We all love our dogs, and that is why we must understand dog behaviors to make sure that we understand their needs and feelings. It should be no surprise to know that dogs communicate their feelings using their whole bodies as they can’t speak. As dog owners, it is useful to learn how to properly communicate with our furry companions to recognize when they feel anxious, fearful, aggressive, relaxed, and confident.    

Identifying when a dog is stressed can help you avoid situations where someone can get hurt. Similarly, knowing when a dog is feeling comfortable and relaxed can help you recognize when you can go ahead for that special belly rub or even a warm cuddle. Here we take a deeper look into what dog behaviors mean. Starting with: 

A Wagging Tail: 

While it is widely believed that a wagging tail signifies the dog is happy, it is not always the case. Research has found that dogs also wag their tails when they are frightened, on guard, and even just before attacking. So it is pivotal to read the situation well before approaching a dog that’s wagging its tail.

AI image of a dog running and wagging it's tail.

Make it a point to listen to auditory cues like whether the dog is growling, and also look for facial expressions like whether the dog is showing its teeth. These cues offer a hint on whether you should or should not approach the dog. A relaxed dog tends to wag its tail slowly from side to side. Similarly, an emotionally aroused dog swings its tail in a faster, twitch-like manner.

Raised Hackles:

A dog’s hackles are the hairs that run along the back of your dog’s spine. When your dog’s hackles are raised, it means that your dog is either excited or stressed. This reaction is known as piloerection and is very similar to goosebumps in humans. Like humans get goosebumps in different situations, when your dog has their hackles raised, it could signify several different things. So it is important to assess the situation before approaching your or any dog for that matter. 

Dog with Raised Hackles

Assess the situation the dog just went through before you approached it. Was the dog relaxed, happy, and comfortable or was it anxious and going through something active? Regardless of how well-behaved a dog might be, it can become violent if it is in a state of physical or emotional arousal.


A dog’s general posture is a big giveaway to how they are feeling. A cowering dog or a dog rolling onto its back with its tail tucked communicates feelings of fear or submission. Similarly, a dog with its head down means that the dog is in an extreme state of fear.

Image of a dog’s general posture

A dog’s behavior where its head scopes the horizon and extended ears signifies that the dog is in an attentive and alert state and possibly scoping the surroundings for something of interest. If your dog is panting with its tongue out, while it might look like it’s smiling, the dog is cooling off. Properly understanding these postures helps interpret your dog’s mood and intentions. 

Eyes and facial expression:

Your dog’s facial expressions are different from that of yours. So when a dog yawns, smiles, and licks their lips, the intention behind the action is different from what you might think. For instance, when a dog yawns, it doesn’t mean that it is bored or sleepy. Rather, it signifies that the dog is trying to calm themselves down after a state of stress. This is why you can catch a glimpse of your dog yawning while playing fetch with them.

Photo on dog’s Eyes and facial expression

Similarly, lip-licking signifies that the dog is anxious, alert, and in a state of heightened arousal. Smiling dogs can signify the dog is either submissive or aggressive. So apply caution when you’re approaching a dog that you think is in a positive mood. 

A dog’s eyes can also reveal a lot about the dog’s emotional state. Soft eyes mean that the dog is calm and happy. Clenched but open eyelids indicate that the dog is in a state of negative mindset. If a dog is looking straight at you, understand that they are probably cautious of you, and think that you’re about to do something. 

Understanding dog behaviors and being able to interpret what the posture of the dog means can help you better communicate with your furry canine companion. It can enhance the quality of the communication and strengthen your bond with them. It can also help remedy certain behavioral issues and help create a harmonious bond that is beneficial for both parties. 

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