Great Britain

What your dog’s behaviour really means – from wagging their tails to rolling on their back

MOST dog owners think they know the signs. If a pooch rolls over and shows its tum, it is happy, right? Er, not always.

A new book says it can also signify stress, and what Fido is saying is: “Go away!”

Even a certain sort of tail wag may mean a dog is het-up and not friendly. As for sniffing another pup, a quickie can be pally, a long one plain rude.

Lili Chin studied herself on video with rescue terrier Boston.

She was so busy teaching him, she missed yawns and lip-licks which she reckons were signs he was unhappy with his tight collar.

She says: “This was mind-blowing and I was determined to learn more about dog body language to be a better human to my dog.”

Here, she tells Doug Wight what we can really read into a dog’s every move.

High wag

IF the face and body are tense, the dog is agitated. A stiff and narrow wag is NOT friendly.

If the bottom is wiggly too, the dog is excited and playful.

I'm no threat, stop!

WHEN a dog is lying on its side, displaying a straight and tense body, these are signs that it may be feeling a little unsure and worried.

Shaking off

A POOCH shaking itself when not wet may reveal a need to release stress.

It can also be a polite way to cut off interaction and say: “I need a moment.”

Tight mouth

MOUTH closed, lips forward and whiskers maybe flaring could signal annoyance or concern – or just that your dog is in a serious mood.

Wide v tight wag

IF the strokes are broad, this is happiness.

If, on the other hand, they are tight and there are signs of distress, this is not a happy wag.

Upside-down play

A DOG rolling around, back flat on the ground, body loose and wiggly may be feeling in a trusting and playful sort of mood.

Lili's top tips

  1. Look at the whole body, including posture and movement.
  2. Feelings are contextual and a dog changes with what is happening.
  3. Every dog is an individual and expression varies by age, health, breed, physical type and past experiences.

Lip or nose lick

QUICK licking of the lips or nose, when there is no food present, may be telling you someone feels ill at ease and needs to release.

Bottom sniff

IF brief, and both parties move freely, this is probably just a friendly thing.

But a long sniff may be impolite in a doggie world.

Circle wag or 'helicopter' tail

WITH body wiggles and wide fast circles, this is the happiest wag of all.


DASHING about, maybe with tucked tail and a bit jumpy, can be a release after feeling bored, restrained or excited.

Pups do it pre-poo, too.


CLOSED mouth, held breath, body tense and still, tail stiff may signify anxiety.

But if before stalking, a dog may just feel focused.

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