What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean

What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean

Have you ever wondered why your pup looks at you sideways when you talk to him, or why he looks up at you with that puppy-eyed look? The doggie behavioral experts at Wag tell us that dogs can communicate with humans in a way we can understand and encourage. Did you know that dogs have about one hundred expressions, so sit back and start scrolling to learn about the most common dog’s expressions and what they really mean. 

Dog’s Facial Expressions

You might not have known your doggo has so many facial expressions, sans bulldogs and pit bulls, due to their breeding. Because of this, these breeds easily get misread by other dogs and, therefore, get into fights. You may also not know that most of dog’s expressions involve their ears. Dogs usually don’t understand their owner’s language, contrary to what you may think. However, they DO understand their emotions, so they communicate the only way they know how, through facial expressions and sometimes by their voice, via whining, whimpering, growling, and barking.

Eye contact between humans and dogs is essential for social interaction between the species. Dogs establish eye contact with humans when they can’t solve a problem on their own. It also helps them determine whether communication is relevant and directed at them—this because dogs usually ignore human pointing gestures when the human eyes aren’t visible.

With that said, enjoy all these expressions your puppy makes and finally understand what they all mean! 

Head tilting

When your pup tilts his head, you may think it’s incredibly cute, but that look tells you that he’s genuinely interested in what you’re saying. If you say something that doesn’t include a trigger word they’re used to hearing like “come,” “sit,” “stay,” “quiet,” “hey buddy,” etc., they will tilt their head, because they really don’t know what you’re saying!

What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean

Head Lowering

That lowered gaze she gives you is not a passive-aggressive look, it’s a sign of submission. It’s not that different from blinking or squinting during eye contact. You can consider this a healthy dog-human relationship, so give her a good pat and tell her she’s a good girl. 

Avoiding eye contact

If your pup avoids eye contact with you, that’s an issue. Usually, it means your dog has trust issues. This is particularly common with rescue dogs that have been abused. It’s crucial that your dog has eye contact with you because it signals trust and comfort. Give it time and keep reinforcing good behavior, and he should increase the trust between you and him.  


Eyebrow-raising means a sign of alertness and interest and is the perfect time to engage with your doggo. Teach her a new trick or go out and play a game of fetch. You will start to see a pattern develop that tells you when she’s ready to play.

What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean

Blinking or squinting during eye contact

When your dog makes eye contact with you and blinks or squints, it means he’s observing what you’re thinking, especially when you’re giving a command. When he’s squinting, it’s the same thing and could be read as appeasement—a good sign that your pup lives to appease his human.  

Repetitive Squinting or blinking

When your pup is repeatedly squinting or blinking at you, this could mean he’s in pain or is ill. Rapid blinking can indicate fear or stress, so it’s a good idea to get him checked out by your vet if it continues. If he does it to other dogs, it could mean a sign of aggression.   

Ear flattening

Watch for this expression, because it’s not a good sign. Usually, when she pulls her ears tight against her head, it could be a sign of fear or aggression. Conversely, it’s also a sign of an ear infection, so keep an eye on it. If it’s done often, it might be a good idea to visit the vet.

What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean


Besides being tired, yawning could also indicate stress. If it’s repetitive and especially if it’s done in moments of stress, reassure him with a soothing massage behind his ears, which triggers a calming sensation. Soft words and even a hug helps, much like it does for humans.


You may think lip licking is something your pup does after finishing his meal or a tasty bone, but it usually means his desire to submit to you. It could also mean anxiety if an anxious situation arises. If there’s no anxiety-provoking situation, consider it a positive form of puppy communication. 

Smiling or grinning

Yes, your doggo smiles! It may look cute, and you may think it signifies she’s happy, content, or in agreement with you. However, when a dog lifts his lips to show his canine teeth and incisors, it’s a sign of excitement, particularly if he’s on a walk or a dog ride. Smiling could also be a sign of submission, but usually when they’re around other doggies, not humans.  

What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean

Nose wrinkling

Yes, it means what you think it means, especially if your dog shows his teeth—he’s angry. When he snarls, watch him. If this happens when he’s around other dogs or humans, consider removing him from the situation. When his ears go up, and he stares steadily, it means a growl is coming and maybe an attack, if he thinks you’re in danger.


With us humans, we can determine the difference between a smile or a grimace. It’s the same with your doggo. When she draws back her lips horizontally, and you can see all her teeth, it typically means discomfort or fear. When it accompanies ear flattening, it could mean she’s in pain, so watch her expression to see if it continues.


If your dog intently stares at you or someone else without blinking, watch out. He perceives you as a threat. This usually happens if you adopt a dog and haven’t gotten used to your mannerisms. This is also true if the dog was a rescue and was trained to be scared, or was forced to be mean, due to conditioning. If this happens to you, avert your gaze and relax your body; this signals to the dog that you don’t want trouble.

What Your Dog’s Expressions Really Mean

Tightly-closed mouth

This expression usually means tension in your pooch. It may be from a stressful situation or a loud noise. If it continues, consider identifying the culprit and getting some assistance from your vet. Alternatively, if the sides of the muzzle are soft, you don’t need to worry. Your dog is content and happy.

Plush Paws Products

Now that you know the most common facial expressions your doggo makes, you’ll know by their excited look when it’s time to go for a joyride. And to ensure both of you enjoy the ride, check out our shop here for all our customizable car seat covers. We have various sizes, patterns, colors, and fabric to match your car decor perfectly and protect your seats from hair, mud, dirt, or anything else your pup may leave behind.

Dog Car Seat Covers

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