The 6 Moods Your Dog Communicates

This pet insurance dog wants you to know how he's feeling.

Dr. Marc, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine blogs for pet insurance provider, Pets Best.

Just like people, dogs can communicate with each other and their environment. Unlike people, dogs do this largely without a ‘verbal’ language, but rather utilize body language. Even though many dogs have unique behavior characteristics that are individualized, certain body language is generally consistent with most canines. Understanding these cues can help you interpret how your dog may be feeling.

1) Playful, Frisky
This language says: “I want to play”, or that previous roughhousing was not construed as threatening. The body position will often resemble a ramp, with the head and torso are near the ground, and the back end is in the air. The tail is usually up and waging. Ears will be up and attentive, the mouth may be open.

2) Relaxed
Dogs in this state are generally at ease. They do not feel threatened by nearby activities. Dogs in a relaxed state are generally not directly engaged with others. These animals are usually approachable. Most of the time, the ears will be up without any forward press, the tails are down (not tucked), and their stance is loose with weight evenly distributed.

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3) Alert, Engaged 

In the alert phase, dogs are usually investigating something of interest or determining a course of further action regarding an environmental stimulant. Tails are usually stretched out horizontally, and often straight back, but not puffed. Ears are perked and placed forward. The mouth is usually closed. They may give signs of gathering sensory information such as smelling the air, twitching or rotating the ears, or tracking something visually.

4) Dominant (aggressive)
Dominant aggressive animals vary from fearful aggressive animals in that they are full of confidence. These animals will attack if their dominance is challenged. The tail is usually stiff, raised, and puffed out. The body is usually shifted forward (more weight on front legs). These dogs may be growling with lips snarled and teeth exposed. Often their hackles are raised, especially near the neck.

5) Fearful (possibly aggressive)
Animals will generally cope with fear in one of two ways. The first is fearful aggressive, the second is fearful submissive. In the fearful aggressive animal, fear is the predominant feeling, though they may attack if the sense of danger exceeds their threshold. These dogs will have their bodies lowered and their tails tucked. The ears are usually back and tucked against the head. Their hackles may also be raised.

6) Fearful (submissive)
These animals are also in a state of fear or stress, however, it is unlikely these animals will attack unless their body language changes. These animals can vary from general worry to submission. In early phases, the ears are back against the head and the hackles are down. The tail is down, but not necessarily tucked. They may wag their tail briefly in its down position. The body is generally in a lowered position. During a greater sense of fear these animals may become submissive. In this state, dogs will often roll on their back, may urinate, and have their tails tucked. Most animals in all states of submissive fear will try to avoid making direct eye contact.

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  • Alicia Bales

    My dog Maxie is a 13 year old Maltese. The problem he is having, if it’s really a problem is this. He will be sitting or napping calmly and suddenly he jumps up and walks away like someone or something goosed him.
    I took him top the Vet who checked him over and emptied his anal glands.
    He doesn’t act sick and he still has a good appetite. He has slowed down a bit with age
    but he continues to do this. I can’t help but feel that something has to be causing this.
    Do you have any ideas?

    • Jamie

      My dog also does this. For my dog it is gas. I’m not sure if its the sound or the feeling but it is very funny to watch. He once moved so fast it scared me, but I heard him pass gas and could not stop laughing. Hope this helps.

    • Shannan

      You might want to have your dogs hearing checked ….my dog would startle sometimes when his hearing started to diminish; particularly when napping because when his eyes were closed he depended on his hearing more.

    • Karen

      The behavior you mentioned could have been due to the anal glands being full. Has he done it since having them expressed?

  • Pat

    We have a 9 year old Shih-poo, named Petite. She also exhibits the same behavior and accompanies it with a small yelp. We believe and the our vet agrees that it is a hip problem. We don’t know if it comes from the joint slipping (more than likely) or from a pinched nerve (less likely) or a pulled muscle (very unlikely). When this happens we give her a light hip massage which she really seems to enjoy. She too has a great appetite and is very active. I’m wondering if this is more of a problem for the smaller breeds. The inexperienced eye has often mistaken Petite for a Maltese.

  • Suzanne

    You don’t say where he goes when he just walks away. Does he just wander around or seem to be going someplace? For example, our Rhett will suddenly jump up from a sound sleep and walk away…but he wanders off in the direction of the noise he heard.

  • Debbie Daniel

    I have to wonder if it is something as simple as what i discovered with my dog after 8 yrs. Sassy would do this very same thing. after 8 yrs i finally discovered what it was. She was passing gas and it was either tickling her butt or felt odd to her and she would jump up and turn to look to see what bit her on the butt. So it may be a gas thing.

  • Sheila Seymour

    We adopted a 2 year old Corgi mix from the animal shelter a couple months ago. He is a wonderful dog but had the behavior of Fearful (submissive) dog. He reacts like this even more when our grandson (10 years old) is around but he has not shown any aggression toward him. We have gotten a “Thunder Shirt” for him and that has helped a lot but as summer is coming this may be too hot for him. Any suggestions?

  • CW

    My Irish will do that when they pass gas. Whether or not it makes a sound or a smell…whenever he does pass, he does that exact same thing…it kind of scares him a little I think. My other Irish, it doesn’t affect at all. Dogs can react differently.

  • Cara

    Perhaps it’s he let out GAS.
    My dog does this, and normal shortly after there is a oder…. GAS. Or for a better work: he farted!

    I listen to his belly for gurgling sounds,… then I know for sure if I hear alot of squeesed air escaping.

  • Julie

    The descriptions are great, but to grab attention and direct the reader focus, a visual (one or more pics representative of each mood) would be exceptionally helpful.


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