illustration by Lili Chin


Good communication goes beyond words; tone of voice and body language is part of the package. Our pets rely on just body language to let us know how they feel. Paying attention to this will help us learn what their likes and don’t likes and even help prevent accidents due to aggressive behavior


  • A high and waggy tail; most well-known sign of happiness
  • Floppy ears; relaxed ears, not tensed or flattened against their head. Pricked upright ears area a sign of alertness.
  • Relaxed body; if they seem relaxed and not stiff it’s a good feel good indication. Loose shoulders, soft eyes without a fixed gaze and some wiggliness are cues as well
  • Playful; they are more likely to want to play and leap around. Play bows are a good sign of good moods
  • They lean in to you; it’s a good sign when they come to you for attention and lean into your hand when you stroke them.


  • Low or tucked tail; when stressed or unhappy they may tuck their tail between their legs rather than wagging it high in the air. While high tail wags are associated with good feelings, a low or slow wag can indicate fear or insecurity.
  • Body position; a worried dog may shrink away, hold their head low and avoid eye contact by looking away. If your dog goes very still like a statue, that usually means they are getting uncomfortable
  • Ears back; if stressed or anxious their ears may seem pinned back and flat against their head
  • They turn away from you; when unhappy with something you are doing they’ll try to turn their head away from you. Some dogs will give you a quick lick on your hand or face before doing this if you are paying close attention to them, as a signal that they are done with close quarters for now.
  • Appeasement behavior; dogs might roll over onto their back, but stay stiff and still rather than doing it in a relaxed way. This means they are worried and trying to let you know they aren’t out to hurt you. They may also lick their lips repeatedly or yawn, all signs of discomfort in a situation, take them as low key signals they want it to stop.
  • Hiding and walking away; if something is stressing them out, they may try to hide behind you or another object or go off elsewhere. don’t follow them or push the interaction as they are letting you know they need a time out.


A dog is more likely to resort to aggressive behavior if the signs that they are unhappy and worried have been ignored

  • Stiff tail; they may have a stiff, straight tail that seems  to shake rather than wag, others may tuck their tail behind them
  • Body position; Dogs may stand- alert with a still tall body position, their heads pointed up toward you. They may also lower their body to the ground cowering while baring their teeth, or shift their weight to the back of their body so they can spring
  • Ears are forward or flat; their ears may be pointing forwards or be pulled flat against their head, rather than floppy and relaxed
  • Eye contact; an aggressive dog will look humans/dogs straight in the eye, with a fixed stare. If they become still and stares straight at you, stop interacting immediately until they calm down.
  • Baring teeth; an aggressive dog may bare their teeth and growl as a warning. This can turn into a dangerous bite if they still feel threatened and unable to escape.

Be understanding with your dog; don’t force them into situations where they will feel uncomfortable. Keep them in their comfort zone and you both will have a great time. If your dogs show signs of anxiety or stress on a regular basis, take them to a vet to rule out any possible underlying conditions. If there’s an obvious reason like a certain dog or situation, reaching out to an accredited behaviorist or trainer would help.

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