Understanding dog and cat body language


Happy or relaxed dog

Sketch of happy dog, tail relaxed

Your dog is happy or relaxed when their:

  • body is generally relaxed
  • head is held high
  • tail wags freely and enthusiastically
  • tongue hangs out in a relaxed manner.

Nervous or frightened dog

Sketch of nervous dog, crouched with head down

Your dog is nervous or frightened when their:

  • size is reduced by crouching or rolling over to show their underbelly
  • tail is tucked between legs or move from side to side in a lowered position
  • ears are back or flat on the head
  • eyes appear slightly closed and they avoid contact
  • tongue extends in a licking motion.

Aggressive dog or ready to attack

Sketch of dog standing up straight, tail up

Your dog is aggressive or ready to attack when they:

  • stand on the tips of their paws
  • have hackles on neck and back standing erect
  • wag their tail slowly and stiffly while held high
  • snarl with lips pulled back showing teeth
  • have their eyes wide open and staring
  • hold their ears erect
  • are growling and snarling.


Happy cat

Sketch of cat standing with tail down

Your cat is happy when their:

  • body is generally relaxed
  • tail is high with the tip hanging over the back or relaxed and low
  • ears erect
  • eyes are wide open or if completely relaxed may appear half closed
  • whiskers in neutral position.

Frightened or timid cat

 Sketch of cat legs tucked under body, head alert

Your cat is frightened or timid when it's:

  • body is low to the ground making itself look small
  • ears are generally laid flat on the head
  • whiskers are laid back or flattened against the face
  • tail may be under the body.

Defensive cat

 Sketch of cat with back arched, tail high and fur fluffed up

Your cat is defensive when it's:

  • tail is erect and fluffed up
  • back is arched
  • ears are flat to their head
  • whiskers are back
  • pupils are dilated
  • hissing.

Aggressive cat, ready to pounce

Sketch of cat ready to pounce, tail flicking, teeth barred, whiskers forward

Your cat is aggressive and ready to pounce when it's:

  • tail is low and swishing
  • back is straight and head in line with it's body
  • ears are forward
  • whiskers are bristling forward
  • mouth is open and teeth bared and is hissing
  • claws are out.
Page last updated: 26 Jun 2020