What’s up, Fido? Get the scoop behind four common dog behaviors to understand what your furry friend is trying to say to you.

By Karen Asp
February 26, 2019

What does it mean when dogs wag their tails, or yawn around you? If you've ever wondered what your dog is trying to communicate to you, you're not alone. These experts share how to decode four common behaviors.

Woman hugging Bernese Mountain Dog
Young woman with dog
| Credit: Image courtesy of Getty.

When Your Dog Yawns

Though yawning can indicate fatigue, it can also be a sign of stress, especially if she’s in an unfamiliar setting. “A yawn serves a physiological function. As soon a dog opens her mouth, it gives them extra oxygen in case they need to run or move quickly,” says Nicholas Dodman, B.V.M.S., research coordinator for the Center for Canine Behavior Studies in Salisbury, CT. If you see your dog yawning, especially if she does it several times in a row and is also licking her lips, try calming her by talking to her, petting her, or removing her from the situation.

When Your Dog Wags Her Tail

Wagging can mean your dog is excited or happy; it can also signal fear or mistrust. One way to decode a wag: Look at the direction, Dodman says. If the wag swings more to the dog's right, it reflects happiness, more to the left communicates negative emotions like fear or feeling threatened. Speed and position are also clues. A slow wag, especially if the dog has her head down and is blinking or looking side to side, can indicate submission. A tail pointed straight up reflects confidence; a tail tucked under says I'm afraid.

When Your Dog Tilts Her Head

She's trying to identify what a sound is and where it's coming from. When the dog tilts her head, sound reaches each ear at different times. A head tilt can also mean the dog is trying to tell the difference between familiar phrases like "Go for a ride and "Go for a walk."

When Your Dog Licks You

Licking is a sign of affection, but it can also be a request for distance. "The dog probably wants to interact but is saying Go slower," says Carlo Siracusa, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. For example, if a dog licks you tentatively when you hug her, she's probably thinking, Hey, easy there.

Comments (1)

February 27, 2019
About licking: what if the dog obsessively licks you and even clothing? I have an older dog I rescued/adopted from a breeder who retired her and she will lick you like she's trying to get to your bones!! Could this be a behavior from giving birth to puppies??