Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Healthy Dogs

Font Size

Dog Body Language

Dog Faces continued...

The Mouth

Dogs do a lot more with their mouths than just eat and drink. Even though they can’t use their mouths to talk, the way they position their lips, jaws and teeth speaks volumes. When your dog is relaxed and happy, he’s likely to have his mouth closed or slightly opened. If his mouth is open, he may be panting-this is how dogs cool their bodies. You might see his teeth because his mouth is slightly opened.

A dog who’s frightened or feeling submissive probably has his mouth closed. His lips might be pulled back slightly at the corners. He might flick his tongue in and out, or he might lick if he’s interacting with a person or another animal. When he’s feeling uptight, he might yawn in an exaggerated fashion.

Some dogs show a “submissive grin” when they’re feeling extremely submissive. They pull their lips up vertically and display their front teeth (canines and incisors). This signal is almost always accompanied by an overall submissive body posture, such as a lowered head, yelping or whining, and squinty eyes. Only some dogs “grin” this way. People sometimes mistakenly think a dog is being aggressive when, in fact, he’s grinning submissively and trying to communicate the exact opposite of aggression.

A dog who’s signalling his intention to act aggressively will often retract his lips to expose his teeth. He may pull his lips up vertically to display his front teeth while also wrinkling the top of his muzzle. This is typical of a dog who’s warning you not to come any closer.

A dog may draw his lips back horizontally so that his lips are really tight at the commissure (the corners of the mouth). With this expression, you’re more likely to see both his front and back teeth (premolars and molars). This posture is often indicative of a dog who’s feeling afraid. However, once a dog is ready to bite, he usually pulls his lips up AND back so that his mouth is open and his teeth are exposed.

Dogs can display an “aggressive pucker.” They move their lips forward over their teeth and exhale air so that their lips look puffy and large. You can sometimes even hear them breathing heavily. This display is often accompanied by a wrinkled forehead. A dog who looks like this is saying, “Don’t come any closer.”

Dog Ears

Dogs have a wide variety of ear types. The size and shape of your dog’s ears will dictate how well he can use them to communicate. Some are dropped (like a beagle’s), some are pricked (like a German shepherd’s) or semi-pricked (like a Shetland sheepdog’s), and some hang long (like a Bassett hound’s). Some dogs’ ears are cropped so that some or all of the earflap is removed (like a Doberman pinscher’s or Great Dane’s). The ASPCA does not condone ear cropping and encourages breeders and dog parents to leave dogs with their natural ears. In most cases, ear cropping is surgery done purely for cosmetic reasons and causes dogs unnecessary pain and discomfort.

When your dog is relaxed and comfortable, he’ll hold his ears naturally. When he’s alert, he’ll raise them higher on his head and he’ll direct them toward whatever’s holding his interest. Your dog will also raise his ears up and forward when he’s feeling aggressive. If your dog has his ears pulled back slightly, he’s signalling his intention to be friendly. If his ears are completely flattened or stuck out to the sides of his head, he’s signalling that he’s frightened or feeling submissive.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

Today on WebMD

boxer dog
Slideshow
dog on couch
Evaluator
 
bad dog
Slideshow
Sad dog and guacamole
Slideshow
 
Pit bull looking up
Article
Pets: Is My Dog Normal
Slideshow
 
Dog scratching behind ear
Slideshow
dog catching frisbee
Slideshow
 
Dog Breed RMQ
Quiz
puppy eating
Slideshow
 
pooldle
Slideshow
ashamed yorkshire terrier
Slideshow