Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Body Language: Relaxed or Tense?

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Relaxed or TenseDog body language is easy to read when you know what to look for. Here are two beagles – one is relaxed and one is tense. You may well sense that by looking (and if you do, good for you!) but let’s go over some details so you can be sure you’re seeing what’s there and can teach others, especially children, what to look for.

Here we have three arrows pointing to specifics. These are not the only signs in these pictures but they are some of the most reliable and easy to see.

Dog Body Language Image



#1 – The ear of the relaxed beagle is flat and hangs freely.

#2 – The “lip” or “edge” of the ear is small or not visible at all.

#3 – The facial muscles are smooth and the features rounded.


Dog Body Language Tense Image

#1 – Muscles in a tense animal contract. With a floppy-eared dog, the dog will start to clamp the ear to his head and you’ll see a “valley” forming. The red arrow points to that large central valley/clamping.

#2 – When the ears are clamped down and that valley is formed the ear edge closest to the dog’s face rolls up and outward. This is an extremely reliable sign of a tense floppy-eared dog. At its most extreme the ear can be almost inverted (I have a feral dog client right now who does that.)

#3 – As all the facial muscles tense up, wrinkling under the eye, on the muzzle and between the brows can be seen. If the dog is really unhappy, the muzzle will start to bunch up appearing more rounded and bulbous. As the muzzle bunches, the whiskers will start to stand out, away from the muzzle and, as tension rises, even  start to point nearly forward. Compare this picture to the one above and you’ll see that starting to happen here.

My guess, as someone who has spent many hours on the photo shoots watching dogs being handled or handling dogs myself, this beagle either doesn’t like the set, is spooked by the camera or is just done for the day. After all, photo shoots can be stressful, as most of us who have sat in front of a camera can attest.

I hope you find this discussion useful. Please share it with others. The more people can “see” when a dog is tense, the fewer people will be bitten.

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my books: My Smart Puppy & Childproofing Your Dog.

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