Get the ASPCA Professional Blog direct to your inbox.

Recent Comments

Thanks a bunch for the thoughtful question Lila. As a former shelter director, and now in my role as...

By B.J. Rogers on Thinking Outside the Box - 7/24/2014 at 5:54am

Anytime we look at the adoption process we always end up with one major problem.   The question is why is...

By Joe on Where Will The Puppies Come From? - 7/23/2014 at 3:17pm

I have found that it helps to celebrate the success stories we have. Take the time to enjoy the feeling...

By Randy Orloff on 5 Signs Animal Welfare Workers Are Dangerously Stressed - 7/23/2014 at 7:56am

Do You Speak Canine?

Dogs communicate with one another and with us using their own elegant, non-verbal language. They use facial expressions, ear and tail positions and overall body posture to signal their intentions—and a better understanding of canine body language can help you place dogs more appropriately, conduct more predictive assessments, avoid bites and provide better quality of life for the dogs in your care.

Here’s a quick translation:



- Pay attention to the white part of a dog’s eyes (the sclera), and consider the focus and intensity of his gaze. When a dog is feeling tense, his eyes may appear rounder than normal, or they may show a lot of white around the outside.

- Dilated pupils can also be a sign of fear or arousal.

- A relaxed dog will often squint, so that his eyes become almond-shaped with no white showing at all.



- Although it may be easier for to see ear position in dogs with erect ears, even floppy-eared dogs like Basset hounds can move the base of their ears forward and back to show different emotions—just look at the direction of the base of the ear.

- When a dog is relaxed, his ears may be slightly back or out to the sides.

- As a dog becomes more aroused, the ears will move forward, pointing toward a subject of interest. When their ears are most forward, their foreheads often wrinkle.



- Much like your own goose bumps, the hair can raise along a dog’s back when he is upset or aroused. This can occur across the shoulders, down the spine and above the tail. 

- Hackles don’t always mean aggression is imminent, but they are an indicator that the dog is excited or upset.

- A frightened or stressed dog may also shed more than usual. 

Ready to expand your vocabulary? Read our complete article on Canine Body Language for additional insights on what a dog’s mouth, tail, overall posture and even sweat can tell you.

In case you missed it—watch any of the free webinar recordings in our Canine Communications Webinar Series to build your skills in interacting with dogs.


Related links:
Canine Body Language
Canine Communications Webinar Series
“9 Ways to Brush Up Your Canine Communication Skills”

You Might Also Like

Saving Lives Behavior & Enrichment

Add a comment