‘What does it mean when…?’ A guide to your dog’s behaviour

Brown dog licking their lips

Every dog has their quirks, from having to give you big licks first thing in the morning to sleeping on their back in what rarely looks like the most comfortable position. But what exactly do these physical habits and dog behaviour really mean?

You may have wondered if your dog is trying to tell you something through their behaviour. Are they comfortable… happy… worried? As much as we would love for our dogs to be able to talk to us, watching and understanding their behaviour is the next best thing.

Take a look through our list of common dog behaviours to help answer what your pup could be trying to tell you.

Black and white dog giving its paw to owner

What does it mean when my dog licks me?

For the most part, licking is good. It’s natural and instinctive and is a way for them to groom, bond and show empathy. In fact, it’s often considered a reassuring throwback to when their mothers licked them as a puppy. They also may be saying ‘hello’ or ‘I love you’, particularly if you’re the one they lick the most.

However, excessive licking can be a sign of anxiety or that they’re in some kind of pain. You know your dog best, so if they seem to be licking more frequently and you’re worried, don’t hesitate to pop to the vets.


What does it mean when my dog stares at me?

More often than not, they’ll be staring to try and understand your intentions through non-verbal cues. Add this to a head-tilt and pricked ears and this behaviour could mean that your dog is looking for further clarification on any instructions you’ve given.

A stare could also simply mean they love you. However, don’t try to hold their head and ‘force’ them into a loving stare. It could be interpreted as a threat.

Staring can also convey hunger and it’s important to remember that if your dog is maintaining eye contact while still and stiff, it could be a form of aggression.

What does it mean when my dog puts their paw on me?

It’s likely to be their way of saying ‘I love you’. We pet and stroke our dogs as a sign of affection and they’re doing it right back. If your dog’s overall body language is comfortable – i.e. they’re lying on their back or sitting cosy next to you – then there’s nothing to worry about.

However, if their ears are flat or they’re yawning, then putting a paw on you could be a sign of anxiety or insecurity.

Yawning Shih tzu lies on lawn

What does it mean when my dog sleeps on their back?

Although it looks anything but comfortable, sleeping on their back may just be a position that feels good. It means they’re not putting any extra pressure on their muscles and joints, so they can completely relax. Your dog could also be trying to keep cool. Their only sweat glands are in their paw pads, so it often makes sense for them to keep their paws in the air to help regulate their temperature.

What does it mean when my dog yawns?

Again, it could be a sign of love! If you yawn and your dog soon follows, it’s likely they’re mirroring you to show empathy. Yawning can also be linked to anxiety and stress when done excessively as it’s seen as a signal of feeling overwhelmed. It could also be a way for them to avoid conflict, showing any potential aggressors that they’re not there to fight. And finally, it could just be because they’re ready for bed.

What does it mean when my dog shakes their fur?

There are many reasons for a shake. It’s usually a natural response to their environment and can be straightforward to determine one kind of shake from another. Shaking off water after a swim is simply them getting dry. Shivering on the other hand can be a sign that they’re cold, so it’s best to get home and cosy up.

It may also be a sign of them being stressed as they try and “shake-off” the feeling, especially if you’ve kept your dog dry and warm.

There are a number of medical issues however that can cause shaking and muscle tremors. These include muscle weakness, ear problems, nausea and general pain. If your dog seems to be shaking without reason or you’re unsure why, it’s best to visit the vet for a check-up.

Tricolour dog stood on bed

What does it mean when my dog follows me everywhere?

This is social behaviour, rooted in the love and trust that your dog has for you. You make them feel safe, so they’re following their leader. Your dog may be using this behaviour as a way to get treats, or they may just be being nosy and want to know what’s going on.

Alternatively, your dog could be suffering with separation anxiety, especially if they seem to be getting anxious as you get ready to leave. Mental stimulation toys, like a Kong filled with their favourite Butcher’s recipe, can help keep your dog exercised and entertained, and more confident during alone time.

What does it mean when my dog’s nose is dry?

Your dog’s sense of smell is one of their biggest helping hands in life, and because scent particles stick to damp surfaces better, it’s important for their nose to stay wet. However, there are some instances when their nose could be dry. Being dehydrated after exercise or a nap is common, as is being in a room that’s too warm. A dry nose is only a cause for concern if it’s also visibly red, as this could be sunburn. Similarly, if there’s discharge or blood coming from their nose, it’s a sign to get to the vets.

Black and white dog with paws on packs of Butcher's Dog Food. Surrounded by packs of Butcher's Dog Food

Unexplained dog behaviour?

Your dog’s behaviour could mean a number of things, but opting for a complete and balanced diet helps to keep your four-legged friend happy and healthy which, in turn, can reduce unwanted behaviours. You know your dog best though so if anything seems out of the ordinary or if you notice a dog behaviour that you can’t explain, it’s best to speak with your vet.

For more advice on your dog’s behaviour, take a look at the RSPCA’s website here.



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