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Three Tricks to Understanding and Interpreting Dog Body Language

Dog with exited ears showing body language

When it comes to our goofy furry canine friends, they sometimes can’t help but make us burst out with laughter. From their incessant howling at the TV, sporadic head movements and tail wagging to jumping and spinning in the air; our best friends always keep us entertained.

Whilst nearly always amusing, as dog owners, we often don’t actually think about what our  dog is trying to communicate. Sometimes we get lost in laughter and sometimes we get lost in thinking that verbal communication is the only form of communication.

For the past two decades, dog trainers have used three letters to help them understand a dog’s body language and what it might mean; these letters make the acronym BET:

  • Body
  • Eyes
  • Tail

It’s important that as a responsible dog owner we can understand our dog’s intentions to help encourage positive encounters or prevent unwanted ones. Today we are going to explore this acronym to help explore the world of dog body language.

What Does a Dog’s Tail Position Mean?

Dogs tail influence their body language

As dog owners, most of our knowledge comes from our experience with dogs, guidance from dog trainers and gossip at the dog park. Often, we are told that a raised tail is a sign of aggression in dogs. However, this isn’t always true.

If we use our BET (body, eyes, and tail) body language acronym for dogs, this encourages us to look beyond the dog’s tail and to also observe their eyes and body. Observing more than just an isolated body part allows us to understand your dog’s intention much more accurately.

If your dog’s tail is raised this is because they are experiencing a feeling or sensation as a response to their environment changes. This response may be one of excitement or aggression; in both examples, their tail will be raised (typically vertically).

If your dog is displaying aggression, in addition to their tail being raised vertically you will also see their ears are perked and hackles raised. Their body will also become very stiff in posture as to increase the visual appearance of their size. In addition to their ears, body posture and tail, you may also see teeth baring and a nose wrinkle.

However, it’s important to remember that your dog may be showing signs of excitement. How do you tell the difference? If you remember in the last example it wasn’t a single body part which allows the dog to communicate with us; it was a combination of different signals at the same time (e.g. their ears, posture, and tail). Using the same framework, your dog’s tail will be vertical and straight, however, their posture should be relaxed and gentle, their hackles will definitely be down and ears floppy, their forequarters may be lowered towards the ground. Finally, their eyes, more specifically pupils, will be dilated reflecting their relaxed demeanor.

Body Language Table

Body language in dogs

The example given about a dog’s tail position debunks some of the older advice on body language which looked to predict potential behavior based on isolated body parts such as tails, paws or mouths.

The BET framework of observing your dog’s eyes, body posture and tail position will enable you to observe your dog’s behavior holistically giving you a much better chance of understanding their intention.

You can use the handy summary table below as a quick reference:

Dog Body Language Table


We hope this article has helped you to learn a little bit about the funny and mysterious world of dog body language. Now you are aware of the many reasons for why your dog might raise his tail it’s a good idea to try and implement the framework on your next trip to the dog park.

Try sitting and watching other dog’s behavior and body language. Understanding if your dog feels shy, scared or threatened is an important skill which a good dog owner must have. This will help them to keep their dog safe and protected whilst avoiding any embarrassing events at the dog park.

Article written by John Woods at  All Things Dogs; teaching 40M dog owners how to care for their dogs. John is a dog trainer and recognized author; he is currently the editor in chief at All Things Dogs.

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