, ears and tails vary greatly. It’s also important to note that some dogs will show only one or two of these signs, and some will exhibit all signs. Observe your dog in many different situations and before you know it, you will understand what your dog is saying!

The below dog body language chart is meant only to be a guideline for learning How to Talk to Dogs. When reading your dogs body language, it is critical to look at the entire picture. Some signals by themselves may be misleading if not looking at his full body and considering the situation. Remember each dog and situation is unique!

The Step-by-step to Understanding Your Dogs Body Language

Scared Dog with whale eyes. How To Speak Dog Language Chart

Look at this dogs eyes, ears and paws, what are they telling you? Do you think this dog is happy about being held?

Dog Eyes

  • A relaxed dog will turn his head to look at something else and have relaxed eyes with small pupils at the center.
  • Dilated pupils are a signal that your dog is either very aroused, or incredibly frightened.
  • A frightened dog will stiffen his body and widen his eyes, enabling you to see the white of his eye. The flashing of the white of a dog’s eye is referred to as “whale eye”.

Dog Tail

  • A wagging tail does NOT always mean a friendly dog! Dogs will wag their tail even if they are aggressive.
  • Dogs with no or very short tails or tails that curl over their backs are much harder to read. If your dog has a tail like this, it is even more important that you pay close attention to his other body parts.
  • A wide, sweeping or circular tail wag is a calm and happy greeting.
  • A lowered tail that wags back and forth quickly is usually a sign of a happy, relaxed or even an uncertain dog.
  • A tucked tail, especially if it is tucked all the way under the dog, is a sign of fear or discomfort.
  • When the body and the base of the tail are stiff or tense, possibly even wagging, is a sign of an alert, dominant or aggressive dog.
Dog Body Language Cheat Sheet

Your dog is talking to you, are you listening?

You love your dog, he is your family and you'd do anything for him, right? Then you owe it to him to learn his language. 

Learn to speak the language of dog, with our Dog Body Language Sheet Cheat....

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Dog Ears Meaning

  • Dog ears come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some types of ears are harder to read than others. Large hound ears or cropped ears are usually hard to read. Short, floppy, or prick ears make it easier to detect their position.
  • Ears held forward and high on the head indicate interest or confidence.
  • Ears that are tilted backward indicate worry or submission.
  • A dog that is very worried or fearful will often pin his ears back.

Dog Fur

  • The raised fur is commonly known as “hackles.” When you see a dog’s hackles, it does NOT mean the dog is aggressive.
  • Different dogs raise their hackles for different reasons. It is usually a sign of a heightened emotional state. The most common causes are excitement/arousal, surprise, fear, or defensive behavior.
  • A dog in a state of arousal or distress may raise up the fur on his shoulders or at the base of his tail or even both.

Dog Mouth

  • A cautious or scared dog might pull his lips taught, yawn or lick his lips quickly, both yawning and lip licking are “calming signals”.
  • If your dog yawns, it’s likely he is not tired, but stressed.
  • The most obvious is when a dog pulls his lips back and growls or bares his teeth in a snarlGrowls and snarls are a warning that a dog shows before he decides he needs to bite or attack.
  • It’s important NOT to punish your dog for using this warning. Your dog is talking to you and you need to listen. If you do not allow him to offer you this warning, he may go immediately into the bite or attack mode next time.

Dog licking lips and yawning. Calming signals and How To Speak Dog Language Chart

A Note About Your Dogs Calming Signals

Calming signals” are signals that dogs give to humans and other dogs to announce stress and to avoid conflict. They include things like turning away, walking in a curve, shaking it off, yawning, and lip licking. This can happen when your dog is put in a new or uncomfortable situation, whether that be entering a new environment, meeting a new dog, or feeling trapped in a situation. Your dog is telling you he needs a break from the current situation, so give it to him.

Most calming signals happen very quickly, and you may not even notice them unless you are looking for it. Here are five calming signals to watch for in your dog:

  • Turning his head away from the situation
  • Shaking it off, shaking his head, or entire body
  • Yawning
  • Licking his lips
  • Walking in a curve
  • Walking slowly or even freezing

Dog Body Language Chart

How To Speak Dog Language Chart - Calm Dog

Calm and Relaxed

Body: Relaxed posture
Tail: Relaxed, wide sweeping or circular wag
Ears: Relaxed
Eyes: Relaxed, small pupils at the center
Mouth: Relaxed, mouth closed or opened slightly

How To Speak Dog Language Chart - Dog in play bow

Playful

Body: Play bow, front legs on the ground with butt up
Tail: Up and wagging
Ears: Up
Eyes: Pupils dilated
Mouth: Open or closed

How To Speak Dog Language Chart - Dog on high Alert

Alert

Body: Standing tall posture, hackles up
Tail: Horizontal
Ears: Perked up, forward and high on the head
Eyes: Wide open
Mouth: Closed and quite

How To Speak Dog Language Chart - Dominant Dog

Dominant

Body: Stiff posture, hackles may be raised, mounting
Tail: High and stiff or wagging
Ears: Perked up, high on the head
Eyes: Wide open
Mouth: Closed or possible growling

How To Speak Dog Language Chart - Aggressive Dog

Aggressive

Body: Stiff posture, hackles may be raised
Tail: High and stiff wagging
Ears: Held up and back
Eyes: Wide, whites of eyes visible (whale eye)
Mouth: Growling, lips curled, teeth visible

How To Speak Dog Language Chart - Scared Dog

Fearful or Anxious

Body: Trembling or cowering
Tail: Tucked or low and slowly wagging
Ears: Tilted back or flattened
Eyes: Avoidance, whites of eyes may be visible
Mouth: Yawning, licking lips

I recommend that you read Why Do Family Dogs Bite … as part of learning our dogs body language, teaching your entire family, including kids of all ages is super important.


Want to learn more? Have an entire conversation with your dog by learning everything about his body language today! It’s going to change your relationship 10x over…

Dog Body Language 101 Book Cover

About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

Debi McKee is a dog mom, volunteer foster dog home, and lifetime dog lover. Debi’s mission is to guide you through every step of your dog journey, from adopting the perfect dog for you and your family, to training your dog and keeping your dog happy and healthy. Sign up for our free resource library of must-have resources, containing valuable downloads to help you in your dog journey.

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