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31 Dog Behaviors and What They Mean

Fredrick is a supplier of pet food and care products, and he’s a true animal lover. He loves to write about dogs, bettas, bees, and pigeons.

Learn how to interpret your dog's behavioral cues.

Learn how to interpret your dog's behavioral cues.

Dog Behaviors Explained

Dogs exhibit a wide range of behaviors. Some of them are straightforward, while others are more difficult to interpret. If you want to understand your canine friend and build a good relationship with him, you should start by knowing what these behaviors mean and how to read canine body language.

This article explains more than 30 common dog behaviors. Read on to learn how to interact with your dog and how you can relate to them. In case you need a detailed guide on this topic, I recommend this guide about coding your dog and common dog behaviors and how to prevent or change unwanted ones by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

31 Dog Behaviors Explained

1. Tilting head to one side

12. Opening eyes and staring

23. Bowing

2. Shaking head

13. Pricking ears

24. Freezing and leaning

3. Yawning

14. Flicking ears

25. Stretching

4. Closing mouth or opening it slightly

15. Wrinkling muzzle

26. Walking in circles before lying down

5. Licking lips

16. Sniffing the air

27. Pacing

6. Showing teeth and biting

17. Exposing belly

28. Licking genitals

7. Panting

18. Raising hackles

29. Wagging tail

8, Barking and yelping

19. Raising paws

30. Holding tail straight

9. Growling

20. Digging

31. Tucking tail between legs

10. Howling

21. Crouching

11. Whining and whimpering

22. Mounting or humping

1. Tilting Head to One Side

A dog tilts his head if he's uncertain about something he's really interested in. He can also show this behavior when waiting for more information, especially from a trainer. In addition, he can tilt his head to listen to a sound and accurately determine its source.

2. Shaking Head

A dog shakes his head if he's relieved from tension. He also behaves this way after being aggressive or alert. In addition, you can see this body language from a dog that was eagerly waiting for something.

3. Yawning

A dog yawns if he's under stress or facing threat to help ease pressure and tension. A dog can also show this behavior if he is confused, tired, or threatened. In addition, a dog can behave this way when meeting other canines.

4. Closing Mouth or Opening It Slightly

If his mouth is closed or slightly opened and held in the normal position, you should know that he is relaxed and happy. However, if the mouth is closed and pulled back, he is stressed, frightened, submissive, or in pain.

Other dogs can have their mouths pulled back and still be contented. So, you may have to carefully monitor your four-legged friend to determine the exact cause of the behavior.

5. Licking Lips

A dog licks his lips if he's stressed or uncertain. Sometimes, this body language can mean that your canine buddy is sexually active. In addition, if you see him licking the lips of other dogs, you should know that he isn't ready to make friends with them. This behavior is common with puppies.

6. Showing Teeth and Biting

If your canine friend retracts lips to show teeth, he is aggressive or showing dominance. You should be very careful when your dog shows teeth as he can end up biting you.

If this behavior is accompanied by snarling and muzzle wrinkling, you should understand that your canine friend is very angry. It is advisable not to come close to any dog showing this behavior.

7. Panting

Your four-legged pal will pant if he's overheating or has heatstroke. Dogs do this just to cool down. This is how they regulate their body temperature. Some dogs may adopt this behavior to relieve pain or stress.

8. Barking and Yelping

If your dog barks loudly and rapidly, he may be acting out of aggression or he has sensed danger. A short and soft bark means that your dog is friendly or wants to play. If he produces a sudden, sharp yelp, you should know that your canine friend is in pain.

9. Growling

If your companion animal produces a low or medium growl with or without a bark, he is protective, territorial, or threatened and can become aggressive and end up attacking people or other animals. In addition, your dog may produce a soft growl if he's alert, anxious, contented, or in a playful mood.

10. Howling

Your dog produces a long howl if he is feeling lonely. Most dogs do this to announce their presence to other canines or even people. If he produces a short howl, you should know that he's satisfied or excited. A dog also howls to mimic other sounds.

11. Whining and Whimpering

If a dog produces a low, short whine or whimper, he is excited, anxious, or submissive. A prolonged whine or whimper shows that he is uncomfortable or in pain. According to my own observations, most dogs use these body languages to ask for attention.

12. Opening Eyes and Staring

If your dog has his eyes wide open, you should know that he is alert. If he gives an intense stare accompanied by narrowing eyes, he's trying to be dominant or threatening. If he shows the whites of the eyes, he's threatened and wants to attack.

If he looks away after a short stare, it shows that he is polite or submissive. Your dog can also stare at you if you are carrying some treats or food. Any kind of eye blinking in your canine playmate shows love or playfulness.

13. Pricking Ears

Your dog will hold his ears forward or up if he's curious, aggressive, or wants to play or chase. If he holds his ears flat and close to the head, he's scared or insecure. In addition, if he holds his ears apart but not flat, he's likely to be sad or unsure.

14. Flicking Ears

If your dog is flicking his ears, you should know that he's simply listening. Most animals usually flick their ears when there is an unfamiliar sound. So, if you see your four-legged pal flicking his ears forward and backward, you should know that he's just trying to catch the sound clearly.

15. Wrinkling Muzzle

If your canine friend is wrinkling his muzzle, he's angry or aggressive. If he shows teeth and snarls while wrinkling the muzzle, he's sending a warning and can attack anytime. You should stop the thing causing this behavior and move away to avoid being attacked.

16. Sniffing the Air

If your dog is sniffing the air, he has likely sensed danger or is tracking a threat or prey. A dog sniffing the air doesn’t bark, growl, or howl to avoid alerting his target. A dog can also sniff other dogs or even people to see if they can become friends.

17. Exposing the Belly

If your dog lies down and exposes his belly, he's trying to show respect or he is being playful. If you find this behavior interesting, you can encourage it by rubbing his belly. Your canine buddy can also expose the belly when he's being attacked by other animals.

18. Raising Hackles

Your companion animal raises his hackles if he's threatened, insecure, angry, or afraid. A dog with raised hackles is usually alert and aggressive and can attack at any time.

When your animal is meeting other dogs, he can raise his hackles and stand tall to defend himself in case of an attack from the fellow canines.

19. Raising Paws

If your canine friend raises his paws, he's asking for something or wants to play. This behavior is common with younger dogs. A puppy can raise his paws and touch his mother when he wants to suck milk. If a dog raises his paws to touch you, you should know that he loves you.

20. Digging

A dog digs to bury or uncover his valuables. It is normal for him to dig, so you should not be worried if you see your dog behaving this way. Your four-legged friend can also dig holes to catch small animals in their hiding places. Others dig to create suitable resting places for their young ones.

21. Crouching

If a dog crouches, he is frightened, nervous, insecure, or preparing to catch another animal. Your canine friend can also crouch to show submission. In addition, he can crouch if he wants to play.

22. Mounting or Humping

If a dog mounts you in a polite manner, he is seeking attention or asking for treats. If he humps objects in the presence of other dogs, he is likely to be under stress. In addition, he can mount other dogs as a way of showing dominance.

23. Bowing

A dog bows by lowering his chest and head to the ground while keeping the rear body up. If your companion animal bows, he wants to play. Some dogs swing their hips and wag their tails to emphasize the need to play. This body language is popularly known as the play bow.

24. Stretching

Your canine playmate stretches to show love or playfulness. If you come home after being away for some time and see him stretching, you should know that he's happy. These animals usually stretch with the front or rear body close to the ground.

25. Freezing and Leaning Forward

A dog freezes and leans forward if he is feeling threatened, dominant, or challenged. This is common when he's interrupted while eating. The behavior can be accompanied by snarling and wagging of the tail. You should leave a dog alone when he is showing this behavior to avoid being attacked.

26. Walking in Circles Before Lying Down

If you see your dog walking in circles before lying down, you should understand that he is looking for the most comfortable place to rest. Your canine buddy could also be having some discomfort which is forcing him to find the best way to lie down without hurting his body.

27. Pacing

A dog is nervous, excited, or bored if he's pacing frequently. If you see your canine playmate running in a circle around you, you should know that he is playful and wants you to join in the play. It is important to note that these animals usually run after other animals regardless of whether they are bored or excited.

28. Licking the Genitals

Animals usually lick their genitals to clean them. If you see your four-legged friend licking them excessively, you should know that he is bored or has a urinary tract infection. Most urinary tract infections are itchy and can cause genital discharge which can trigger the genital licking behavior.

29. Wagging the Tail

Usually, a dog wags his tail to show friendliness or happiness. If he wags rapidly while holding it down, he's showing submissiveness. If he slowly wags the tail while keeping it in the natural position, you should know that he is alert or wants to play.

Your canine friend is confused, sad, or unwell if he slowly wags his tail while holding it down. If he slowly wags it while holding it high, he's excited or confident.

30. Holding the Tail Straight

If your dog holds his tail straight up, he's confident, aroused, or excited. Some dogs show this behavior when they meet other canines or other animals. If the upright tail is slightly shaking, you should know that he's facing a challenge.

A dog is content, happy, or relaxed, if his tail is level with the body. Moreover, if your canine buddy is holding his tail low with no movement, he's showing alertness or insecurity.

31. Tucking Tail Between Legs

Your canine friend is afraid, nervous, worried, or under stress, if he holds his tail between the legs. If he holds the tail tightly against the belly, you should know that he's extremely scared or submissive.

According to my own findings, dogs show this behavior when meeting other dominant animals. They also show this body language when punishing them.

What Is Your Dog Trying to Tell You?

If you care for or work with dogs, you should know what their behavior and body language means with the help of this guide. You should be able to tell whether or not a dog loves you, or if you have a good relationship with him.

Some behaviors are natural, which means that there is little you can do to correct them. You just need to respond to your canine companion accordingly. If he has some behaviors that are really annoying, you can train him to stop them.

Interpreting Common Dog Behaviors


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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: I rescued a male neutered dog, that was afraid of us. My mom feeds and gives treats to him every morning and he looks forward to to this. But throughout the day when she comes to my room, he growls at her with a threatening stare. Why is he doing this? And how to I change this behavior?

Answer: He will get used to you with time. Meanwhile, you need to appear friendly to him i.e, giving him more treats, whistling to him and even calling him a name.

© 2015 Frederick S Januaries


Frederick S Januaries (author) from Intercontinental on December 06, 2019:

@anoums Yeah, most likely. Any noise coming from the woods (or the shape of the plants) would get the dog's attention. But you can always go there during day time to check out if there is anything that comes there at night.

anoums on December 05, 2019:

my dog barks every night towards the woods is something back there????

Frederick S Januaries (author) from Intercontinental on August 17, 2016:

Thanks for loving my photos.

gal on January 26, 2016:

dogs are so cute