Uncovering Your Dog’s Emotions

Do you know what your dog is communicating at a given time? Do you know how he may be feeling when a stranger approaches? Do you know when your dog wants attention or wants to be alone? 

There are so many subtle ways our dogs show us emotions and ones that are easy to spot like joy, with the tongue out and soft eyes (where the eyes appear smaller and can also look like they are closing) Anger is seen on the dog with his nose puckered, lips drawn back to see the canines and whale eye (where the eyes are wide and you can see the whites of the eyes). Dogs aren’t limited to only those emotions. Like people, dogs have the ability in showing us a wide ranging set of emotions all with their facial expressions, body language and tail wags. Yes, that’s right, not all tail wags are happy wags! Dogs can show other emotions like disgust and surprise as illustrated below. 

I wish all of our dogs could be joyful every minute of every day, but that’s not reality. Dogs also like people can have bad days and be irritable and grouchy. Its our responsibility in understanding what our dogs are expressing, and obliging them if they aren’t their best. We must find out what is causing the less than stellar feelings and figure out how to improve their emotional response. Remember, dogs don’t bite out of the blue. They are communicating all the time and when and if they do bite, his people haven’t taken the necessary steps in figuring out what’s going on. 

Use your critical eye and uncover your pet’s emotions. You can do this by writing down what you observe and when you observe it. You can watch countless videos by Sophia Yin, Victoria Stilwell or other positive reinforcement trainers on YouTube and educate yourself on canine body language. You can also solicit the guidance from a positive reinforcement dog trainer or behaviorist in order to coach you on what to look for and how to understand the expressions within context of what’s happening. For instance, a dog who yawns at the sight of an unfamiliar dog is not expressing the feeling of tiredness, they may be frustrated because he can’t go up to greet as my frustrated greeter, Jack Bear does while another dog passes us on the street. Or in the case of of Bernie, he gives a hard stare when I’m taking a picture of him and a full mouth tongue lick, he’s definitely not hungry! He’s not into selfies 🙂

One last bit of info, dog’s don’t feel guilt. Just like how we see their expressions and understand what they are feeling, dogs read our emotions and respond with their own. Take a look at this article which discusses the studies behind dogs and that guilty looking face. In the following article Not Guilty But Scared, the canine experts interpret emotions, but within the context of what is happening. Unlike humans, dogs don’t live in the past. Maybe this is something some of us humans can also learn from our companion animals!

1. Joy


2. Anger


3. Disgust


3. Surprise