Everyone who has enjoyed the companionship of a dog knows they have unique ways of communicating with the people they love as well as the ones they don't like or fear. You seldom have any doubt about a dog's feelings because they exhibit very specific body language.
Relaxed - When a dog is relaxed, his or her tail is down, the head is held up high, and the ears are up straight. Often the dog's mouth is open and the tongue is visible. The relaxed dog is content and would probably enjoy taking a walk or playing with a ball. In a state of relaxation, a dog does not feel threatened and is probably approachable.
Alert - An alert dog is paying attention to its surroundings. It's listening, so the ears will be forward and possibly twitching a little. The dog will stand tall, ready for anything, and its tail will be stretched out horizontal. While the tail may move from side to side a bit, it will not be the friendly wag we are used to. The mouth usually remains closed while the dog is checking things out.
Fearful - When a dog is afraid, its body will be lowered, hackles will be raised, and ears will be back. You may be able to see the dog's teeth, as its lip will be curled back slightly. The tail of the dog will be tucked under, and the eyes may be dilated. In this state, the dog will not be submissive. If approached by the person the dog believes is threatening, it may defend itself.
Aggressive - This dog lets you know it is in control. Its tail is bristled and raised, hackles are raised, ears are forward, and forehead may be wrinkled. The lips are curled and teeth are bared. This display is aggressive and intended to display dominance. At the slightest provocation this dog will attack.
Happy - Happy dogs wiggle and wag their tails. Sometimes they bounce up and down, run a short distance, and run back again. The mouth may be open and the tongue hanging out. If the dog is sitting its tail may be thumping on the floor. Just speaking to a happy dog can get it excited.
Stressed - When a dog is experiencing stress, a number of things can happen, including licking the nose and lips, keeping ears pinned back, panting a lot, and destructive behavior. Often when a dog is temporarily stressed it involves an unfamiliar child, adult or environment. It's important to recognize these signs to prevent stress from becoming aggression. Intervention is always the best approach. Sidetrack your dog with a treat, and remove the cause or the dog from the stressful situation.
Playful - It's not difficult to tell when a dog is playful. They will retrieve a favorite toy and bring it to you or grab a stick and beg for it to be thrown. The ears will be up, eyes will be bright, and the tail will be wagging when a dog wants to play. Sometimes the front paws will be stretched out in front and the dog's bottom up in the air. Jumping around in circles and wiggling all over is indicative of a happy playful dog.
Reading a dog's body language will not only help you understand your own pet better, but will also assist you in evaluating the condition of a dog you meet on the street or at a friend's house. Always respect a dog's attitude, and you will both be comfortable getting to know each other.