February 27, 2024


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How to Read Canine Body Language: Signs of Comfort and Stress

How many times have you thought, “If only I could read my dog’s mind… then I would know what to do!” While we can’t actually read our dog’s minds, we can read their body language. Dogs communicate a lot of information to us via their body language, and it’s up to us to decipher 

Throughout my 25+  years of observation, study, and hands-on work with humans and canines, I’ve come to confirm that the root of all undesirable behaviors in our furry companions lies in the hands of their human pack leaders—or lack thereof.

In the wild, canines operate within a structured pack hierarchy, each member playing a crucial role in maintaining balance and harmony. As our domesticated companions, dogs retain this innate need for leadership and guidance. It is the responsibility of us, their human counterparts, to step into the role of the pack leader. Failure to do so can result in a myriad of behavioral issues that manifest as signs of discomfort and stress.

Understanding canine body language is the key to deciphering the intricate messages our dogs convey. The subtle nuances in their expressions, postures, and movements serve as a canine language that, once comprehended, allows us to address the root cause of undesirable behaviors. Let’s dive into the intricacies of canine communication and learn: What body language is a sign of comfort, and what’s a sign of stress?

Discover everything you need to know about assuming the leadership role and understanding your canine on a deep, impactful level in my masterclass, Embodied Alpha. The shift you make in your relationship with your canine is one of the most meaningful shifts you will ever experience. Happy healing.

Comfort: A Symphony of Relaxed Postures

Soft Eyes and Relaxed Ears:

The canine gaze, soft and squinty, mirrors the serenity of a peaceful landscape. It speaks of trust and relaxation, a fundamental component of a dog’s comfort. Paired with ears that rest comfortably in a neutral position—neither pressed back in fear nor overly alert in anticipation—these subtle cues create a portrait of a dog at ease with its surroundings.

Loose Jaw and Wagging Tail:

A relaxed jaw, with tongue lazily hanging, signifies the absence of tension. It’s a visual representation of a dog’s contentment, a manifestation of their inner calm. The tail, that expressive appendage, becomes a rhythmic pendulum of joy when it wags gently from side to side, broadcasting happiness and contentment to the world.

Playful Body Language:

Comfortable dogs engage in a ballet of joy—a series of loose, bouncy movements that invite interaction and play. Play bows, where the front of the body is lowered while the hindquarters remain elevated, become the dog’s way of extending an invitation to partake in the shared joy of playful activities. It is in these moments that the pack is most harmonious.

Stress: The Discordant Notes of Canine Discomfort

Tense Facial Muscles and Stiff Body:

Stress paints itself on a dog’s canvas through tense facial muscles and a stiff body. The furrowed brow and tight mouth are telltale signs of inner unease, while the rigid posture signals high alertness—a readiness to respond to perceived threats. Recognizing these physical manifestations is crucial for a pack leader seeking to address the root of stress-induced behaviors.

Avoidance and Withdrawal:

Stressed dogs may resort to avoidance behaviors, turning away or physically distancing themselves from the source of discomfort. Their gaze averted and body language communicating a desire for solitude, withdrawal becomes a coping mechanism. It is a plea for intervention from their human pack leader to address the underlying issues causing distress.

Excessive Panting and Pacing:

Just as stress increases our heart rate, dogs respond with elevated panting and pacing when they feel uneasy. These behaviors are manifestations of nervous energy seeking an outlet. A pack leader tuned into the needs of their canine companions will recognize these signs as a call for support, stepping in to alleviate stressors and restore balance.

The Inner Alpha Method: Reclaiming Leadership for a Balanced Pack

Establish Clear Boundaries:

The holistic, mind-body-spirit approach to canine behavior involves creating a sacred space through clear boundaries. Dogs thrive on routine and predictability, and by establishing consistent rules, we provide a structured environment that fosters a sense of security. In the absence of ambiguity, dogs can relax into their role within the pack hierarchy.

Cultivate Trust through Positive Reinforcement:

Rewarding desirable behaviors with treats, praise, or play creates a positive association between the desired action and a pleasurable outcome. This builds trust and strengthens the bond between human and dog, forging a connection that transcends mere training.

Connect on a Deeper Level:

Beyond physical interaction, spend quality time bonding with your dog. Engage in activities that bring joy to both of you, attuning yourself to their unique energy. This deep connection goes beyond the surface and taps into the sacred essence of the canine-human bond.

Listen to the Canine Language:

Becoming fluent in the language of canines is a fundamental aspect of becoming an embodied leader of your pack. Pay attention to the subtle cues your dog provides. A pack leader is attuned to the needs of their companions, responding promptly to signals of discomfort or stress. By understanding their language, we bridge the communication gap, fostering a sense of security and trust within the pack.

It’s time for us to reclaim our role as benevolent pack leaders. This journey is transformative, requiring us to embrace a holistic, conscious lens to understanding of our canine companions. Through this  lens, we unravel the mysteries of their silent language, fostering a bond that transcends the physical and ventures into the realms of the sacred. 

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



Understanding Energetic Cues and Expressions in Dogs

Transforming your relationship with your dog requires understanding how they view our world and communicate in it. Learning to read your dog’s energetics and cues goes beyond interpreting their behavior–it’s about cultivating a profound connection to our canine companions. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn to:
  • Decode canine energetic cues
  • Become a confident and peaceful leader capable of meeting your dog’s needs
  • Foster trust, respect, and empathy with your dog
  • Ensure your dog feels safe + valued
  • Cultivate a deep sense of of purpose in your own life

My gift to you