From snout to tail: The body language of dogs 

Several dogs running towards someone in a meadow Several dogs running towards someone in a meadow

Dogs bark. We all learn that as children. But they also express themselves in many other ways, because dogs are true masters of communication. Dogs use their whole bodies to communicate, both with each other and with us humans. Facial expressions, gestures and posture all play a role. If you learn to understand dog language, you can build a closer bond with your dog and prevent misunderstandings in everyday life. Dog training is also much easier if you recognise body language signals and use them yourself.  

How do dogs communicate?

Dogs are constantly communicating. Depending on what a dog wants to communicate, it has different ways of expressing itself: 

  1. Sound: Barking, howling, whining and other noises are particularly useful when visual contact is lacking. But dogs also bark as a warning signal or a request to play. A dog's character will also determine how often they communicate with sound.
  2. Gestures: Clear body language signals communicated by dogs primarily involve ear and tail position. These signals can be understood and read even from a distance. 
  3. Facial expressions: Dogs can adopt different facial expressions. They use their lips and eyes in particular to send out signals that can be easily read from a short distance.
  4. Posture: Body posture says a lot about a dog's state of mind.  A dog also shows whether it is relaxed or restless, aggressive or submissive through body tension and the position of its paws.
  5. Scents: Dogs don't just use their noses to guide them in the right direction. They can also use them to obtain information about their fellow dogs.This is because dogs use scents to communicate messages to each other. 

Dogs are masters of communication

Dogs are very social creatures. Their multi-layered communication helps them to regulate coexistence, promote co-operation and avoid conflict. They use different forms of expression to voice their needs (such as feeding, reproduction, proximity, safety and belonging) and communicate their own status. They make clear their interest in certain resources or show how they see themselves in relation to other group members. 

Dogs communicate with each other mainly through body language. Even small changes in gestures, facial expressions or posture are often enough to communicate their current state of mind to other dogs or prompt them to take action. How a dog holds its tail, how long they hold eye contact for, where they shift their weight, how their ears are positioned or how they move: None of this happens by chance, it all says something. When meeting other dogs, it is important and helpful for us humans to interpret these signals correctly. 

Two dogs nibbling on a snack at the same time Two dogs nibbling on a snack at the same time

Understanding dog language: Why it's important 

Dog owners who read dog language correctly can react early in many situations. This prevents misunderstandings and avoids potential conflicts. Unwanted behaviour can be better understood and corrected if it is seen in the context of body language signals. Paying attention to your dog's body language also improves the human-dog relationship and contributes to your dog's happiness.

For these reasons, it is important for dog owners to familiarise themselves with their dog's body language: 

  1. Improving communication: In order to communicate well with your dog, it is helpful to know body language signals and to use them yourself. This allows you to send clear communication signals that your dog can understand and implement. 
  2. Recognising needs and feelings: You can tell from the body language whether your dog is feeling excited, relaxed, stressed, anxious or friendly. This way, you can respond better to your four-legged friend's needs and calm them down or support them in other ways.

  3. Recognising discomfort or aggression: Before it comes to vocalisations or physical confrontations, dogs usually use body language to indicate their discomfort in a situation. Those who can read the signs are able to recognise problematic situations in good time and react in such a way that conflicts can be defused or, ideally, avoided altogether.

  4. Strengthening the bond: Understanding your dog is important for a good human-dog relationship. By responding appropriately to their body language, you show your four-legged friend that you respect their needs. This promotes your dog's trust in you as a reliable and empathetic partner. 

Learning dog language: A task for every dog owner

Some body language signals are easier to read than others. An important clue is the dog's tail: From the joyful, excited wagging of the tail with a simultaneously wagging rump to the tense twitching of the erect tail to the anxiously tucked tail, dogs express their different moods. The position of the ears can also be easily recognised and interpreted.They usually point backwards to show submission, while straight ears indicate self-confidence and alertness.

However, there are many other signals that are not quite so easy to recognise and interpret correctly. Even as a dog lover, it takes knowledge and practice to understand dog language correctly. A good dog school or a trusted dog trainer will ideally provide a basic understanding of dog language, which can be deepened with further training or specialist books.