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Understanding the Body Language of German Shepherds

Understanding the Body Language of German Shepherds

by Andrew James

German Shepherds are known for their loyalty, protectiveness and overall high intelligence. But as German Shepherd Dog (GSD) owners know well, each dog has a personality all their own. Understanding how your dog communicates helps with both bonding and training.

Understanding the Body Language of German Shepherds
Star, Jeanne Melanson

While the body language of dogs is a large topic, there are several quick tips you can learn very quickly. Our complete overview of German Shepherd body language is below:

Natural Abilities and Inclinations

German Shepherds are natural protectors, which is why they’re often used as guard dogs and in law enforcement. This natural ability to protect is why they’re often a great choice to help with security around the house too. Unfortunately, sometimes a GSD’s inherent suspicion of the unfamiliar can lead to unwanted aggressive behavior.

The best way to prevent this is to socialize your dog at a young age. Get your GSD used to being around people and other dogs. They’ll be far less likely to grow into an aggressive animal, although their natural instinct to protect your household will remain – only in a far more positive manner.

Every GSD is Unique

Your dog’s personality will be reflected in their body language. This means there’s no such thing as rules like, “When a dog does trait X he or she is feeling emotion Y.” Instead, you want to notice relative differences in your dog’s overall behavior – these differences in body language will reflect their mood and thoughts.

The Tail’s Tale

As explained in an issue of Current Biology, a dog’s tail does a lot of his or her communicating. Generally, the muscles on the right side of the tail display positive emotions while the left displays negative. If your GSD wags his tail more to the right of his or her body, that dog is happy. More to the left and the dog is nervous, anxious or aggressive.

Tail Positions:

Tail wagging fast and wide – This means the dog is excited, happy and energetic. For instance, this type of tail wagging usually occurs when a GSD sees his or her owner after an absence.

Tail held high and straight – This means the dog feels confident and in control of a situation. The dog is feeling good.

Tail lowered – This means the dog is relaxed. However, while the tail is lowered, it is not between the dog’s legs.

Tail lowered between legs – This signifies that the dog is afraid. The dog may also be upset or embarrassed.

Tail held loose and horizontal – This is when a dog is unsure about a person or thing. They’re not necessarily ready to challenge the uncertain person, but they’re not quite ready to make friends yet, either.

Tail wagging slowly – A dog does this when he or she is trying to determine if you’re a friend or an enemy. This is common when a dog meets a person for the first time. It’s a slightly more positive action than a tail held loose and horizontal.

Tail held horizontally, but stiff and with a fast wag – This is an aggressive stance. The dog is agitated.

Body Positions

Beyond the tail, there are many other ways a dog can express their feelings and intentions. Some common body language signs include:

Belly-up with exposed neck and/or genitals – This is a sign of submissiveness. The dog is telling you you’re in charge.

Bowed down on front paws. Rear held up with wagging tail – When a dog does this, he or she wants to play and interact with you. Dogs will do this to people and other dogs. Additional sings of wanting to play include pawing in the air and barking.

Lying down with one paw tucked under the body – This is a relaxed dog. He or she feels happy, safe and content. This is usually an invitation to pet the dog.

Frozen or stiff body – Be wary around this dog. He or she is uncomfortable, doesn’t want to be touched and may bite if approached.

Bristled fur along neck and back – Don’t approach this dog. When a dog raises their fur, they’re scared, submissive and probably feeling cornered. A dog like this might even attack, so be careful.

Facial Features:

Like people, you can also tell a lot about a dog by their facial expressions. Here are some common ways a dog uses his or her ears, eyes and mouth to convey feelings:

Raised upper lip, bared teeth – This is a warning, usually accompanied by a growl. If a dog is snarling at you, don’t approach any further and don’t make any sudden movements. This is an aggressive move.

Corners of the mouth pulled back – Different than a snarl. A dog pulls their mouth back when they feel happy, relaxed and comfortable around you. In many ways, this is basically a smile.

Cocked head and twitching ears – This dog is confused about something and trying to learn. Typically, this shows interest but be careful as it may also indicate fear. You’ll have to look for additional body language cues in order to determine what the dog feels.

Ears forward – This one is pretty straight-forward. The dog is trying to figure out what a sound is or where it’s coming from.

Whites of eyes exposed in a half-moon shape – This dog doesn’t want to be bothered. The dog may feel threatened, cornered or scared. Just leave the dog alone and, without approaching, try to alleviate whatever may be upsetting the dog.  

If Your Dog Could Talk…

…then we’d never have to guess about how he or she is feeling. But body language is still a great substitute. By understanding how dogs use their face, tail and body to express themselves you can always have a general idea of how a dog — even an unfamiliar one – is feeling. When you apply that general knowledge to a dog whose personality you know well, you can gain an even greater understanding of that dog.

Understanding your German Shepherd dog’s use of body language helps with bonding, training and even identification of medical issues. So just because your dog can’t talk doesn’t mean he or she has nothing to say. You just have to know how to listen. Here’s to great communication between you and your four-legged friend.

For more info on dog body language, visit us at  Also on Twitter and Facebook

Guest Author: Andrew James 



I hope you’ve enjoyed, “Understanding the Body Language of German Shepherds

You may also like, “German Shepherds: Man’s Or Woman’s Best Guardian



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8 thoughts on “Understanding the Body Language of German Shepherds

  1. Hi Jeanne , my dog Max is a real delight and turned 6 months old today ! My concern is that he is nipping a little and I provide him with enough toys to distract him . My vet said that Max see’s my hand as an extension of the toys , but what about my feet !!!
    Thank you
    Frank Zee

    • Hi Frank, I imagine your dog Max sees your feet as quite tempting to nip at. All those wiggling toes, and such. Cats love toes too. All I can say about the nipping is to stay consistent and take your dog’s attention away from doing that. Redirect him to a toy. Good luck, and thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. I have a 6 month old GSP named Max . He is being trained by a very well known trainer and I am seeing great results . My concern is that he still snips and occasionally tries to chew on my slippers ( while I’m wearing them ) and still bites my hand . I’m trying to figure out either what I have done wrong or what should I be doing . Max’s trainer said just say no and ignore him . That doesn’t help .

    • Hello Frank. As far as Max chewing on your slippers, my advice is to give him an alternative — a toy he CAN chew on. He has to understand that only certain things (his toys) are allowable. So when you see him start on you slippers, say ‘no’ and give him his toy. Never give him another shoe that you care for, thinking that’s okay. That sends the wrong message. As for biting, also a big “no”. Be adamant. Be consistent. Be patient. Don’t give in. I hope this helps. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Hello I just have a question. I have a three year old Shepard (Kiara) that my boyfriend and I got when she was two. Kiara and I connected immediately, it became very easy for me to understand her. But when she is around cats ( no longer have any cats) and my newly adopted chicks she tremors and shacks. She have full focus on the animal that is difficult to break. I worried that she’s thinking of a snack or if it’s her being protective. Thanks for reading and can’t wait to hear back from you

    • Hey Kris. I had a dog that did that too – shook and trembled when around another, smaller animal. She had attacked and killed some goslings that I had when she was just a young dog. I really let her know that I was NOT happy! After that, she never went after any of my chicks, bunnies, or kittens, but she sure did seem focused like yours does. It may be that yours had the same experience. Maybe she’d love to “play” or snack, but knows she can’t. Hope that helps.

    • I really miss my Shepherd too. 🙁 Best dog, ever. Thanks for the compliment on the new look. I’m not done. (Can’t quite find the look that says, “YES! This is it!” 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Rascal and Rocco! I’ll be seeing you around … 🙂

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