He’s man’s best friend. He stands faithfully by our side. Never doubts us. Never questions us. He’s dog; we love him and think we know him well. But how well do we really know our dogs? Does a wagging tail always indicate happiness? Does panting always mean a dog is hot? How well can you decipher your dog’s body language and his attempts to communicate with you?

While all dogs are different, there are a few common ways our dogs communicate how they’re feeling.

Calm and neutral

  • Relaxed body posture; no tension
  • Relaxed tail, possibly wagging
  • Possibly panting happily
  • A calm, neutral dog is typically ready for you to greet and pet him.


  • Leaning forward
  • Ears are forward
  • Mouth might be closed
  • An alert dog could be curious or interested in what’s going on around him.


  • Stiff posture
  • Tail moves back and forth, like a flag
  • Might show teeth and/or growl
  • Don’t run away from an aggressive dog. Stand tall and still and look away.


  • Flattened ears
  • Tucked tail
  • Crouching lower to the ground
  • A scared dog should not be approached, because he might bite if he feels the need to defend himself.


  • Laying on his back
  • Paws and tail tucked in
  • This position is most common when two dogs interact. One dog is telling the other he “gives up.” Abused dogs will sometimes display this behavior toward humans.


  • Standing up tall and leaning forward
  • Tail held high
  • A dominant dog is showing another dog that he’s in charge.


  • Forward ears
  • Tail wagging quickly
  • Alert and ready to pounce
  • Likely panting
  • Sometimes, overly excited dogs can inadvertently scratch, jump up, or knock someone down in their excitement.

Watching your dog for these gestures can help you understand what your dog might be communicating to you. Contact us with questions about your dog’s behavior.