A Guide to Understanding Dog Body Language

3 min read
Jan 26, 2022

Dogs are experts at using their physical posture to communicate their feelings. Everything from your dog’s posture to the way he positions his ears and the way he holds his tail conveys exactly how he is feeling at any given moment. 

Read on to learn what to look for! 

What Can your Dog’s ear Position tell You? 

The way your dog holds his ears can tell you a lot about his mood. If a dog’s ears are pinned back against his head this can mean that he is scared, stressed, or nervous.

Ears that are perky and pointed forward indicate that a dog is alert. Perhaps he just caught an intriguing scent, or he sees another dog in the distance.

If your dog’s ears are sitting to the side or slightly back, this can mean your pup is relaxed and calm. 

Dog Tail Body Language 

Your dog’s tail position is another way to tell what his current mood is. An upright, rigid tail is a sign of dominance. Perhaps your pup is standing up to another dog that is barking at him or he’s feeling unsure of the stranger knocking on the door.

A raised and wagging tail is a sign of excitement. You’ll likely notice your dog’s tail in this position when you come home from work each day, or when you pick up his leash at walk time. 

A horizontal tail indicates that your dog is alert. He’s intrigued by something, whether it be a person, a smell, or a situation, and he’s deciding what to do next. If you play fetch with your dog, you might notice his tail in this position as he waits in anticipation for you to throw the ball.  

If your dog’s tail is low it means he’s relaxed. This is probably your dog’s most common tail posture when you’re hanging around at home. His tail tells you he’s comfortable in his environment.  

When a dog tucks his tail between his legs or pins it low against his body it means he’s scared or stressed. It’s probably not common to see your dog like this, but if you do, give him space and try to remove him from the stressful situation. 

Additional Dog Communication Signals 

Canine body language does not end with the ears and tail. There are all kinds of additional signals that can help you understand more about your dog. These will vary from dog to dog, as each animal is an individual, but many of them will be the same. 


Yawning can be a sign that your dog is nervous or stressed. However, it can also mean that your dog is excited. After all, context is everything. Dogs often yawn in an attempt to calm themselves, which explains why he may yawn when both excited or nervous.  

Next time your dog yawns, note the situation. Does he yawn when you reach for the treat bag or his leash? Perhaps he yawns when he’s meeting new people or dogs. Though, if he’s yawning after a long day of playing, he might just be tired!  

It’s wise to be cognizant of this behavior so you can remove your dog if you sense that he’s becoming overwhelmed. 

Licking his Lips 

Similar to yawning, dogs may lick their lips to calm themselves. And yes, they also do it when they are hungry.

Again, try to note when your dog licks his lips so you can understand which situations make him nervous. Does he do it when having his paws handled? During bath time? At the vet’s office?  

Whenever your dog feels nervous, offer him some additional support to reassure him. 

Putting it All Together

When deciphering your dog’s body language it’s important to look at the big picture. Dogs rarely employ just one of these signals at a time.   Just as humans may shout when they are excited or angry, your dog may have perky ears when he is alert or dominant. You will be able to tell which it is by noticing the body language of his ears, tail, and stance altogether. 

Next time you interact with your dog, pay special attention to his body language. Try to notice how his posture changes when he is in situations that might make him happy, excited, stressed, or relaxed.  Understanding the basics of dog body language is sure to strengthen your bond with your pup. It will also help you read the communication signals of other dogs you meet, and thus avoid any unfortunate interactions. 

Consider Investing in Dog Insurance  

Looking for more ways to keep your pup happy and healthy? Consider investing in a dog insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance.1  Our dog insurance policies can provide the coverage and care your furry family member deserves.  Get your free quote today. 

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.