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How to Read German Shepherd Body Language (9 Signs Explained)

Genevieve Dugal

By Genevieve Dugal

Sable German Shepherd stacking

German Shepherds don’t communicate with words and phrases like we do, but they have an extensive range of body signs and movements that you can learn to decode to communicate better. Of course, every dog is different, and the time you spend with your pet can help you understand its specifics. This guide covers the most frequent body language among our canine friends, particularly the German Shepherd. It should help you recognize their emotions and requests. So, are you ready to become the next dog whisperer?

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Some Postures to Know

To begin with, here are some of the most easily recognizable postures in your canine companion:

1. If your German Shepherd wants to play:

german shepherd playing frisbee at the garden
Image Credit: kscholl, Pixabay


  • His pupils are dilated
  • Its tail is held upwards and wags from side to side
  • His ears are pricked up
  • His mouth is often open, tongue hanging out
  • His front legs are bent, and the front of his body touches the ground
  • His posterior is raised

2. If your German Shepherd is alert:

german shepherd leaning over the fence
Image Credit: Nate Tribbs, Pixabay
  • His eyes are wide open
  • His tail is horizontal, in line with the body, and it can wiggle gently from side to side
  • His ears are pricked up as if trying to get closer to the sound that disturbs him
  • His mouth is closed
  • His body is tilted slightly forward, on the tips of its paws

3. If your German Shepherd is relaxed:

two german shepherd dogs sitting on grass
Image Credit: Yama Zsuzsanna Márkus, Pixabay
  • His ears are in their natural position
  • His mouth is slightly open, tongue hanging out
  • He holds his head high
  • His tail is down, and it does not wag (or very little)
  • He sits flat on its paws
  • He stands up straight, without any pressure on his limbs

4. If your German Shepherd is afraid:

scared german shepherd
Image Credit: Brett_Hondow, Pixabay
  • His hair stands on end on his back
  • His pupils are dilated
  • His tail is between his legs
  • He wrinkles his muzzle
  • He tucks the corners of his mouth back
  • His lips are slightly open, and he sometimes bares his teeth
  • His ears are flattened towards the back of his head
  • His body is lowered slightly to the ground as if trying to take up as little space as possible

5. If your German Shepherd is getting aggressive:

german shepherd barking close up
Image Credit: Christel SAGNIEZ, Pixabay
  • His hair stands on end on his back
  • His tail is pricked back and very stiff. It can sometimes vibrate or move slowly from side to side, always staying stiff
  • His ears are set apart, forward, and very stiff
  • His mouth is open, and he shows his teeth and gums
  • Its legs are very stiff and tilted slightly forward
  • His body is also tilted forward

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Other Signs to Know

Your pup can speak with their entire body, but sometimes it is only one of their limbs (tail, ears, legs, etc.) that can tell you about their state of mind. Here are a few moves to remember (but there are many more):

6. His tail

liver german shepherd in the snow
Image Credit: Eudyptula, Shutterstock
  • Stirs slowly, pointing downwards: he has not understood what is expected of him
  • Move very quickly from left to right, directed downwards: he has understood your order and is ready to obey you
  • Stirs uncontrollably in all directions: he is very, very happy!

7. His posture

german shepherd dog with his owner at the park
Image Credit: Happy monkey, Shutterstock
  • He lies on his back: he is totally submissive
  • He lifts only one paw: he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on (or he has sniffed an unfamiliar scent)
  • He places his head or its paw on you: he demands attention (or a treat)

8. His stare

german shepherd dog
Image Credit: Rob Wee, Pixabay
  • He repeatedly blinks when looking at something: he wants to play with the object in question
  • His eyes look in all directions, except towards you: he submits, or he has understood his stupidity (after a reprimand, for example)

9. His mouth

german shepherd panting
Image Credit: MasatoTsuda, Pixabay
  • He yawns: This can be a sign of stress or worry (to be assessed depending on the situation)
  • He looks like he’s smiling, his tongue sticking out a little: he’s happy, or he wants to play
  • Closed lips, head tilted slightly forward: he is attentive and interested in what is happening in front of him
  • He licks you: it is a sign of friendship or appeasement. In puppies and young dogs, this can also be a way of letting you know they are hungry

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Bonus: How Your German Shepherd’s Body Language Can Tell You He’s in Pain

Observing your German Shepherds body language can also tell you about his health. Obviously, some of these signs aren’t hard to spot — if he has a sprained leg, he’ll show it by moaning and hopping, just like we would with a sprained ankle. However, non-verbal gestures can be a bit subtle.

Indeed, if your dog is in pain, he may be showing physical and behavioral signs:

Physical Signs

  • Whining: If your dog whines or complains in your presence or when alone, and this is not his habit, he may be having pain or discomfort. Some dogs cry out loud in the anguish of the pain.
  • Licking: A dog in pain will tend to lick the limb or the part of its body that is painful. This attitude, often overly compulsive, is meant to be calming. If you notice this behavior, check that your animal is not injured. If there are no outward signs, the pain may be internal, or he may even have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Restlessness: A dog in pain doesn’t always know what position to sit in. He tends to get up, lie down or sit down, changing his position regularly, as if he were looking for the one that causes him the least amount of pain.
  • Whale eyes: If your dog is ill, his gaze changes and expresses his suffering. He has a sad look and can have red eyes or dilated pupils. Also, he may rub his eyes or try to close them.
  • Gasping: If your dog starts to pant excessively, he may be suffering from internal pain in his lungs or heart or have a feeling of poor breathing.
  • Limping: If your pet limps, it is a sign of pain in a limb. Limping can be due to pain or a fracture, but also to the formation of bone cancer or osteosarcoma.
  • Low tail: A dog in pain will tend to keep its tail and head down.
sick german shepherd
Image Credit: Goran Horvat, Pixabay

Behavioral Signs

  • Fatigue and lethargy: If your pet is in pain, he may appear downhearted or tired. He can be prostrate, isolate himself in a quiet and secluded place or, on the contrary, constantly solicit your attention.
  • Loss of appetite: If your dog sulks at his bowl or refuses to eat, this is a worrying sign, especially if it is his usual diet that he enjoys. This loss of appetite can have many origins, such as stress or worry about a change, or it can result from pain or illness that prevents him from moving around or having enough to eat.
  • Aggression and irritability: A dog in pain may refuse to be approached or touched. If this happens suddenly when it is not normal for your pet, you need to be concerned. Your dog may also growl to show you that he is refusing contact because of the pain. He may also refuse to go out, follow you, or play.

What To Do When These Signs Appear

Don’t let the pain set in. If your dog is not used to complaining or if you find that his behavior is suddenly changing, you need to take action because a dog is much more resilient than humans. If he is in pain, it is because he is in more pain than we could endure.

The first thing to do is to consult your veterinarian. The specialist will seek to effectively relieve pain for the comfort and well-being of the animal but also to determine its origin. This is because dogs can be in pain from an injury or a fracture and from illness.

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Final Thoughts

Obviously, your German Shepherd also communicates through his voice: barking, whining, growling, and other howls can tell you what he is feeling. It is through patience and time that you will learn to decipher his language perfectly, or almost. And after a few years in his company, you will have no secrets from each other!

Featured Image Credit: TanyaCPhotography, Shutterstock

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