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Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides and its founding program, Canine Vision Canada, was established in 1983. It’s the largest school of its kind in Canada with its training school in Oakville and breeding facility in Breslau.


Doggy Communication: Body Language

A rarity in the animal kingdom, dogs’ powerful communication strategies allow attentive humans to understand them. Having lived in close proximity for thousands of years, understanding dingo-lingo is second nature to some, but many of us, especially those nervous of dogs, are often confused about what these signs actually mean.


Almost everybody can tell when a pup is happy or distressed, in fight or flight mode, or just inquisitive. These are the simplest types of communication and are expressed as vocalizations or through body language. At the next level, breeders, handlers, and loving owners have studied dog communication in varying detail and for various purposes. Add to that, the complex messages herding, hunting, and service dogs communicate, and you’ll agree that doggy communication is a fascinating topic. Tails, ears, eyes, and muzzles, usually in combination, signal what the dog is feeling, and the intensity of movement shows much they want to be understood.


We’ve put together a quick guide to help interpret your pooch’s cues and clues a little better and possibly find some you never noticed before. You may even decide that mutts are better at communicating than the average teenager because they always let you know what’s going on.

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(click on an image to learn more)

Head tilting with ears up usually indicates that information is being gathered to understand a situation better. Simple curiosity is sometimes accompanied by a puzzled expression and ear movement. It’s not yet decided if dogs actually smile or laugh but it often looks as if they do. These expressions also usually mean they are in their happy place.
When a dog arches away from you while keeping its body near to the ground, they are displaying submissive behaviour. Taut muscles and a bulked-up appearance could signal aggression, especially if the hackles are up or rising. When standing with all four paws flat on the ground and little or no muscle tension, the dog is generally in a calm state.
Ears down and back indicate that your dog is submissive or hoping to be petted. However, if your dog's ears are dropped and showing other body cues, such as bared teeth, it could be an indication that he or she detects danger and is ready to defend. If your dog’s ears are up, it often simply means heightened interest and attention.
A relaxed dog’s muzzle is slack and slightly open. Dogs that are calm and happy often want to lick a human companion. This is an offshoot of grooming behaviour and is a high compliment. When anxious, a dog’s mouth and jaw are tense, but when licking lips and yawning, it is being submissive. Similar to humans, this is a natural calming technique but can also serve as notice that the dog is not yet entirely at ease. When danger is sensed, the lips are drawn back to expose the teeth, and this alerts you that the dog is assuming a protective/defensive posture. When accompanied by growling, the threat could quickly escalate to snarling and even biting.
We all know that a wagging tail indicates that the dog is excited or happy. But a very slow wag could become a tucked tail that indicates insecurity or fear. A pointed tail flags that your dog is paying attention to something and is ready to spring into action. Notice the size and speed of the motions because this tells you how strongly the dog is feeling.
Wide-open eyes could indicate that a dog is stressed or frightened but can also signal aggression so it’s essential to observe other physical cues. If your dog’s eyes are droopy or squinted, it could be because of health problems Normally opened eyes without much white showing means your dog is relaxed and happy.
Raised hackles show that the dog is agitated by a threat and is entering attack/defence mode. If accompanied by growling, this reaction should be taken seriously.


  • Loud rapid barking is a warning that something/someone is approaching, and it would be wise to check it out.
  • Deep loud barking is a warning to someone/something that any further approach could end badly.
  • Scared or injured dogs yelp to get help, while yipping is also a summons during great excitement.


  • Whining is often used to elicit human attention.
  • Sometimes your dog will whine when sitting at a closed entrance to let you know that they want to get out.
  • If your dog is whining for no discernible reason, pay close attention as it could be revealing a health problem.
Building a great relationship with your pet means working on effective communication. Paying attention can help interpret important messages and avoid setbacks on the journey toward becoming each other’s best friends.
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