What our dogs tell us


Gopal Aggarwal, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

This post is written for This N That Thursday, hosted by Two Brown Dogs and Ruckus the Eskie.


A dog’s ears and eyes can speak volumes, though our pets cannot vocalize the same way as we do. When they do vocalize, there is a definite purpose. His facial expressions betray a lot about him and the things he “says” tell us a lot as well.

We should really listen to our dogs, watch them  and be more conscious of the messages we, as owners, are sending.

What your dog’s eyes are telling you

The eyes are the windows to the soul, and this is true for canines too. Their eyes betray their innermost desires (excuse me for getting poetic in an article on pets!) It is true though, that canine eye signals tell us much about their intentions and needs. When your dog next looks at you, return the favor!! Do note that interpreting a dog’s eye signals will have to be done in conjunction with the rest of the signals he is giving.

Eyes wide open – playful



If Foxy has his eyes wide open, it generally means that he is playful, alert and ready. This is usually accompanied by a bit of bowing and his tail in a neutral position.


Eyes wide open, staring


If a dog has his eyes wide open but is staring hard at you or another dog, it usually means a little tension, aggression and a desire to be dominant. A dog does this when the object before him represents a threat. He may also want to be the “Alpha Dog” of the pack and challenge the others to a race to be “top dog.” Do take note of this if you run a multiple dog household!

A dog with his eyes wide open may also tell you that someone is at the door and that he wants to play a good role as the family watch dog. I usually depend on my Westie, Cloudy to guard the door and have not found the need for a bell since she is around to be one. When she behaves like this, I know someone is nearby. Wide open eyes certainly reflect a great amount of curiosity!

Eyes wide open-flight

United Dogs

A dog having its eyes wide open usually indicates that a chase is about to take place. Watch the eyes. If they are slightly rolled back, with whites showing, he is about to run. Dogs love a game of catch, so if he comes to you with eyes open and is bowing, get ready for a game of tag. With a dog’s fast speed, you usually become “It”!


Eyes avoiding yours


A dog may do this out of sheer respect for you as a pack leader. This is a gesture of courtesy and submission to your authority. As I will explain a little later on, dogs are conscious of rank.

You will find your canine with slightly narrowed eyes when it is worried about something. It is not afraid, but rather anxious and stressed. It may also give owners the “puzzled” look with its head tilted to one side. Things that can cause canine stress are their owners going to work and leaving them alone for the day.

This usually happens to Cloudy when I am about to leave her for the day. She will stand at the door, with her head to one side and her eyes a bit narrowed.

Very Narrowed eyes

If a dog has narrowed eyes, this usually represents fear on his part. Again, something in the environment may be bothering him, so do find out what that might be. He may accompany that by suddenly scuttling under the bed!




Yes, humans are not the only ones who can play and flirt a bit. Foxy can too. This usually means that he wants to play!!


What your dog’s face tells you

Understanding a dog’s facial expressions is vital to interpreting his behavior and mood. Again, canine body language should always be interpreted as a whole.



A dog smiles when it is happy, very much like we do. Though very obvious, a smile may be a snarl for some. It is important to interpret the dog’s entire body language. If your dog is bowing, has his eyes open and rolled back, his tail neutral or wagging, or stands confidently as well, you have an unquestionably very happy dog.




When a dog yawns, it may certainly be very tired. Yawning is contagious for both dogs and humans, so if owners yawn, their dogs might too.

Fascinatingly enough, a dog sees your yawn as a sign of tiredness or stress and may walk away when owners yawn loudly just to give them space. It is not just tiredness that makes a dog yawn. He may yawn when threatened by something in the environment, or when he himself is stressed.


Lip Licking

A Place For Paws

Puppies usually do this as a sign that they feel afraid or threatened. They usually do so in the presence of adult dogs. If a dog constantly licks, it may annoy other people and dogs as well.

Licking can also be part of canine arousal. If a dog picks up the scent of another of the opposite sex, it may just start licking its lips.


Bared teeth

Dog Obedience Training

Certainly a signal that everyone understands and recognizes as aggression. Not every set of bared teeth means that a dog is poised for the attack, though. If your dog bares its teeth with its muzzle not wrinkled, it may just be on guard and wanting to protect its territory. It is poised for the attacked when its lips are curled.


Watch your dog’s ears!

A dog’s ears tell us a lot about its state of mind. We can discern a lot about our dogs’ intentions through their ears! Some breeds, of course,have naturally pointed ears, but in they will still move depending on the dog’s state of mind.


Ears erect


A dog may have his ears up straight when it is absorbed in playing. It may also be very curious and want to know more. In this case, ears would be pricked and accompanied by a puzzled look, with your canine’s ears tilted to the side. Erect ears are also a sign of concentration or that a chase is about to take place.



Ears back, flattened


This usually means that the dog is afraid of something or someone. It may also indicate that he is unhappy or worried.

When Cloudy wants to indicate her displeasure, her ears would be back, with her head between her paws. She does so when she sees my husband or myself go off for the day.


Listen to your dog. differentiate the sounds a dog makes.

“Woof’ is just a sound to us, but it a dog speaks many languages, just as we do. Its barks, growls, howls and whines are different and communicate different things.



A dog barks for a variety of reasons. Their barks re to tell you and other dogs around them a variety of different things.

A series of high pitched, rapid barks indicates the desire to be dominant and territorial. It definitely hints at aggression.

Crisp, short barks, such as the ones used to greet owners at the door, usually indicate friendliness and a “hello, you’re home.”

If your dog is bowing, with its tail in neutral and yelping with a high pitch, it wants to play.

A series of barks emitted in spaces is usually a signal from the dog not to step into his territory.



The Behavior Company

Howls can also tell us a lot about what our canines want. Long, sustained howls over a period of time usually mean that a dog is depressed or lonely. If a dog emits short howls with a rising pitch, it is usually happy or excited. It can also be a lively response to music. Dogs appreciate music, so it may howl along with a piano in this manner.

Baying, such as the sounds emitted by wolves, are signs of a hunt about to take place. Responses to one dog baying from another are known as “Sirens”. They do this as a form of communication. It is not unusual to find a group of dogs in the neighborhood baying.


Whines and whimpers

Whines and whimpers can be categorized as well. Short whines and barks indicate a dog’s curiosity, while short whimpers, such as those a dog emits when it wants to avoid you or if it has just been scolded, indicate fear and anxiety.

A low pitched whine shows slight worry or frustration while high pitched, persistent whine may mean a need for a trip to a vet. It is usually in pain!



All growls point to aggression, but there are many different growls that point to different levels of aggression as well.

A low, quiet growl is a warning to back off from a dog’s territory. When a dog growls and ends his growl with a short bark, it is responding to a threat from another dog. If a dog emits a medium growl with a bark, it is being assertive, and possibly aggressive. This is usually a reaction to strangers at the door. He may emit low “woofs’ to indicate his suspicion as well.

Curiously enough, a dog may emit low rumbling sounds to show that he is happy. At this time, his is usually in his bowing posture or playing chase.


Understand pack hierarchy.

Caroline’s MLM Blueprint

Dogs are pack animals, in the same genus as the wolf and fox. They follow pack hierarchy just as they do. They communicate based on their notion of their position in the pack. It is good to have knowledge of pet hierarchy when managing a multiple dog household.

The Alpha dog is the pack leader, and the others usually allow him to do things first, such as eating. The others fall into place and the last is Omega, who is the most submissive (and therefore bullied.) Feed Alpha first before the rest, in order. Make sure, though, that Omega has his share or the rest will steal it from him!

The important thing to remember here that you become the leader of the dog pack in a multiple dog household. So the Alpha dog automatically becomes Beta (number 2) in front of you. No matter how dominant he is, make sure he knows this with a firm “no” if he tries to dominate you or assert himself over you.


When communicating with your dog, watch the way you communicate as well.


The beauty of canine is in constant desire to make their owners happy. Owners must realize that the little things they do may cause their dogs stress, even if it is not intended.

Staring at our dogs will be perceived as a threat, so you may get a growl in return if you have an Alpha dog on your hands. It may do the opposite and look away from you.

Patting a dog on the head is something that should be done with dogs you are familiar with. Some do not like it as they perceive it as a threat or a form of dominance. As such, do not pat a dog until it knows you well enough to tolerate it from you.

Hugging should be done carefully as well. Dogs are programmed to see this as being trapped by predators, so their instinct may be to snap. If your dog does not show a fondness for hugging, do this with discretion so that it understands your warm and kind intentions.

Watch when you yawn, as it may tell your dog that you are stressed and cause it to run away from you. Avoid shouting as well, as this only causes a dog to be either more fearful or hostile.

Do check out my guest post at Considerings,hosted by the funny and thoughtful Lizzy Rogers.

Happy communicating with our furry friends…..have a good weekend ahead!

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Categories: Useful Articles on Pets Tags: Tags: , ,

14 Replies to “What our dogs tell us”

  1. Thanks for hopping onto This 'N That Thursday this week! Great post about facial expressions in dogs, especially the winking one since I am caught on camera with that expression at times!

  2. I found this very interesting. The descriptions were short and sweet without all of the psycho-babble which often are an accompaniment. I was a UPS driver for many years…not a lot of love of dogs over here…I always realized the dog was “protecting” it’s house and people…it’s the people who say “oh, he/she won’t bother you”…and as soon as the people walk away the dog is nipping at your backside. I currently have a cocker spaniel living next door – for five years it has actually listened at the fence (privacy fence) and barked at us if it could hear us inside our house! Like I said, not a big fan of dogs…

  3. Two things – is it possible to tell what a Pug is thinking by its eyes? And that wrinkling the lip thing – nail polish causes a dog to bare its fangs, too. 😉 This is a really cool post. Thank you!

  4. Hi! I’m from UBC and love your blog entry. I was a little confused with all the free image bars because it looked like you took a lot of your own photos. But now that I’m done reading the article (and added my own to the linky) I will go back and check out the image bar for free images.

    Excellent article that you have written that I would share with anyone with dogs!

  5. Wow, that was a whole lot of information on dog communication and expression! You covered a lot of things that many people are not aware of or just don’t think about.
    Yawning is something they definitely don’t only just do when tired… as you mentioned, they also do it when stressed, which I think humans find odd. My two hate taking baths, so in addition to other signs of stress/anxiety, they yawn several times during a bath.
    And I like that you mentioned the warning hugging at the end… not all dogs like to be hugged, and even those that do, don’t always want it all the time. Wrapping yourself around a dog can seem very threatening to them and you have to know if the dog will be receptive to it or not.
    Again, great stuff!

  6. What a great list! I’ve learned dog body language pretty well after working in a vet hospital. Did you know that lip licking is also a sign of nausea? I don’t think I knew about the canine arousal thing, but now this sort of makes me wonder about my own dog lol…

  7. Thanks so much for participating in TNT! I was out of town so am getting around late to everyone’s posts. Great post and good information. Some Chessies “grin” which to people not familiar with the breed can be mistaken for teeth bearing. It isn’t all all aggressive and is done when they are excited. 🙂

  8. This is such a fascinating post. My youngest dog, who is one, smiles when she’s happy and squints her eyes when she gets into trouble. The 3 dogs together howl quite a bit together. I’m no sure my neighbors appreciate the baying. 🙂

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