Visual Cues

While many gestures and actions may have common, stereotypical meanings, researchers regularly find that animal communication is often more complex and subtle than previously believed. The same gesture may have multiple distinct meanings depending on context and other behaviors. Generalizations such as "X=Y" are not always accurate.


While many dog gestures and actions may have common/general meanings, the same gesture may have multiple distinct meanings depending on context and each particular dog.

head tilt

Head Tilt

Depending on the dog, there is a need for some dogs to cock their head so that the ears are upright and so that sound waves can enter the ear directly to reach the ear drums.

fear aggression

Fear Aggression

The dog is showing signs of fear aggression. Notice the lowered head, body down, foot pointing, raised back hair, ready to pounce hind legs and focused attention.

mixed signals

Mixed Signals

It is important to look at the dog’s whole body and not just the mouth or tail before deciding what the dog is trying to communicate. What appears initially as aggression might be an invitation to play.

rolling over

Rolling Over

This exposes the dog’s underbelly and is a gesture that shows respect for authority and/or passive resistance.



A dog might stretch after taking a nap, just as people do, or might drop into a stretch to lead into a play bow or to calm a person or other dog



This dog is not ‘smiling’ but feeling defensive about its bone.

meet and greet

Meet and Greet

Canine nose-to-anus greeting.



Two dogs stamping their feet, maybe to gain attention.

avoiding eye contact

Avoiding Eye Contact

This can be a form of deference or submission in dog speak.



A dog showing all signs of being anxious – white half moon eyes, nose licking, sideways glance.