June 2006


This month we continue to look at Stanley Coren's book: "How to Speak Dog" and this time we take a closer look to the non-verbal / body language communicated by your dog when it suffers from stress, when it wants to play, or when the dog is showing submission.

Stress and Anxiety:

Tail: Down.
Body: Lowered.
Ears: Drawn back.
Pupils: Dilated.
Rapid panting.
Corner of the mouth drawn back.
Dog may be sweating though pads (feet).

This pattern of signals communicates that the dog is under stress. The signals are not being addressed to any other specific individual. The source of the stress may be social or environmental.

Fear / Submission (Active Submission):

Tail:  Down. May wag slightly.
Body:  Lowered.
Ears:  Drawn back.
Forehead:  Smooth.
Eyes:  Eye contact is brief and indirect.
Tongue:  Licks at the face of the dominant dog or licks in the air.
Corner of mouth is drawn back.A front paw may be raised.Dog may be sweating through pads.

These signals communicate that the dog is somewhat fearful and is offering signs of submission. Most of these signals are designed to pacify the individual who is of higher social status in order to avoid any further challenges or threats.

Extreme Fear / Total Submission (Passive Submission):

Dog rolls onto its back, exposing its stomach and throat.
Tail:  Tucked between the legs.
Ears:  Flat and drawn back.
Head:  Turns away to avoid direct eye contact.
Eyes:  Partly closed.
Nose and forehead are smooth.
Corner of the mouth is drawn back.
Dog may sprinkle a few drops of urine.

These signals indicate total surrender or submission. The dog indicates its lower status and grovels before the higher-ranking animal to pacify it and avoid confrontation.


Tail:  Held up. Tail may wave broadly.
Body:  Front end is lowered by bending the forepaws.
Ears:  Up and erect.
Eyes:  Pupils dilated.
Mouth:  Open and tongue may be exposed.

The dog will usually hold this position for only a moment before breaking into a run in some random direction.

This body position is the basic invitation to play. It may be accompanied by excited barking, playful "attacks and retreats". This position is also used to indicate that previous rough behaviour was not meant as a threat, but as play.


Although your dog does not have the ability to speak to you, using English or Afrikaans words, your dog still possesses the ability to communicate with you through the use of body language and sounds (such as whining, barking, growling).

Dogs also communicate with other animals through body language and sounds, but they also utilise scent and smelling abilities when communicating with other "non-humans". Just think of the male dogs - each trying to mark the same tree a little bit higher than the previous dog.

Unfortunately humans do not possess the ability to smell as well as our furry friends and we grossly lack the skills of interpreting the smelly messages that our canines might leave. (We only smell the "landmines" left in inappropriate places.)