Dog Body Language
Putting It All Together-The Whole Dog continued...
When your dog is scared, he does his best to look small. Often, his body looks hunched, with his tail held low or tucked between his rear legs and his ears flattened back on his skull. He might cower close to the ground. If escape is possible, he might lean so that his center of gravity is over his rear legs to permit a hasty retreat, or lean to the side so that he can recoil. He might look directly at the source of his fear or he might look away. The muscles of his body and face are tense and rigid. He might yawn in an exaggerated way.
During interaction with a person or another dog, dogs sometimes convey a confident, assertive attitude that’s often called “dominant.” If your dog is feeling dominant, he stands tall, sometimes on his tiptoes, and tries to look large. He arches his neck. He appears tense, like a coiled spring. His weight is squarely on all four feet or he’s leaning forward slightly. His ears are up and oriented forward. His tail is high and rigid, sometimes flagging or quivering at the end. His hair may or may not be standing up on his shoulders or along his back. He usually makes direct eye contact with the other individual. He might growl, but his mouth will typically be closed.
If your dog is feeling submissive while he interacts with a person or another dog, he tries to convey the message that he’s the underling, that he’s not a threat and that aggression is unnecessary. During active submission, he makes his body look small by hunching over and getting low to the ground. He holds his tail low or tucked, sometimes rapidly wagging it back and forth. He flattens his ears or holds them off to the sides of his head. He keeps his neck low to the ground, but he turns his muzzle up toward the other individual. He might nuzzle, lick or flick his tongue. He averts his gaze so as not to look directly at the other individual. Some dogs, particularly puppies, urinate. (Please see our article, Submissive Urination, for information about how to resolve this problem.)
Your dog might switch from active submission to a more passive position, in which he lies down and rolls over on his back to display his inguinal area (his genitalia). During passive submission, your dog might lie still, or he might paw at the other individual. He looks away. He might whine. Some dogs, particularly puppies, urinate in this position.
If your dog is fearfully aggressive he won’t look any different than when he’s fearful, except that he might show his teeth and growl. Some fearful dogs never escalate to aggression, but others will if they feel there’s no escape. A fearful dog isn’t likely to bite a person or other animal unless all avenues for escape are blocked and he feels trapped. When this happens, he continues to cower but, at the same time, shows his teeth and might growl or snarl. If he snaps or bites, it’s usually lightening quick, and then he retreats as far away from the threat as possible. Some dogs wait until the person or animal who frightens them begins to retreat, and then they dart out to nip them from behind.