He’s man’s best friend. He stands faithfully by our side. Never doubts us. Never questions us. He’s dog; we love him and think we know him well. But, how well do we really know our dogs? Does a wagging tail always indicate happiness? Does panting always mean a dog is hot? How well can you decipher your dog’s body language and his attempts to communicate with you?

While all dogs are different, there are a few common ways our dogs communicate how they’re feeling.

Calm and neutral

A calm, neutral dog is typically ready for you to greet and pet him.

  • Relaxed body posture; no tension
  • Relaxed tail, possibly wagging
  • Possibly panting happily


An alert dog could be curious or interested in what’s going on around him.

  • Leaning forward
  • Ears are forward
  • Mouth might be closed


A dominant dog is showing another dog that he’s in charge.

  • Standing up tall and leaning forward
  • Tail held high


Don’t run away from an aggressive dog. Stand tall and still and look away.

  • Stiff posture
  • Tail moves back and forth, like a flag
  • Might show teeth and/or growl

Anxious or nervous

A dog showing signs of anxiety is nervous about his surroundings and you should avoid petting him if you don’t know him.

  • Ears are back
  • Tail is low, but the end might be wagging slightly
  • Posture is leaned back or turned to the side
  • Might be panting


A scared dog should not be approached, because he might bite if he feels the need to defend himself.

  • Flattened ears
  • Tucked tail
  • Crouching lower to the ground


This position is most common when two dogs interact. One dog is telling the other he “gives up.” Abused dogs will sometimes display this behavior toward humans.

  • Laying on his back
  • Paws and tail tucked in


This dog is ready for you to chase him or throw the ball for him.

  • Might “bow down” with tail in the air and wagging and front legs and chest on the ground
  • Might be panting or barking


Sometimes, overly excited dogs can inadvertently scratch, jump up, or knock someone down in their excitement.

  • Forward ears
  • Tail wagging quickly
  • Alert and ready to pounce
  • Likely panting