Visual Effects: Facial Expressions and Sounds
Facial expressions – with or without teeth – can disclose various signals. For example, when your dog is nervous or stressed, they’ll often lick (the closest thing, even if it’s not tasty) or yawn to relieve the tension.
Dogs aren’t naturally aggressive, and a happy, well-socialized dog wouldn’t actively seek confrontation. Once you master their body language, and learn to read their lips it’ll be easier to understand each other and spot early signs of distress.
Mouthfull of Signs
Dogs use their mouth to send many types of signals – positive and negative. These are the most common:
The mouth is open with the lips loosely lowered. When dog’s body is relaxed it means they’re happy. For the sake of scientific accuracy, we should note, that your dog doesn’t really smile at you – there’s no such thing as a smile in the animal kingdom.
The mouth is open, and the dog is panting. That means your dog cools themselves down. There could be several reasons for that, it’s either too hot, or it could be a sign of stress.
3. Under pressure
Lips are tight and slightly pulled back, and the mouth is closed. That is a definite sign that your dog is stressed. It’s your job to identify the cause.
4. Yellow light
Lips are tightly pulled back, teeth are exposed and clenched. That’s your dog’s way of warning whoever it may be to stay away.
5. Stop sign
Bared teeth and growling. Your dog’s not kidding anymore and might attack.
If you notice that your dog shows their teeth without any particular reason, reach out to your vet or behaviorist for consultation.
Our dogs’ body language is complex, and can mean different things depending on the situation. When you’re closely bonded with a dog, it almost feels like you can read each others’ minds. You know your companion’s tones, mannerisms, and expressions. You can often interpret what they’re trying to communicate with just one look.
But when it comes to people interacting with others’ dogs, you may not be able to interpret their signals quite as clearly. That’s why it’s so important to learn common cues, for the comfort and safety of everyone. Below are 8 dog body language signals that are often misinterpreted because they can have multiple meanings.
1. Tail wagging
Everyone knows that dogs wag their tails when they’re excited or happy to see us, but they can also use this body language to convey other emotions. Psychology Today explains the following types of “tail wags”:
Yes, dogs bare their teeth and growl when they’re feeling aggressive, scared, or defensive, but it’s also totally normal body language for them to express a play growl, too. If your pup — or someone else’s — is playing tug-o-war with you or a pal and gives a low rumble, don’t be alarmed as long as the rest of her body language says “I’m having fun!”
Keep a close eye on her ear and tail positions for other cues, and if things start to get too rowdy, try switching to a calmer activity.
You may have seen this open-mouthed, toothy body language when your pooch is prancing around outside or waiting for you to throw his favorite ball, and you could swear he was smiling. But there are other “smiles” that don’t indicate happiness.
First, there’s the submissive grin, which dog trainer Kristina Lotz, CPDT-KA, explains:
Similar body language can also indicate aggression. Lotz describes:
There’s also a type of closed-mouth restrained grin that dogs often display when they’re feeling stressed or uncomfortable. Assess the situation to determine how your pooch is feeling. If it’s someone else’s pup who’s “smiling,” give him some space until you get to know each other better.
4. Flattened ears
If a dog flattens her ears against her head, it can mean multiple things. If it’s a pup you just met, your best bet is to keep your distance. Along with lip-licking, this can be distinct body language of fear or uneasiness. This is especially likely when seen with a low or tucked tail. If the dog has pinned ears, bared teeth, and a high, vibrating tail, she’s showing signs of aggression.
Now, there’s a flip side: if the pup’s ears are back and her expression is soft (perhaps you’re stroking her head or she’s approaching with a wagging tail), don’t worry. This body language just means she’s relaxed and happy to be soaking up your affection!
5. Eye contact
Like the previous example, eye contact can mean different things, depending on the human and the dog. As a general rule, humans should not make eye contact with pups they just met. This body language could be interpreted as a threat.
However, dogs are known to make eye contact with their humans when they want to communicate something. They will even gaze lovingly into the eyes of people they trust. Dina Fantegrossi, a former vet tech, writes:
You know that dogs will pant as a way of cooling down on a warm day or after vigorous activity. But did you know it can also be an indicator of how they’re feeling?
Panting can be a sign of stress, so if the pup doesn’t seem hot or tired, pay attention to their body language. If it’s an unfamiliar dog, give her space and refrain from making sudden movements that could startle her. If it’s your dog, consider what might be stressing her out and try to remove her from the trigger.
No, dogs don’t only yawn when they’re tired.
Interestingly, it’s quite the opposite. Our pups often yawn when they’re feeling anxious, confused, or stressed. They can also stretch their mouths open wide in anticipation of something exciting, like a walk or a car ride. Sometimes, dogs yawn as a non-threatening calming signal when meeting new friends.
Another fun fact about canine yawning body language: it’s contagious between humans and dogs! It’s a phenomenon that may indicate that our companions are capable of empathy. Aww!
It’s not always a mouthwatering steak that gets dogs licking their chops.
Like yawning, lip-licking is a calming signal that pups use to show each other that they mean no harm. This body language can also indicate fear, nervousness, or stress. If your pooch is in a situation where he keeps licking his lips, consider whether something is making him uncomfortable. If it is, perhaps you should change the environment.