What is my dog thinking?

How to Understand What Your Dog is Thinking

Knowing what your dog is thinking can seem like a mystery. With careful observation and knowledge, you can develop insight into understanding their language

Knowing what your dog is thinking can seem like a mystery at first. With careful observation and knowledge, you can develop insight into understanding their language. Dogs communicate through body gestures, facial expressions, vocalizing and behavior. By paying close attention, you can learn what they are communicating and why.

Body Language

A dog’s body language is undoubtedly the most revealing aspect of communication. Watch their tail position, movement, and overall posture. A relaxed dog will have a loose body stance with ears in a natural position, soft eyes, and wag their tail gently. Not every tail wag means happiness though. If you dog is in a state of stress or anxiety, they may swiftly wag their tail in short strokes, hold it still as a sign of feeling threatened, or tuck it under from fear or illness. They can also exhibit a lowered head, ears pinned back, hair standing up along their spine, and overall tense muscles if they are fearful or defensive. Ears pinned back can also mean joy, and their way of expressing affection. A dog pawing at you can be their way of petting you back or an indication they need something.

Facial Expressions

Dogs have facial expressions that can suggest their mood. A relaxed dog may have a mouth slightly open in a calm manner. A stressed dog might bear their teeth with a clenched jaw or pulled back lips. A dogs eyes can also be quite telling. Excitement or fear can be exhibited by dilated pupils, while squinting eyes can be a sign of contentment. A dog may also yawn as a sign of boredom or insecurity indicating they want to go to their comfort spot.


Dogs have their own language when it comes to vocal communication. Barking, growling, howling and whining are parts of the language they use to communicate their thoughts and feelings. A sharp short bark can indicate excitement, or being alert to something or someone unfamiliar. A deep low growl can mean an aggressive stance or a sign of discomfort. Whining covers a range of emotions from anticipation, such as a family member coming home to anxiety at the first sign of separation when they are leaving. It can also mean they are hungry or thirsty, need to go outside or something is bothering them. Paying attention to their vocalization is key to understanding their needs.


Close observation of your dog’s behavior in various situations can also help you to understand what they are thinking. For example, if your dog is whining or pawing at you and you know it’s time to feed them, they do too! Dogs seem to have an internal clock and know their routine. Even if you lose track of time, they can remind you it’s time to eat or go outside! A nudge or pawing can be an indicator that they want to go for a walk, need fresh water or want a treat. Laying with their belly up means they totally trust you, so go ahead and give them some affection with a belly rub!

If your dog growls while playing with a tug toy, most likely it’s just part of the fun of playing with you and the toy. If, however, they growl when approached while eating, this can be a sign of food guarding or aggression and should be addressed in a structured and positive way, so they learn their meal is not under threat. Learning your dog’s communication signals is key to a good relationship.

Building a Lasting Bond

The more time you spend with your canine companion, the better you will get to know their characteristics. While dogs do not communicate the same way as humans, it is possible to develop a rapport in a way that is effective. Over time, your dog will also learn your language and key words to understand what you expect.

If you have a puppy, it’s advisable to start their training and socialization at a young age. If you’ve adopted an older dog, it can take time to get to know them and uncover what they may have experienced in their past. The dog will always reveal their story. Your job is to observe patiently and respond in a way that offers positive reinforcement or correction if needed to address any past learned behavioral issues.

Becoming attuned to your dog’s signs and signals will deepen your communication and therefore bond with your furry companion to ensure a happy and healthy lifetime.

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