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Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

Besides the calming signals, dogs show a whole range of behaviours. There are also significant differences between the breeds, so it is important to observe many different dogs and especially to learn to assess your own dog. The most common features of the body language of dogs can be found here.

The behaviour always has a function. If the dog shows a behaviour, you should ask yourself, what could he want to achieve and in which mood is the dog in? Because emotions play an important role and can help us to better interpret a behaviour.

Body language of dogs:

Mouth slit/flews

  • If the corners of the mouth are pulled far back, it looks like laughter to us, but the dog is usually stressed.
  • In the aggression behaviour the mouth gap shows us whether the dog is more likely to attack (offensive: mouth gap short, teeth visible mainly in front) or to flee (defensive: mouth gap long, also molars visible).
  • Loosely closed, no teeth visible, he is relaxed.

Bridge of the nose

Basically you can say the smoother, the more relaxed. The more curled it is, i.e. the more wrinkles you can see on the bridge of the nose, the more tense to threatening the dog. With very wrinkled dogs often difficult to recognize.


The ears are not only used for hearing, they are also part of communication. Hanging ears are usually less readable than standing ears, so you should pay attention to the base of the ear.

  • Upright, forward: attentive, offensively aggressive
  • To the rear, close fitting: anxious, insecure, defensively aggressive
  • Loose: neutral, relaxed
  • Semi-erect, turned outwards: alert, focused on sounds
  • Protruding sideways: unsafe 


In addition to seeing, the eyes also serve for expression.

  • Reduced eyes, slightly slit, wide pupils: stressed, anxious, insecure
  • Open eyes: fearful, threatening, but also in play
  • Look rigidly focused: Ready to attack
  • Soft look: relaxed


Also the tail is strongly curled in some breeds, shortened (stub tail) or is carried under the belly, typical for the breed, thus misunderstandings among the dogs occur again and again.

The wagging does NOT mean joy, but simply indicates excitement (positive or negative). The faster the waving, the more excited the dog. Slight wagging usually with greetings, broad wagging with joy,

  • Loosely hanging: relaxed
  • The further the tail is lowered, until it is pinched under the belly, the more insecure/anxious the dog is
  • Erect (above the line of the back): alert, joyful
  • Horizontal (extension of the back line), rigid: alert, threatening
  • Horizontal or slightly raised, not rigid: alert, e.g. ready to hunt (often together with protrusion; front leg raised)


Shift body weight: If the weight is more forward, the dog is usually confident. If the weight is more to the rear, it indicates an insecure dog. Pay attention to where your dog shifts his weight, away from or towards something.

  • Weight shifted to the rear: insecure, fearful (some insecure dogs get stuck with their paws at the back or stand on their feet and slowly move forward with their front paws. So he takes his time to examine what makes him insecure)
  • Weight shifted forward: self-confident, threatening
  • Hardly any muscle tone: relaxed
  • Slightly tense muscles: alert
  • Tense muscles: stressed (often combined with trembling), anxious (sometimes with making small, ducking), aggressive (usually combined with stiff, straight legs)

Back and Neck fur

These hairs are unconsciously set up at a high level of arousal (positive or negative), comparable to our goose bumps. The erected “brush” is called pilot erection.  If the hairs are permanently set up in one place, a pain point, e.g. for joint pain, can also be hidden underneath.

The dog must always be considered in its entirety and in context to know what its mood is. Also not every dog shows the same physical characteristics. These can vary depending on breed, experience, etc. The more different dogs you observe, the better and easier it will be for you to judge them.

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Common behaviours briefly explained:


The rolling indicates joy and well-being. Some dogs also like to wallow in carrion, excrement, etc. There are several theories about this:

  • He wants attention from you or other dogs, because the perfume is very popular with some dogs.
  • Male dogs want to demonstrate their “hunting success” to the bitches and show them that they can provide for a family.
  • Camouflage to be able to sneak closer to a prey animal.
  • Out of pure lust. Some smells are simply irresistible for our dogs.

Mouth wipe

Often you can observe how dogs wipe their snout in the carpet after eating. The area around the snout is very sensitive, so your dog will want to remove food residue before it sticks and causes an unpleasant feeling.

It is also possible that your pet has an allergy or itching (e.g. wrinkled dogs often itch between the wrinkles) and therefore rubs himself.

Stepping on the spot

The dog steps with his front legs in one place. This is the “milk kick” that puppies use on their mothers to get more milk out of their teats, as this stimulates milk production in the mother. He makes himself comfortable and it is a sign of well-being and confidence. Also often seen when the dog “settles down” in his sleeping place.


If your dog pokes you in the knee with his nose, for example, he wants your attention.

Sit on feet

Especially with puppies this can be observed again and again. Either your darling sits completely on your feet or only puts his hind paws on them. He wants to have so security and seeks the contact to you.

Jump to

If your dog climbs up on you, then he is happy and wants to greet you. It is also possible that he tries to lick the corners of your mouth and soothe you. If he takes a running jump at you, it is possible that he wants to push you away from something, depending on the situation.

Dogs are very clever and are quick to overtake you as they can wrap you around their finger to get what they want. Watch your quadruped closely. Every dog develops its own way of communicating. If you can read the body language of dogs, you will see that you will soon get along well with your beloved friend!

Frau mit Hund am Boden


It is not always easy to interpret the behaviour of our dogs correctly, but with some practice you will soon understand the complex language of our dogs. So a harmonious cooperation is possible.