When living with a dog, or even just interacting with one, communication is everything.Since a dog can't speak to us and tell us what he's thinking, we need to be able to understand his body language. Unfortunately, many times problems arise when people don't understand what the dog is trying to say. Thankfully, even though each dog is an individual with his own unique communication, most dogs do share some common body language traits.
The Furiously Happy DogThink of a Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever greeting an owner who has been gone all day; this dog is doing everything except turning himself inside out. His eyes are often squinted, his mouth is open, he may be whining or barking, and his ears are slightly back. He's not holding still, may be spinning in circles, and his tail is all over everywhere. This is a happy dog in motion.
The Playful DogThis dog just wants to play and he'll greet either a person or another dog with a play bow. With the front end lowered, front paws extended to the front, and his hips held high, this dog is extending an invitation. Within seconds of making a play bow, however, he'll be dashing here and there with complete joy. His eyes are open wide with dilated pupils, his ears will be up (and down, and sideways, and up again) and his tail will be wagging in broad strokes back and forth. He may be barking in high pitched barks.
The Relaxed DogA relaxed, happy dog is going to show this with a relaxed body posture. He may be panting slightly, with the mouth partially or slightly open. His eyes will be open but not wide and his ears will be relaxed, either upright (as with German Shepherds) or hanging (like a Golden Retriever). If standing, his weight will be comfortably on all four feet and his tail will be wagging softly; not furiously. Everything about this dog says he's comfortable.
The Alert DogThe alert dog is still (but not frozen in place) and is standing upright. His eyes are wide open, his ears are up and forward, and often his mouth is closed. His nose (and perhaps his head) is moving as he's scenting whatever has garnered his attention. His tail may be slightly raised and still although not stiff. This dog is interested in something and is trying to figure it out so is concentrating.
The Confident Protective DogA confident, protective dog who has been threatened or pushed, or whose owner is being threatened, or who is facing tresspassers is a dog who could potentially bite but in most cases is more likely to charge and bark furiously instead. This dog will all be forward and advancing; his head is thrust forward, he'll be leaning or moving forward, and his ears will be up and facing forward. He'll be staring hard at the source of his outrage. His hackles will be up. His back legs will be braced and ready to drive him forward with power should he need it. This dog is not at all afraid and instead is outraged that someone (not him; someone else) disobeyed the rules.
The Worried DogEven the most confident dog can be worried sometimes; perhaps on a visit to the veterinarian's clinic. When worried, the dog may show tongue flicks (the tongue appears at the front of the mouth to quickly lick the nose) and the corners of his mouth will be pulled back. His ears will be pulled back and his forehead is smooth. His paws will leave sweaty paw prints and his tail will be lowered. He may lift one front paw, and his body posture may be slightly lowered. How many (or few) of these postures he shows will depend on the extent or degree of his worry. A confident dog may show a couple of tongue flicks and a lowered tail and then go back to his normal stance. A less confident or more fearful dog may show all of these signs.