If only they could talk! We hear that all the time here at Zigzag. Wouldn’t it be great if your puppy could talk to you? tell you all about their feelings, whats gone on in their day, and how much they love you! 

We’re sure you’ve noticed there’s a dog to dog language thing going on, but don’t feel left out, they can and do communicate with you they just don’t use words. It’s called puppy body language, and if you know what to look for, it can be extremely informative about how your puppy is feeling.

There is a saying, ‘dogs do speak but only to those who know how to listen’ and it’s so true! Dogs use body language to communicate with humans all the time; we simply need to learn to understand it.

golden retriever puppy laying on bed
Photo by Taylor Sondgeroth on Unsplash

So how do you understand puppy body language? Well, we’re here to give you a nice introduction in this article. We’re going let you in on some puppy body language know-hows, such as:

  • What puppy body language is.
  • Common body language signals to look for you in your puppy.
  • Why you should take the time to understand puppy body language. 

If you’d like to learn more about how puppies communicate, their critical development periods, and how to teach them all the things they need to learn, then download the Zigzag puppy training app today and start your puppy’s training journey. There’s also a team of puppy training coaches you can reach out to with any of your questions, you can get them on WhatsApp, Email or if you prefer a reassuring voice, then give them a call. 

What is puppy body language?

Let’s get straight to it. Puppy body language is one of the ways your puppy communicates how they are feeling, with their whole body. From the tip of their tail to the end of their wet, shiny nose, your puppy is telling a story with their body. They might be showing that they feel nervous, excited, frustrated, or overwhelmed. 

When studying your puppy’s body language, you must evaluate it as a whole. So, while you shouldn’t isolate specific signals or indications from certain body parts, looking at specific pointers might give you an idea of how the rest of their body could look, and therefore what they’re communicating. Think of it like a puzzle, where we don’t just look at one piece to build up the picture, we look at many different pieces.

5 common things to look out for in puppy body language

There are common body language signals which generally mean the same things across dog breeds. Here’s our top 5 areas to look at your puppy’s body language.

dogs running alongside eachother
Photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash

All about puppy body language – the ears

You can tell a lot about how a dog feels by looking at their ear carriage and what their ears are doing. 

In some dog breeds, whose ears are more exaggerated, this type of body language can be easier to read than in others. 

If you see your puppy’s ears flat back on their head, it can mean they are frightened. This type of puppy body language can be accompanied by their body going low to the ground and slinky, as if they are trying to make themselves small. 

Ears that are pricked and held forward can mean they are alert. Often, the rest of your puppy’s body is in the ‘offence’ forward position too.

All about puppy body language – the eyes

Soft eyes, that are squinting or narrowing slightly, might indicate that your puppy enjoys this activity, such as, when they are being stroked by us.

A puppy showing the whites of their eyes, or averting their gaze, is typically a puppy who is reacting fearfully to something or trying to avoid conflict. Showing the whites of their eyes is commonly called ‘whale eye’.

A hard stare, often accompanied by a furrowed brow, is often seen when a dog is about to react aggressively to someone or something, and can be seen by many dogs as a challenge. You might see a lip curl and a growl along with the hard stare.

All about puppy body language – the tails

Tails are one of the most obvious ways a puppy can signal how they are feeling to us, even in puppies who don’t have much of a tail or any tail at all. When these dogs want to show us that they’re happy, their whole butt will wiggle (and gosh, seeing a Frenchie or Boston wiggle is the cutest thing in the world, isn’t it?!). Whereas, in dogs who have full tails, their tail will also wag, which means their whole body will wag along with it. A puppy’s body language will appear loose and relaxed in these circumstances.

Tail wagging isn’t always a sign that your dog is happy! If the rest of their body is tight, and the tail is wagging to the left, they’re not very happy with the situation they are in. 

Yes, the side they wag their tail is important. Studies show that when dogs wag their tails to the right, they’re likely to be feeling happy or confident, whereas wagging them to the left can mean they are frightened or feeling negative emotions. It’s thought that the reason for this is because the left side of the brain controls movement on the right side of the body and vice versa.

Sometimes you made notice that you pups tail is tucked underneath them. A tucked under tail often means your puppy is feeling unsure or worried. It’s thought that they try to hide themselves by covering up their scent glands (anal glands). Puppy body language is fascinating isn’t it? 

All about puppy body language – the fur

Fur can tell us a lot about how a puppy is feeling in a certain situation. 

You may have heard people say that their dog’s hackles went up in certain situations, and there’s a term for this called piloerection. 

Piloerection is where your pup’s fur looks like it stands on end. It happens when they’re over aroused, or when they’re worried. This is because the fight or flight system has been triggered and it makes the fur along their back go bristly. 

If your puppy is stressed you’ll often see a lot of fur come out. They will often shed excessively at the Vet surgery, or other environments that they’re worried about, such as the dog show ring. 

All about puppy body language – the mouth and lips

An open mouth and a floppy tongue can almost look like they’re smiling and indicates a pup who is happy and content. 

If your puppy is panting this can indicate that they’re stressed.

A tight mouth often indicates a puppy who is not comfortable, and they may switch between a tight mouth, yawning, lip licking and panting. 

A curled lip and a growl can be your puppy telling you they’re not happy with this situation and is a warning sign that they’re not comfortable. 

If you’re wondering about puppy hiccups and whether this is an indication towards the way they are feeling, we wrote an article all about that! 

puppies playing together
Photo by Chirag Dulyan on Unsplash

Why do I need to understand puppy body language?

As a new owner, we know you have a lot on your plate. You might be getting frustrated with toilet training, exasperated by getting your puppy to seep through the night, and wonder how on earth you’re going to approach socialisation and habituation. 

The good news is that studying puppy body language will not only help you understand your puppy’s needs, but it will also help you figure out how to handle all of those things in the best way for you and your puppy!

It can be fascinating to sit back and see how your puppy acts or tackles a new experience or environment. Do they seem unsure? Do they approach new things with a lot of bravado, and then shy away at the last minute?  Do they clown around or start panting?

Learning how your puppy communicates will help you to understand their needs, protect them from fearful situations, and reward them with things they enjoy. 

There are also other ways to be prepared. We have an article on what do you need for a puppy that you might find helpful. 

We hope you enjoyed learning about puppy body language, and now have a better understanding of what your puppy is trying to tell you through their body language cues. Download the Zigzag puppy training app today and receive full support from our puppy coach team – they’re all qualified puppy trainers and behaviourists and can’t wait to lend you an ear.