30+ Dog Behaviors and Why You Should Know Their Meaning

Updated on May 23, 2019
Jan Saints profile image

Januaris 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.

Relaxing Pups
Relaxing Pups | Source

Dogs exhibit a wide range of behaviors. Some of them are straightforward, while others are 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 American College of Veterinary Behaviorists).

Most Common Dog Behaviors

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.

This Video Shows a Dog Panting

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.

Howling Dog
Howling Dog | Source

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 opened, 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.

Dog Sniffing Air
Dog Sniffing Air | Source

17. Exposing the Belly

If your dog lies down and exposes 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.

Crouching Dog
Crouching Dog | Source

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.

Bowing Behavior
Bowing Behavior | Source

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.


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.

An Explanation of Common Dog Behavior


  • Jones A. C., Gosling S. D. "Temperament and Personality in Dogs (Canis familiaris): A Review and Evaluation of Past Research". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. (2005).
  • Horwitz D.F., Ciribassi J. Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones. American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. (2014).

  • Kaminski J., Bräuer J., Call, J. & Tomasello, M. "Domestic Dogs are Sensitive to a Human's Perspective". (PDF). eva.mpg.de. Max Planck. (2009).
  • McGreevy Paul D., Georgevsky Dana, Carrasco Johanna, Valenzuela Michael, Duffy, Deborah L., Serpell James A. "Dog Behavior Co-Varies with Height, Bodyweight and Skull Shape". ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. (2013).
  • Miklósi Ádám. Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.(2007).
  • Bradshaw John W.S., Blackwell Emily J., Casey Rachel A. "Dominance in Domestic dogs—Useful Construct or Bad Babit?" (PDF). pawsoflife.org. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. (2009).
  • Serpell J., Duffy D. Dog Breeds and Their Behavior. In: Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer. (2014).
  • Udell M. A. R., Dorey N. R., & Wynne C. D. L."Can Your Dog Read Your Mind? Understanding the Causes of Canine Perspective Taking". en.wikipedia.org. Learning & Behavior. (2011).
  • Topál J., Miklósi Á. and Csányi V. "Dog-Human Relationship Affects Problem Solving Behavior in the Dog". dx.doi.org. Anthrozoös. (1997).
  • Duffy D. L., Serpell J. A. "Behavioral Assessment of Guide and Service Dogs". Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. (2008).

Have you ever tried to understand what your dog’s behaviors mean?

See results

If yes, how is the relationship with your canine friend?

See results

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

  • 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?

    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 Januaris Saint Fores


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Jan Saints profile imageAUTHOR

      Januaris Saint Fores 

      8 months ago from Intercontinental

      @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.

    • profile image


      8 months ago

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

    • Jan Saints profile imageAUTHOR

      Januaris Saint Fores 

      3 years ago from Intercontinental

      Thanks for loving my photos.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      dogs are so cute


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)