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What is my dog thinking?

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What is my dog thinking?
The essential guide to understanding pet behaviour

  Body language of fear

Dogs that are frightened show it very obviously and, if you know what to look for, you can prevent them from becoming even more worried and biting in self-defence. Some dogs mask their fear in a display of confidence and bravado but, underneath, they are as worried as dogs that run away.

Confusingly, some dogs will give an array of different signals as they pass through a range of emotions. Watching for the different signals from tails, ears and bodies can help to unravel these signals and give you a better idea of what the dog is thinking.

  Oh-oh Oh-oh

This dog is worried about something in front of her and is pulling back to get away. Her tail is tucked right under and her ears are held well back so they would be out of the way if she were attacked.

Her eyes are fixed on whatever is scaring her in case she needs to get away more quickly and the whites of her eyes are showing as her eyes open wide to gather more information. Her heart will be racing and her body will be preparing itself for flight or fight.


I'm worried

Being asked to lie down in a stressful situation causes this dog to worry. Being placed in a vulnerable position, which makes it more difficult for him to run away, can add to any other concerns. His ears are back, eyes open wide and he pants rapidly with stress.

I'm worried




You can learn a lot about what your dog is feeling from his body language:

  • ears pulled back: he is frightened or submissive
  • ears forward: he is confident or interested
  • eyes, whites showing & large pupils: he is frightened
  • tail lowered: he is frightened or submissive
  • tail raised: he is confident
  • tail wagging: he is excited

Oh dear

Finding a safe place is essential if you are scared. This dog has moved to the best position in this area but has nowhere to hide or really feel safe. He stands waiting miserably for better options to become available, all the time keeping eyes and ears alert for anything too scary that he may need to run away from.

Don't come closer
Don't come closer

This is the face of fear and defensive aggression. The ears are back and the mouth is wide with worry. However, the lips are drawn slightly up to expose the teeth, the head is up ready to bite and the eyes are fixed on the antagonist so that further aggressive action can be taken if necessary. This face is accompanied by a series of explosive alarm barks designed to make the aggressor move away so that a dangerous fight does not ensue.

  Oh dear

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