Are you a new dog owner?
If so, congratulations! Deciding to adopt or rescue a dog is a great decision but it also comes with a host of its own responsibilities. Unlike humans, dogs can’t open their mouths and explain to us exactly what they need or how they feel. Even though they don’t use words, dogs are very capable of communicating clearly once we know what to look for.
To help out, we’ve made a list of 16 tips to understanding your dog.
1. Slowly wagging a lowered tail.
When this happens, it usually means a dog is figuring things out for itself. He may not know what you want him to do and needs some clarification.
2. Tail raise with slightly twitching.
If a dog’s tail is straight up in the air like this, it’s usually asserting its own authority on a situation. In general, the higher a dog’s tail is, the more confidence or authority it is projecting!
3. Tail tucked between its legs.
This is one of the more obvious ones: whenever your dog tucks it’s tail under it’s body, it’s trying to show fear, pain and discomfort. Although it’s normal for a dog to do this in a frightening situation, doing this behavior too frequently is a sign to take your dog to the vet.
4. Tail wagging in a normal position.
For the most part, a dog wagging its tail at a normal speed in a neutral position means that your dog is content and satisfied—maybe even slightly excited!
5. Wide-open and alert eyes.
When your dog is making particularly strong eye contact, it means he or she wants your attention or a response. It may even be a mild challenge!
6. Squinting and blinking.
These signs usually mean your dog is ready to play a game with you!
7. Ears straight up.
When a dog’s ears go up and his head tilts, it means he’s curious and is reacting to whatever is in the environment.
8. Ears flattened against the dog’s head.
This is the dog equivalent of a human keeping their head down—they are nervous or scared and may want to be left alone.
Unlike people who really only yawn when they’re bored or tired, a dog yawning may also indicate that they are grumpy or restless. Still, yawns are contagious—if a dog yawns after you do that means you both have a strong bond.
10. Exposed teeth without snarling.
Usually, this means that a dog is protecting its territory or control over a certain situation (this often happens while they are eating).
11. Licking its face.
This is something of a nervous tic and usually happens when a dog is feeling pressure.
12. Spiky or raised hair on its back.
This is similar to the experience of getting goosebumps for a person and is a sign of nervousness or of impending aggression.
13. Sitting with their back turned to you.
Because dogs are very aware of their environment and to threats in it, if they turn their back on you willingly it means that they trust you.
14. A big shake.
Although this is pretty common when a dog is wet to help get the water off, one of these big shakes is often just a way for an animal to relieve some tension as well.
15. Putting a paw on your knee.
Although it may seem cute, this is a subtle way that dogs may try to dominate their owners—particularly if they look confident or expectant while they do it. To fix this dynamic, trainers sometimes say that you should take the paw off and maintain eye contact.
16. Putting their head on your knee.
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Unlike the above, this is a gentle gesture that shows they want attention and love—and is a sign that they need you!
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