Understanding Your New Puppy’s Behavior

As puppies learn how to run and play and become dogs, they’re also learning how to communicate. Of course, they don’t use human words, but they do let us know what they are thinking and feeling with their body language and other behaviors. Understanding your new puppy’s behavior will make it easier for the two of you to communicate.

Interpreting a Puppy’s Body Language

You might laugh or coo over your puppy’s facial expressions, but their expressiveness goes far beyond the look on their furry face. From eyes to tail, pups use their entire bodies to communicate.

Ears: While the size and shape of the ears can influence how easy ear language is to see and understand, the ears of the pup on high alert are erect and face forward. Ears flat against the back of their head is a sign of fear or submission.

Posture: The way your pup carries themself speaks volumes. Confident dogs and those asserting dominance walk tall and hold themselves erect. Other dominant postures include bumping, pushing, leaning and looming over other dogs or individuals. Puppies who feel less secure will try to make themselves appear smaller by flattening the ears, lowering the head and tucking in the tail. Holding up a placating paw and rolling over to expose the tummy are also signs of submission or comfort with you.

Eyes: Squinting and droopy lids indicate happiness or pleasure, especially during an enjoyable activity like being petted. Wide-open eyes show alertness. Averting the gaze and avoiding eye contact signals submission or stress, while staring is a challenge and a sign that your pup is asserting dominance. Pay close attention to the pupils, too. The pupils of an aggressive pup dilate when they’re about to attack.

Fur: Even your pup’s fur can tell you their state of mind. Whether fearful or aggressive, a dog on high alert will raise their hackles (the fur along their spine will stand on end).

Tail: You might think a wagging tail signals happiness and friendliness. But depending on other types of body language, a tail wag could indicate other moods. If your pup’s hind end or entire body is wiggling, this is indeed a sign they are excited and happy to see you. However, a slower wag could express uncertainty and hesitation, while a tail that’s held high and wagging quickly but in a narrow arc signals fear or aggression.

Mouth: A partially open mouth with a lolling tongue indicates a happy and relaxed puppy. Licking, or flicking the tongue as if to lick, shows appeasement. A puppy who grabs or nips at another dog’s mouth or muzzle is trying to assert dominance. These gestures are pretty easy to read, but what’s less clear is when a puppy exposes their teeth. Lips pulled upward to expose the canines is a sign of dominance and aggression, whereas lips pulled apart in a friendly grin is a sign of submission.



Recognizing the meaning behind your puppy’s behavior and body language is a useful skill for any dog owner. These skills will not only strengthen your bond with your dog, but they’ll also help you attend better to your pup’s emotional needs so he can grow into a well-adjusted family member.