40 Common Dog Behaviors And What They Mean

I’m sorry, but your dog cannot talk to you. Being a dog owner is taxing enough without having to worry about what that tail wag or bark really means. The only communication dogs are capable of is our interpretation of their body language, which can sometimes be confusing at best!

The following are common behaviors exhibited by all dogs and their possible interpretations. Some are actually very useful to know…

1. Rolling Over And Lying On Back

This is your dog’s way of telling you to rub his belly! It’s also one of their submission signs, meaning he wants you to be the dominant one in the relationship, especially when you are trying to teach him something new or take his favorite toy away.

2. Licking Your Face, Ears Or Hand

This is your dog’s way of saying “I love you”. It means the same thing if he brings you a dead animal as a present…just pretend to be pleased! Another sign of affection is when your dog licks himself and then you. This is his way of saying “You are so much more attractive than me”.

3. Hiding Under The Bed, Behind A Chair Or Curling At Your Feet

This means “I don’t want to be bothered” and is often a product of the fact that your dog knows he’s done something wrong and doesn’t want to face the consequences. A visit from the vacuum cleaner or water bottle is usually in his future!

4. Belly Rubbing Or Scratching (Yourself)

This is your dog’s way of telling you he feels great and wants you to scratch/rub him so he can go on feeling this way. It can also be a sign of nervousness, insecurity or that he is trying to “make himself feel bigger” as this has been seen in dominant dogs.

5. Eye Contact (With You)

This can mean any number of things: curiosity, affection and respect (he’s looking to see if you’re the same species!), dominance (he’s trying to show you who the boss is!) or fear (you’re intimidating him).

6. Sniffing The Ground Or Air And/Or Sniffing You (In Your Face)

Sniffing the air can mean many things: he’s in need of a bathroom break, he smells food and is trying to find out what it is, he smells something unfamiliar and can’t figure out if it’s a predator and is trying to determine how dangerous it is, or he’s marking his territory. Sniffing you means all of the above, except in reverse: when your dog sniffs the ground before peeing on it/scratching, he’s marking his territory (you too!), he’s in need of a bathroom break, or he’s trying to determine if you are safe or not. When your dogs sniffs your face it could mean any number of things, however the most common interpretation is curiosity.

7. Whining Or Growling/Barking

Whining or barking can mean any number of things: he wants to play, he’s hungry, he’s lonely and is trying to tell you he needs your company, or that someone/something is scaring him. Growling can mean many things as well: a warning that next time it won’t be a bark or whine, guilt after doing something wrong, fear, or aggression.

8. Barking In Your Face/Crouching Or Darting Eyes With Tail Wagging Rapidly Back And Forth/Ears Bent And Held Forward

This is a threat bark and it can mean many things: your dog is telling you he’s the boss and will not tolerate any nonsense from you, he’s trying to ward off an intruder, he wants you to play with him, or there is something at the door.

9. Sitting Or Lying On Back With Stretched Front Leg(S) And Ears Held Forward

This is your dog’s way of saying “Rub my belly”! It can also be a sign of submission, meaning he’s asking you to take control.

10. Sniffing And Licking You Before Going To Sleep

This is your dog’s way of showing his affection for you because he knows you are about to leave him alone…and he wants one last chance to show it!

11. Playing Dead Or Rolling Over

This is another sign of affection. Your dog wants you to “play” with him, either by petting him or acting like he’s attacking/killing you! This can also be a sign that your dog feels comfortable around you and that he has bonded with you.

12. Grooming You

Grooming can have many different meanings…to your dog, it’s just good fun!

13. Licking The Floor/Couch/Furniture Before You Get Home And Before Peeing Or Defecating

This means he is “cleaning up” what he knows you will eventually find and be angry about. It’s his way of “tidying up” before you come home!

14. Licking/Grooming His Bed Or Toys

This is your dog’s way of showing affection for his belongings…your bed or couch he may not feel the same about!

15. Dragging Their Butt On The Floor, Paws Back And Tails Bent

This action will usually be meant to show submission, meaning he’s asking you to take control.

16. Cowering/Tucking Tail Between Legs

This is your dog’s way of saying “Don’t beat me up!” He may also cower when you raise your hand or he sees something that scares him or makes him uncomfortable.

17. Running Away At The Sight Of You

This means he’s afraid of you or doesn’t want to be scolded for something he did wrong!

18. “Backing Up” When You Approach Him Or Someone He Doesn’t Like

This is his way of trying to get away from you/the person he doesn’t like.

19. Barking And/Or Growling At The Door, Whenever Someone Comes To Your House Or Leaves It (Especially If You Don’t Know Them Or They Weren’t Invited)

This is your dog’s way of saying “I’m the guard here…leave!” He thinks you are in danger and is letting you know!

20. Pants, Icky Tongue Or Lip Licking (Drooling)

This can mean he’s thirsty or he wants something to eat/a treat. Pay attention your dog to see if this action changes within a short time without getting his needs met…if it does, he may have a dental problem or something else is bothering him!

21. Resting/Looking Up At The Ceiling With His Eyes Half Closed And Ears Held Back

This can mean he’s bored, he’s hurt, or doesn’t know what to do next…or it could mean nothing at all! Take careful note of how long he stays in this position and if anything else changes about his behavior. This can be a sign something is wrong with your dog!

22. Licking Hisself After Being Scolded Or Yelling At Him

This is your dog’s way of saying “I’m sorry!” He knows what he did was wrong and is trying to make you feel better by cleaning himself.

23. Growling/Barking At You When He Wants To Eat, Be Played With, Walked Or Taken Out To Potty

This is your dog’s way of saying “I don’t know if I want to do what you’re asking me to do right now…but if I don’t, you’ll make me!”

24. Tail Wagging With His Body Held Low To The Ground

This is your dog’s way of saying “I’m annoyed or uncomfortable!” He may be afraid or he doesn’t know what to do next in a situation that has put him on the spot.

25. Sniffing And/Or Licking Their Belly

This is your dog’s way of showing he doesn’t feel good. He may have eaten something that made him sick, or maybe there’s pain somewhere in his body. If you see this, take your puppy to the vet immediately!

26. Staring At You With His Lip Raised

This is your dog’s way of showing his teeth and saying “Hey, I’m here if you need me!” He thinks he can protect you from anything! (Even though he couldn’t!)

27. Licking Their Paws And/Or Lower Legs

This can mean a few things…your dog may have something on his paws that he’s trying to get off, or these are areas of your dog that can be easily injured.

28. “Circling” You Or A Couch/Table And Looking Around A Lot Once You Sit Down Or Lie Down

This means he is thinking about where this spot would be the best place for him to sit next…he’s wondering if he can get away with sitting there!

29. Sniffing And/Or Licking A Person Or Other Dog Before Approaching Them

This means your dog is trying to find out if that person or dog has something contagious before approaching them. He’s checking for food (and therefore wild behavior) and also trying to see if the dog or person is hurt.

30. Rubbing Against Your Leg

This means he would like you to pet him! He wants your attention, but maybe this isn’t a good time for it. Pay careful attention to how long your dog rubs against something…and what else changes about his behavior when he does. This could be a sign something is wrong with your dog!

31. Barking At A Toy Or Object That’s Moving On The Ground

This means he thinks it is an animal, bad guy or mean child in his yard! He will try to chase them/attack them if you let him outside!

32. Scratching His Ears Or Mouth

This means your dog’s ears may hurt and he needs to relieve the itching if they’re bothering him, or he could be searching for something in his mouth that isn’t there!

33. Licking Their Butt/Anus Area Regularly (Not Just After Taking A Poop)

This means he may have an anal gland problem. Learn more about anal glands here: Anal Glands In Dogs – The Facts!

34. Licking Their Feet Or Paws Regularly

This means your dog’s paws may hurt and he needs to relieve the itching if they’re bothering him, or he could be searching for something in his feet that isn’t there!

35. Playing With His Toys While Making Excited High-Pitched Sounds Or Barking

This means your dog is expecting other animals/humans to play with him, but isn’t sure if they will or not! Whether you join in the game or not (he probably wouldn’t mind if you didn’t!), it’s important to play with your dog as much as you can…it keeps him from getting bored, and also shows him you’re a willing participant in future games!

36. “Tight Roaming Eyes” Which Show You He Is Watching Something And Taking It In Intensely, Not Looking Around As If Not Sure Of What To Do

This dog is trying to figure out the best (most aggressive) thing to do next! Maybe he’s watching another dog walk by…or maybe something scared him and now he doesn’t know if he should run away, hide or fight back!

37. Licking Their Paws Or Chewing At Their Paws

This means he has an itch somewhere on his paws that bothers him. He may have walked through something on the ground, or maybe there is a new product on your floor! If you notice this behavior, get them outside to see if that helps with the problem.

38. Growling With “Tight Eyes” At A Toy Or Object He Wants You To Stop Playing With

This means if you continue to play with this toy, he will bite it! If another dog or human wants a particular toy, your dog can sense their desire and is trying to communicate that he also wants the same object.

39. Overly Excited Or Calm Behavior When You Get Them A Favorite Toy/Chew Bone/Treat

This means either your dog is experiencing a lot of “emotions” for this toy or he is wanting you to keep it away from him. Learn more about your dog’s emotions here: How To Tell If Your Dog Is Happy Or Sad , or why your dog may want you to keep a particular object from him here: Why Does My Dog Always Steal MY Toys?

40. Biting At Their Paws, Tail Or Ears While You Pet Them (Rubbing Them?)

This means they are expecting YOU to rub them in the place that they bit! Learn more about different ways to pet your dog here: How To Pet Your Dog – The Right And Wrong Ways !