Dog Body Language for Beginners

Simple & Clear Guide for Beginners

This is a very basic guide to show examples of each signal and what they might mean. This should only be used as a starting point. After using this guide you should move on to viewing the whole dog and situation to practice making an evaluation/interpretation. Some signals have dual meanings (as outlined below), so simply picking one to read is often not going to give you enough information to make a correct interpretation….

Whale eye

  • Also known as half moon eye, stink eye
  • Most common meaning is fear
  • Also common during normal play
Whale Eye

Whale eye- Fear


Whale eye with unknown meaning (not enough information available in picture)


Whale eye during play

Paw Lift

  • Shows discomfort/fear about current situation.
  • Unless it is in the case of a pointing dog as shown

Paw Lift with a gun dog (I smell something worth hunting)


Paw Lift

Paw Lift with head turn- discomfort/fear

Paw Lift with head turn- discomfort/fear

Head Turn combined with other signals

  • Means the dog wants space, is uncomfortable, leave me alone
Head turn with face tension- Leave me Alone

Head turn with face tension- Leave me Alone


  • If dog has not just eaten, stressed
Face lick

Face lick


Face lick with pinned ears- Stressed

Tail between legs

  • Feaful, I mean no harm

    Atlantic Antic dog

    This picture doesn’t need an explanation!

Pinned Ears

  • Discomfort/fear, uncertainty or happy. Difficult to tell difference, only use when confident
2012-08-23 12.44.49

Pinned ears with happy


Pinned ears with fear


  • Means stress when dog is not just waking up/resting

Stress yawn


Stress yawn

Waking up yawn

Waking up yawn

Mouth (Commissures)

  • Tense/tight means stress
  • Relaxed/floppy means happy

Tight/Tense Mouth- Stressed


Relaxed mouth/face- happy

Body Stance/Muscle Tone

  • Tense, stiff, rigid- Stress
  • Relaxed, floppy- Happy
2012-08-31 22.35.38

Floppy is happy


Stiff, sitting & facing away- stressed

stressed roll

Rigid, tense on side- Please go away


Floppy- Chillin

tense greeting

Tense, stiff greeting

Some video to help put it all together:

A Facebook Group for more help, please join:

Canine Body Language Discussion Group for Owners


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