Basic Dog Body Language
Part 3

"An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language."

Martin Buber

Basic dog body language part 3 is about how our furry best friends talk to us through their eyes and their mouth.

I will show you more dog calming signals related to these face areas that will help you get your pet out of threatening situations before he has to resort to more aggressive means.

Go to dog body Language Part 1 or Part 2 if you haven't read them already.

Basic Dog Body Language: Eyes

In the canine world eye contact can be threatening. This doesn't' mean you can't make eye contact with your best friend, in fact you can teach him to make eye contact on command! (See "Training your dog to Watch").

The important thing to know is that you should NEVER be threatening when looking into your dog's eyes. There are two types of eye contact: soft and hard.

Eye contact with soft eyes: Eyes are round and peaceful. This means the dog is calm and happy.

Eye contact with a hard stare: Direct eye contact with a hard stare (tense body posture) means arousal. This can be good or bad! Make sure you look for other body signals to figure out if your dog is in a playful mood or about to show aggression.

Whale eye: This happens when the dog is afraid to look at you, so he will actually turn his head the other way. At the same time he is not sure he should take his eyes off you, so with his head pointing away from you he will try to look at you! It is call a whale eye because you can see the white of their eyes. Dogs that have "whale eyes" are afraid and feel threatened.

Calming signals with eyes

dog calming signals play bow and looking the other way by blumenbien

Photo courtesy of blumenbiene.

  • Head turning: Just like giving your back to someone else can be a calming signal, turning your head is done as a pacifying cue. It can be a quick movement or a steady position. Notice when dog's meet that head turning is a common signal to keep the situation under control. Note: in the picture it is combined with the play bow.
  • Blinking/squinting: Because direct eye contact can be threatening, blinking or squinting is used as a calming signal to emphasize the point that "I am not looking at you in a threatening way".

Basic Dog Body Language: Mouth

Relax mouth

A relaxed mouth is often an open mouth, lips also relaxed and maybe even the tongue out!

Happy playful mouth

Photo courtesy of Trespassers William.

puppy mouthing foot by Trespassers Willia
  • Puppy mouthing: puppy play tends to look rough but dogs are just having fun! Puppies learn how to use their mouth during play. This is the stage when they learn how hard they can bite before hurting...and they do NOT want to hurt! When you see puppies play mouthing make sure they are not using the whole mouth or pulling down while biting.
  • Yelping: Dogs will yelp to signal they have been hurt. This is how puppies learn. If you see a puppy yelping, but the second dog is not stopping, separate them!
  • Sneezing: I have seen some puppies start sneezing in the middle of a really fun play time. This, in the correct context, can mean that the puppy is having fun!

Calming signals with the mouth

  • Licking the nose or lips: A really fast movement done with the tongue. It is a signal that the dog is uncomfortable about something.

If you do a search for dog images, you will see many pictures of them licking their nose! They do not like to have a camera pointing at them and this signal calms them! If only some owners knew some basic dog body language!

  • Yawning: in the appropriate context, yawning means that the dog is also stressed or uncomfortable. This usually happens when owners hug their best friend. Most dogs don't like it but will tolerate it. You might also see yawning when you are particularly anxious and unintentionally being a little strict with your canine friend.

Photo courtesy of Amy Loves Yah.

dog calming signal yawning by Amy Loves Ya

I have seen people yawning in uncomfortable situations too! You could try yawning during a stressful situation to calm your dog.

Fearful signals with the mouth

dog body language submissive grin by justi

Photo courtesy of justin.

  • Lips stretched back as in a forced smile showing even the deeper teeth: This together with other body signals means the dog is fearful or submissive.
  • Submissive grin: An exaggeration of the previous one will turn into what is called a submissive grin. This may look to the untrained eye like growling and teeth showing. The main difference is that the lips are stretched back (forced smile) instead of pulled forward (muzzle wrinkled).

I once met a very friendly pooch, who actually made submissive grins when greeting strangers at the door (while jumping on them!). This scares a lot of people because it looks like the dog is threatening with teeth! ... but it's just being submissive.

Dominant or aggressive signals with the mouth

dog body language growling by k-pen

Photo courtesy of k-pen.

  • Lips pulled forward: this happens when you see a hound growling or threateningly showing his teeth.
  • Mouth over muzzle: Mothers will sometimes try to calm or scold a rambunctious puppy by gently putting their open mouth over the puppies muzzle.


Most head halters use this principle to keep a dog calm during walks. The head halter has a strap that puts pressure on the hound's muzzle calming him.

Tell us what YOUR dog is saying!

Learning about basic dog body language is a great way to bond with your dog.


Continue reading Dog Body Language Part 4.


Return from Basic Dog Body Language Part 2 to Dog Behavior.

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