Dogs have many ways of communicating with other animals and their people. While verbal cues like barking or whining can help you learn more about your pup’s moods, most dogs rely on non-verbal communication. Dogs communicate by using body language and facial expressions—think puppy dog eyes, yawning, head tilt, etc. Generally, the same facial expression can mean different things depending on if your dog is trying to communicate with another dog or with you. This guide will teach you about common dog facial expressions. Be sure to check their body language as well if you are ever confused about an exact meaning. Learning your pup’s signals can help dog owners communicate with their pets better.
One expression humans produce when bored or tired is yawning. Dogs yawn for different reasons. Yawning can be a sign of stress. A stressed dog will yawn to calm itself. Your dog may also yawn if they notice you are stressed. Pay attention to that situation. If you are at the vet, your dog is likely stressed—know the critical signs of stress in dogs. If you just had a long walk, your dog may be tired. If your dog is stressed out, you can yawn to help calm them. This can help keep your dog calm during vet visits or similar situations.
Smiling can mean two very different things depending on other signals. Sometimes smiling is a threat. Your dog may not always growl to signal that it is upset. If your dog is upset, look for a tense posture. Your dog will also be ready to make good on its threat and may have its hackles raised. This is typically called snarling, but many people may not realize it is aggressive if the dog isn’t growling. There is also a friendly smile. While the teeth may be exposed, the dog will be relaxed and show other signs of happiness. This is one of the signals that gets mixed up often, particularly with smaller breeds. Pay attention to the whole dog and any vocalizations. If your dog is actually snarling, give it space.
While we tend to associate licking lips with a good meal, that isn’t what it means for dogs. If you see your dog licking its lips, it means that your dog is feeling anxious. This can happen very quickly, so keep an eye out for this signal and other signs of anxiety in dogs.
Eye contact is very important for dogs. While it is a sign of aggression if your dog is making eye contact with another dog, this is not always the case when your dog is interacting with you. Dogs will look at you to check your mood and seek approval from you. This can mean they are concerned or are looking for praise and attention. Staring at you can be friendly, curious, or aggressive. It all depends on other body language cues. Staring at other dogs is normally a challenge.
Breaking Eye Contact
Dogs place a lot of meaning in breaking eye contact. When they are interacting with another dog, staring and then breaking eye contact can cause a fight. With people, it can mean comfort. However, if the dog won’t meet your gaze, the dog is uncomfortable.
Blinking or Squinting During Eye Contact with You
Blinking and squinting during eye contact can have a few meanings. Blinking can mean that your dog is wondering what you might be thinking or is considering a command you gave. Squinting typically means that your dog is happy. This is frequently accompanied by a relaxed smile from your pooch.
If your dog is squinting or blinking without eye contact it can mean a few things. One is pain. Most dogs will hide signs of pain at first. A dog may try to ignore minor injuries. This is very true of your pup wants this time to do something fun like playing. Your dog may also be sick. If you notice your dog squinting often at seemingly random times, it can be an eye problem. Rapid blinking can mean your dog is stressed out or afraid. Wide eyes directed at another dog are a sign of aggression.
If your dog makes eye contact, you may see your pup raise one or both eyebrows. This is a sign of interest. Your dog is paying attention to you and this can be a great time to try teaching your pup a new trick or reinforce existing ones.
Avoiding Eye Contact
While we tend to associate avoiding eye contact with guilt this isn’t the case with dogs. If your dog is avoiding eye contact, it is trying to avoid any type of interaction. This means your dog may be stressed out or just wants to be left alone. This is pretty common with new rescues since the dog may have had bad experiences in the past. If this happens often after your dog has done something undesirable like breaking something, your dog is afraid of you or your reaction. This is sometimes accompanied by the “guilty” look. The dog isn’t actually guilty. It just wants to appease you so it won’t be punished. If you see this a lot, make sure you only discipline right after an unwanted behavior. Dogs will not make a connection between a parent and behavior unless they happen very close together.
Why do dogs tilt their heads? Head tilting is one of the cutest dog behaviors. This is exactly what you associate it with. Head tilting means curiosity. If you are talking or there is music, you may see your dog tilting its head side to side. This is because your dog is trying to understand what it is hearing. Dogs typically tilt to a specific side if they are waiting for a command milliard to listen to sounds around them.
Lowering the Head
Head lowering is how dogs show submission. This is typically a good thing so long as you don’t see signs of fear. Generally, this is a sign you have a good bond with your dog.
Dog’s Ears Pinned Back
This is not something you want to see. When your dog has its ears pinned back, this means that your dog is either aggressive or fearful. Watch the dog’s body language to determine which it is. A high tail or raised fur typically means aggression while a fearful dog will tuck its tail. If your dog doesn’t seem fearful or aggressive, this can be a sign of a dog ear infection or injury.
Nose wrinkling is typically an aggressive expression. The dog will normally bare its teeth and wrinkle the snout to warn that it will bite. You may also hear growling. If you see this from your dog, back off. Your pup wants to be left alone.
Grimacing is very easy to mistake for a smile. You can tell the difference by looking for the dog to pull its lips back horizontally to expose the teeth. You may not see any nose wrinkling and the ears may be flat. This expression typically means that your dog is uncomfortable or scared. Dogs may not growl or vocalize, but they are still upset and should be treated with caution.
Whale eye is the term for when you see a great deal of the white of the eye. Dogs typically only have the pupil visible, so seeing the sclera or whites of the eye exposed is typically rare. Whale eye is a sign of extreme stress. You may see it when your dog is fearful or otherwise distressed.
The hard stare can be a bit hard to tell apart if you are not familiar with dog body language. The hard stare is noted for being cold and unblinking. You may see your dog staring at a single person or object. It is intensely focused and tends to be accompanied by signs of aggression. This hard stare is typically a sign that a fight may break out or the dog may bite whatever it is focused on.
This can be a hard one to determine for dogs with droopy ears. Ears forward are a very good sign. A dog with ears forward is interested in what is going on and maybe happy. Your dog may want to be pet or is curious. It can be a bit hard to notice this at first, so take the time to notice the state of a relaxed dog. Learning where the dog ear positions or when it holds its ears when relaxing can make noticing this easier.
Other Important Tips
While your dog’s face is very expressive, you should never rely only on the facial expression to determine what your dog—is trying to communicate. Take the time to learn more about general body language and behavior . Learning this can help create a deeper bond between you and your dog. You can also catch potential problem behaviors early. If you know your dog tends to guard resources, you can learn to spot the behavior early and correct it. It can also help you use more effective techniques to help teach your dog.
A quick guide is that the tail being up means your dog is experiencing intense emotions. The can be happiness at seeing you or your dog is expecting a fight. A low tail means fear or submission. A neutral tail means your dog is relaxed. This depends on the breed. Make sure you watch your dog when it is relaxed to learn its relaxed state. The dog’s ears can also give you clues. Forward ears mean interest. Ears that are back but not pinned can mean submission. Pinned back ears mean fear or aggression. Other important things to watch are the position of the body and any tension. Dogs that lower the whole body is scared or submissive on average . Dogs that are at full height might be ready to move. Muscle tension is a good way to tell if a dog is upset. A dog that wants to run or fight will be tense. If you are worried about problem behaviors, a certified professional dog trainer is the best option for dealing with them.
Why Does My Dog Have Facial Expressions?
Dogs have facial expressions to help convey how they are feeling. All animals with facial muscles use them to help communicate with other members of their species. Dog’s facial expressions are also used to communicate with humans. Dogs tend to rely mainly on facial expressions to communicate with humans.
Can Dogs Express Emotions on Their Face?
Dogs have mobile faces that allow them to communicate. Dogs have more muscles around the eyes than wolves. This may help them communicate with humans more easily. While dog expressions may not mean the same thing as a human expression, they can communicate. Watching the face and body language of your dog will help you learn to communicate with your pet.