Dogs spend their entire lives relying on human counterparts for nearly everything. Whether they are hungry, tired, feeling sick, happy, excited, or have to go outside, there aren’t many things dogs can do without the help of their two-legged family members. To communicate their needs and emotions, dogs rely on body language to let us know what’s going on and what they need.

Dog body language is a detail-oriented method of communication, rarely do any two movements mean the same thing in terms of how your dog is feeling. Here are some ways dogs communicate FIVE basic emotions and how to understand them.

When They’re Happy

Any dog owner will agree that a happy and relaxed dog is the best kind of dog. While you might think you know your pup pretty well, specific physical signs can indicate that they are, without a doubt, happy.

The biggest thing you’ll notice is that your dog’s body is relaxed, and they may even have a little wiggle going on. Their tails and ears will also look much the same when they are in a happy state. Ears that lay gently against the head or ears that typically stand up having a relaxed flop mean your pup is satisfied with their current situation. 

If their tongue is hanging gently out of your pup’s mouth, and they are showing a “smile” with little or no teeth, they are a happy dog. They may even throw in a high-pitched happy bark, a slight hopping from side to side, a play bow, or roll over and show their belly to let you know they are ready to interact!

happy dog with floppy ears

When They’re Feeling Sick

It’s not hard to tell if your dog is feeling off, but it can be hard to tell why. An illness can be a harmless case of indigestion, a symptom of an underlying condition, or the beginning of a medical emergency. Here are behavioral and physical presentations that you shouldn’t ignore.

If your dog is feeling lethargic, sleeping more, or lacks interest in activities they typically love, you can be sure that something is up. When paired with excessive panting, drooling, restlessness, excessive drinking or urination, or an appetite change of any sort, your dog is almost definitely trying to tell you something. Physical symptoms such as discharge from the eyes or ears, coughing, sneezing, itchy skin, sores, shaking of the head, and dry, red eyes are also clear indicators that something is bothering your pup. Even when they aren’t paired with immediate behavioral symptoms, physical indicators shouldn’t be dismissed. 

It can be a helpless feeling when your dog is sick. They can’t express themselves verbally, so you can never be quite sure exactly what is wrong, but if your pup is exhibiting these physical symptoms for a prolonged period, it may be time to contact your vet.

dog sleeping

When They’re Anxious

Anxiety presents differently in different dogs and can result from factors ranging from a vacuum turning on to the mail carrier knocking on the door. However, there are several clear physical indicators your dog is feeling anxious.

A clear sign that your dog is feeling anxious is a state of heightened alertness. Dilated pupils, stiff body posture, excessive drooling, yawning, or a tail tucked between the legs are all physical presentations of anxiety. You may also notice compulsive behaviors such as overgrooming, or if your pup has prolonged anxiety, they may even begin to shed more than usual.

An anxious dog is an unhappy dog. Anxiety can lead to fearfulness, illness, and even aggression. Help your dog avoid anxiety by offering rewards or distractions during stressful situations, desensitizing them to the objects of anxiety through training, avoiding stressful scenarios entirely, or even speaking to your veterinary provider about anxiety-related medications.

anxious dog on alert

When They’re Feeling Aggressive

Nobody wants to break up a dog fight, and nobody likes dealing with aggressive dogs. It can be scary and confusing when your dog starts exhibiting signs of aggression, but it’s important to recognize the signs as you may have only a few moments to act and avoid a negative interaction.

Whether your dog is acting aggressively towards a person, animal, or another dog, there are some obvious signs to look out for. Barred teeth, a fixed, intense stare, ears straight up or laid back, hair standing up on their neck, a squared-off, tense stance, or a stiff and straight tail are all indicators your dog is feeling aggressive or threatened. Even short, twitchy tail wags can indicate aggression (that’s right, not all tail wags are good). 

Aggression isn’t a one-size-fits-all behavior. Your dog’s aggression could be tied to feeling territorial, possessive, protective, fearful, or defensive. You should try and avoid the behavior before it escalates by avoiding confrontational situations or situations you know cause your dog to become aggressive, working with a trainer to prevent aggression, or speaking to your veterinary provider about the potential root of the problem. Never punish your dog for aggressive behavior as it will only compound the issue, and never get in the middle of a dog fight. Check out this article for successfully breaking up a dog fight safely.

dog with ears pinned back

When They’re Tired Or Exhausted

It’s easy to tell when your dog is tired at the end of the day or the end of a play session with a four-legged friend, but you should keep an eye out for symptoms of exhaustion during any prolonged activity. 

Symptoms of exhaustion can vary due to the severity of your dog’s status. They’ll often start as yawning, lying down, ignoring commands, or excessive panting or lip licking, and can quickly lead to a racing heart, lethargy, excessive drooling, lack of coordination, vomiting, or even collapse. 

Whether you take your dog for a hike, run, walk, or any physical activity, there is always a chance your dog may get too tired, which can lead to overexertion, dehydration, or even joint and heart problems. These issues can become dangerous quickly, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Make sure to keep your dog hydrated no matter the temperature outside and be mindful of breaks or when your dog is starting to reach their limit.

dog laying in grass, tired


Your four-legged family member communicates a lot through their actions and behaviors, so remember to pay close attention to anything that feels out of the ordinary!