A veterinarian smiles and holds a dog in his office.

Understanding Canine Behavior and Communication

We communicate with our dogs through a lot of simple, recognizable phrases. But how do our dogs communicate with us? Barking is not the only form of communication that dogs rely on. Canine behavior and body language can also be very telling when it comes to understanding dogs and their emotions.

So, here are some basic principles that can help you read and understand canine behavior.

Reading Canine Behavior

Tail Wagging

The common assumption is that a wagging tail equals a happy dog. That is the case sometimes. But, more accurately, tail wagging is simply a sign of excitement in dogs.

That excitement can stem from several different emotions: happiness, anxiety, fear, and confusion are just a few. The speed and positioning of the dog’s tail will tell you more about its feelings.

The faster they wag their tail, the more excited they are. Raised tails are a sign of a dog feeling comfortable or assertive. Lowered tails mean the dog is frightened or unassertive. A rapid “helicopter” tail wag is a surefire sign that your dog is happy and excited.

Eye Contact

Sometimes people can be mystified by their dog’s refusal to make eye contact with them. We often mistake this as a sign of guilt. But in reality, dogs often avoid direct eye contact simply to show their discomfort with a situation.

In positive scenarios, direct eye contact is a sign of trust, attention, and a desire to communicate or seek interaction. Dogs often look at their owners to gauge their reactions or to show affection. However, in more tense situations, prolonged eye contact can be a challenge or a threat, especially if accompanied by stiff body posture or other signs of aggression. 

Therefore, understanding the specific circumstances and the individual dog's behavior is key to interpreting what their eye contact might mean.


Canine posture can communicate a lot about how a dog is feeling. Some of these are easy to read, while other signs are more subtle. A dog that is hunched low to the ground is making an effort to appear smaller and less threatening. This is often done to communicate fear or discomfort with a situation.

Another sign of discomfort that can easily be misunderstood is a dog rolling onto its back. In many cases, this is a learned behavior from a dog who enjoys belly rubs. If this is not a learned behavior, however, it could be a sign of submission and stress.

What is Canine Dysfunctional Behavior?

Is your dog not behaving as expected in certain situations? It may be dealing with a condition known as Canine Dysfunctional Behavior. This condition is sometimes compared to autism but for canines. Canine Dysfunctional Behavior can cause dogs to struggle to learn certain key social behaviors.

Get Joy Can Help

If your dog has Canine Dysfunctional Behavior or is struggling with their behavior, avoiding their stress triggers is important. With the help of a veterinarian professional, you can identify your dog’s triggers and adopt new strategies for training them. Get Joy provides 24/7 virtual vet services for a hassle-free experience, as well as a line of supplements designed to help them live their healthiest lives. Get started today!

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