10 Ways Your Dog Tells You How They REALLY Feel

A golden retriever rolls around in a field

Your connection with your dog is almost a mind meld, but sometimes you just don't know what your dog is REALLY trying to say.

How do you feel? No, how do you REALLY feel? This isn’t a question we ask our dogs so much, and if we do, they can’t answer in words. There’s a lot to be said about intuition between dogs and humans, but our mutual understanding can be significantly aided by paying attention to body language when you’re unsure of exactly how your dog is feeling. Don’t worry. They’re telling you, but you need to look at their gestures and behaviors to know for sure.

A puppy shows her tummy


1. Showing Their Tummy

If your dog is showing off their tummy in an otherwise relaxed state, they probably want a good rub. They want to feel close to you, to engage with you and receive the love you have to give. In certain cases, though, this behaviour is also linked to extreme fear, especially if they’re trying to avoid your gaze, to tuck their tail and otherwise make themselves seem ultra submissive. If you see any of these behaviours, give your dog some room to cool off.

A puppy waits for their owner


2. Tail Wagging

Happy tails to you! If their tail is up and wagging, they want to play. This is often accompanied by the play bow (when they lower the front half of their body) and some “arr-uff” sounding barks, inciting you to get in the game! However, if the wagging seems timid and is accompanied by a downwards-facing tail and a generally lowered body, you may be dealing with a worried pup. Do what you can to give assurance with a gentle voice, a wide berth and perhaps a treat to ease the tension a little.

A concerned looking dog


3. Whale Eye

Sometimes called half-moon eye, it’s not exactly doggie side-eye, although you may recognize it from a few dog memes. You can see the white of their eye and they look like they feel very awkward about the situation. In a way, they do. It’s a stress and anxiety response, often seen in dogs who don’t like hugs or being held against their will. Pay attention to when your dog exhibits whale eye and do your best to eliminate the things that might be irritating and upsetting them.

A black and white dog closes their eyes


4. Panting

Dogs get hot, too. A little panting is just a dog’s way of cooling off on a warm day or after a serious burst of exercise, but if your dog pants often and intensely, it could be sick, in pain, or frightened. There are some breeds who tend to pant more than others, so if your dog is short-nosed like a pug or bully breed, that might be the explanation if panting is business as usual. Monitor excessive panting and take your pup to the vet if it persists. Best to rule out anything serious.

A cute Yorkie


5. Licking Nose

Unless your dog has something tasty on their nose, lots of nose licking is generally a sign of self-soothing. Something may have just happened that threw your dog for a loop, or it’s being used as a coping mechanism. It’s not the most concerning gesture, but it’s a good sign to ease off and let your pup regroup after an intense experience, or to look at the situation and see if there’s anything that might be warranting this particular reaction.

A dog with it’s tail between their legs


6. Tail Between Legs

A dog in a good mood will have its tail up in the air, or at least hanging in a relaxed fashion. When a dog tucks its tail right between its legs, it’s because they’re uncomfortable and making themselves smaller. It’s a sign of fear, anxiety, defensiveness, and sometimes even pain. Often, the stressful feeling will subside and the tail will return to its happier state, but if your dog continues to do this along with cowering and other behavior outside its norm, pain could be the underlying issue, and then it’s a trip to the vet!

A dog in black and white


7. Growling

This one is pretty clear. If your dog is growling, they don’t like something or someone and they want you to know about it very clearly. Loud noises, rude people, bad touches or extreme pain/illness cause growling, so it’s important to take the reaction seriously. Give your dog a little time to sort out their feelings and make sure to remove any intense stimulation. It’s a good warning to take five for humans and dogs alike.

An Australian Shepherd playing


8. Jumping

Is your dog spring-loaded, especially by the door? It’s excited. Especially when you’ve just arrived home or if they’re meeting someone new, a less-trained dog may be inclined to get right up to face-level to sniff and lick because, well, it’s what dogs do to each other. If you want to discourage the behaviour (and you probably do) just try to ignore them when they jump and then redirect their attention by asking them to sit and rewarding them for that completed behavior as opposed to merely distracting them with a treat or toy. They’ll still be happy to see you, but the boundary around jumping will be enforced.

A sleepy dog


9. Yawning

Yes, sometimes dogs are just sleepy, but yawns can also be a way of showing uneasiness. As with nose licking, dogs self-soothe with their mouths. It’s a way of trying to momentarily shake off a bad feeling. Help your dog by creating a calm environment so they don’t have to resort to these tactics.

A sleepy dog


10. Rolling Around

You’re likely very familiar with dogs wanting to roll around in smelly things to get the stink all over them, but why do dogs roll around when there’s nothing disgusting around? Well, some say that it’s for fun and to show that they’re enjoying themselves with playful behavior, but others think that it’s a tactic to lure you in for round two of a fight. Sneaky pups!

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