A Guide to Dog Emotions



Understanding Your Dog


Since dogs can’t speak, the only way humans can gauge their emotions is by looking at their body language. It’s important to remember that dog body language doesn’t directly correlate to human body language. Swifto has provided a guide to dog emotions sorted by body part.



Body/ Posture:

  • A relaxed dog will have their tail down, be standing without tension or laying down, their eyes and ears pointed towards the center of their attention.
  • A playful dog will have their tail up in the air, be bending their front legs onto the ground, and have their backside raised (kind of like a person doing yoga in the downward dog position).
  • An excited dog will have perked ears, a paw in the air, and slightly bowed back legs.
  • An alert dog will have their ears perked and back legs angled out behind them. It will look like they’re about to take off running.
  • A dog displaying dominance will have their ears up and forward, tails up, and legs stiff.
  • Anxiety is shown when tails are bent low, heads are bent low to the ground, ears are back (but not flat), and legs bent to hunch close to the ground.
  • Anxiety is shown when tails are bent low, heads are bent low to the ground, ears are back (but not flat), and legs bent to hunch close to the ground.
  • Dogs are showing submission when they show their bellies, their tails are close to their bellies, and their legs are up in the air. If a dog is doing this and also rolling it means they’re passively letting you know they’re not enjoying themselves (i.e. your dog is letting you know they don’t like it when you clip nails, but they’ll let you.)
  • Many dog training books provide a chart showing these postures.



  • When ears are flat against the head it denotes fear or aggression in a dog.
  • Ears pricked forward means a dog is paying close attention to something, or is generally curious.
  • Ears way back but not close to the head means a dog is sad.



  • When eyes are wide open it means a dog feels ready to play.
  • A dog holding eye contact, or staring, is a sign that the dog is challenging the object of their attention.
  • When eye contact is broken a dog is avoiding confrontation and being polite.
  • Winking denotes a very happy, playful dog.
  • Narrowed eyes means a dog is feeling aggressive. Beware if this is followed by staring.
  • Wide, upturned eyes signal a dog is feeling nervous or unsure.


Common gestures:

  • Ears up and head cocked to the side is a common uncertainty/curiosity gesture.
  • A paw raised and touched to another dog or owner means the dog needs something. If a puppy needs to be fed he raises his paw and places it on his mother.
  • Hip wagging means a dog is really deep in play.
  • Head shaking denotes the end of a certain activity.Your dog is pressing his own reset button, so to speak.


Common dog faces:

  • A wide open mouth with slightly upturned (but not curled) lips denotes a happy dog. It will almost look like a human smile.
  • Bared front teeth means non-active aggression. It’s most commonly seen when a dog is guarding a bone or favorite toy.
  • A mouth stretched back and slightly open denotes pain.
  • Yawns can relieve stress, signal confusion, or tiredness.
  • Lip licking can mean a submissive dog or that your dog is trying to disperse their hormones to the air if they’ve got a dog crush.
  • Licking people and other dogs is a greeting and long, prolonged licks are a sign of intimacy or the desire to comfort.