What's your dog's body language saying?

Whether it’s a simple walk around the block, an outing to a public patio, or an adventure of another kind, ensure your pooch is ready to meet others while on leash.

To train your dog to politely greet others, there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Your dog must be comfortable with the situation and want to meet people. Like people, dogs are extroverts, introverts, or may not want to meet others.
  2. Teach your dog the proper way of greeting people by asking them to sit, keeping all four paws on the ground. Work with them to avoid jumping or lunging.

See if your dog is open to a greeting

A simple way to test your pup’s openness to meeting others is to have a friend or family member approach you and your dog. As they approach look at your dog and answer the following questions:

  • Is their body loose and wiggly, or tense with little movement?
  • Is their mouth open or closed?
  • Is your dog moving toward the person or away from them?
  • Is your dog looking at the person or looking away from them?

Dog body language examples

To help answer these questions, check out these examples of what to look for in your dog.

Extroverted, comfortable signals

Smiling

Open, smiley mouth

Tail wagging loosely

Tail wagging loosely

Squinty eyes

Semi-closed, squinty eyes

Leaning toward stranger

Leaning toward person

If your dog is showing any of these behaviors — their body is loose and wiggly, their mouth is open and relaxed, they’re moving or leaning toward the person — they’re ready to meet the other person. Let them greet the person and make a new friend!

Other signs your dog is comfortable and ready to make friends include:

  • Relaxed, neutral ears
  • Loosely-moving body
  • Bottom wiggling

Introverted, signs of stress

    Licking lips, ears back

    Licking lips, ears back

    Mouth closed, still body

    Mouth closed, still body

    Brow furrowed

    Brow furrowed

    Head turned

    Head turned

    If your dog is showing any of these signs of stress, they’re not comfortable with the other person and shouldn’t greet them at that time.

    Other signs your dog is introverted and stressed include:

    • Base of tail is lower than spine
    • Lifted paw
    • Yawning
    • Dilated pupils
    • Rolling over

    Help your dog if they’re stressed

    Even if your dog isn’t ready to meet someone on their own, you can help your dog and the other person feel more comfortable and ready to meet with a few simple steps.

    • Move between your friend or family member and your dog to stop their approach.
    • Explain your dog is in training or needs a little space.
    • Feed your dog treats as needed.
    • Have your friend or family member feed treats to help build trust.
    • Show and tell how your dog likes to be pet, then have your friend or family member give it a try.
    • Tell your friend or family member to only pet the dog when they’re sitting or on the ground — not when jumping or lunging.
    • Reward and treat your dog for four paws on the ground. Don’t give treats when all four paws aren’t on the ground.

    Signs of distress

    Tail tucked

    Tail tucked

    Body appears stiff

    Body appears stiff

    Body appears stiff, eyes dilated

    Stiff body, eyes dilated

    Eyes dilated and direct stare

    Eyes dilated and direct stare

    If your dog displays any of the following behaviors — tail tucked, dilated eyes, stiff posture, or a direct stare — don't let the person approach. Give your dog the space and time it needs to get comfortable with the situation.

    Other signs that your dog needs some space include:

    • Tail is tucked between legs or high over the back
    • Hair is standing on end
    • Growling
    • Barking
    • Hiding behind you
    • Avoiding physical contact
    • Whites of eyes showing

    Learn more about pet behavior

    For more tips and tricks to bring out the best in your best friend, visit our Pet Behavior Library. You can also call our Pet Helpline at 952-435-7738 for helpful advice from a trainer or behavior specialist.

    For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

    Contact the Pet Helpline