German Shepherd’s Body Language – All You Should Know

While we can’t verbally converse with our pets, body language always accompanies the constant exchange of information. Whether it’s when your dog looks away, licks his lips, or has his tail tucked between his legs. But how can you recognize your pet’s body language?

To be successful in recognizing your German Shepherd’s body language, closely observe everything your dog does – from the tip of his nose to his wagging tail. Dogs utilize their whole body to be able to communicate with us. This includes their tail, ear placement, eyes, muzzle, tongue, legs and body position, and more.

German Shepherds communicate through body language conveyed through visual, acoustic, olfactory, and tactile signals. This includes both intense or avoidant eye contact, tilting their ears forward or backward, tail wagging in different manners, panting, head bobbing, posture arrangement, and much more.

In this article, you will find information about how the German Shepherd communicates and how we can actually understand and communicate back to our dog.

How Do You Know If A German Shepherd Likes You?

German Shepherds, just like most dog breeds, show their affection through their behaviour. They get super excited even after a short separation, snuggle and lean against you. Their tails will waggle in every direction and will bark in a friendly manner. Rolling on their back and showing their belly is also a strong sign that they want to play with you.

Signals of canine communication

Dogs possess a vast array of possible behaviors through which they can express themselves to other dogs, animals, and humans.

Visual signals

German shepherds generally will use visual signals to convey information – in simplest terms, they will position their posture in such a manner as to express a particular message or emotion they are feeling at that given moment.


German Shepherds have preserved a majority of their ancestral wolf’s signals for communication, yet they have adapted many of them to the challenges of human social life. According to the publication „Barking in family dogs: an ethological approach,” dogs send different messages with their barking, depending on the tone, rhythm, and frequency. In addition, dogs are also able to determine the source of the sound they hear with an accuracy of two angular degrees!

Much like visual signals, dogs will use vocalization sounds to express their emotional states and feelings. They also adjust the context and reactions of their owner to match their acoustic communication. For example, your German Shepherd may learn to use a characteristic form of barking whenever he wants you to take him for a walk. Naturally, he will learn these dependencies only if you are responsive to his expectations.


As humans, we are unlikely to pay much attention to smell, or at least within the context of communication. Nevertheless, it is significantly different in animals. The sense of smell in dogs is well developed.

According to the publication „Communication in Dogs”, the high olfactory sensitivity of dogs (10,000-100,000 times that of humans) allows dogs to access social and contextual information through just the sense of smell. Body odors carry chemical signals that have evolved precisely to communicate with other animals.


Tactile communication in dogs is quite distinct and designed to convey a variety of messages. Dogs use tactile communication, for example, to demonstrate dominance by placing their paws on a submissive dog’s back or gripping its muzzle.

Positioning the head over another dog’s shoulder is a form of greeting or displaying sexual affection. Interestingly, licking another dog’s muzzle can be used both for grooming and to express dominance. On the other hand, lying down together shows affinity.

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As you will see later, these tactile signals have kept their antagonistic or friendly meaning even in human-dog communication. I will write on this more down below.

German Shepherd’s body language

As I mentioned above, without the capability to verbally communicate with you (except for barking), your German Shepherd will need to use body language to convey his emotions, feelings, or information to you.

Looking away

A common sign of compliance. When you try to read his demeanor and he doesn’t look intently into your eyes for too long, it indicates that you are in charge. Don’t confuse this with fear. It is a sign of respect and recognition of the existing hierarchy between the two of you.

Intense focus and gazing at one object, person, or animal.

This is a possible sign of aggression. While this sometimes means that your German Shepherd is confused by what is going on, it is often a sign that he will bark – or worse – bite. Take a look at whether or not his coat is standing up. Often, we say that the dog has bristled.

Dilated pupils

Having dilated pupils when the dog is in a dimly lit area or the dark is normal, as it is for you and me. On the other hand, dilated pupils in daylight are a sign that the dog may be feeling anxious or stressed.

I suggest you consider seeing your vet if this symptom persists more often. Perhaps it’s nothing wrong, or your dog has something going wrong with his eyes.

Open mouth and panting

Your dog may be tired from physical activity or is feeling stressed. If your dog won’t stop panting, it is probably due to something he is afraid of or not used to. The reason could also be due to the fear of separation or the presence of an unfamiliar guest.

Standing ears

Standing ears can imply several things. First, it may simply reflect an interest or curiosity in something he is hearing. The dog may be excited while playing. It is not out of the question that he may be wary, nervous, or panicked by a sudden sound or impending danger. The best way to determine the cause is to look at his other body language and surroundings. We will learn more when we take a dog’s body language into account holistically – that is, we try to assess the entirety of his behavior.

Ears tilted back

Ears tilted back can indicate that your German Shepherd is relaxed, calm, and displaying a friendly disposition. If you notice that his ears are pointing backward, it means that you have created an environment and conditions in which he feels comfortable. Try to maintain this atmosphere and avoid sudden, loud sounds that could frighten your dog.

Growling and teeth brushing

Growling and barking canines are the most common signs of aggression. This is one of the easiest types of body language to read in a German Shepherd. They are strong and fast, so you should stop doing what irritates them! This is also not a good time to show your dominance. You can try to distract him with his favorite toys while using a calm but confident tone of voice.


A yawning dog can simply show fatigue but can also indicate that the dog is stressed. Yawning is also a common sign of submissiveness or anxiety that something may be wrong with him. If your dog yawns all the time, ask yourself if there is anything he might be stressed about. Although, he might be simply bored.

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Dogs sigh when they feel relaxed and content. My German Shepherd yawns the most when he’s lying down and resting.

Lip licking and tongue smacking

Licking in dogs means that the dog feels like being alone for a while. If your dog turns away from you while licking and licking, he may be trying to tell you that he doesn’t want to be cuddled or touched.

Laying On Its Back

A shepherd lying on its back has complete trust in you. Dogs love to sleep on their backs, but they don’t do it when they don’t trust their surroundings. That’s when they are most vulnerable. Therefore, if your dog sleeps or rests this way, you can be proud and happy, because he is submissive and acknowledges that you are the king or queen!

Its head stays low to the ground and its back is high

This pose is a sign that the dog is in the mood to have fun. This is called the play bow. When your German shepherd manifests such body language, it’s fun to imitate similar movements. You will let your pup know that you also feel like playing with him. Even if your dog is lying down and resting, when he sees such movements he will immediately get excited by them and be ready to play together.

What Does Tail Waving Mean in a German Shepherd?

  • Slow wagging – contentment, and eagerness to play or concern about something he heard or saw. This is a less social waving than other types of tail communication. When the tail is neither high nor low, it usually indicates a sign of insecurity. A tail in this position can adjust quickly depending on the situation. If you are talking to your dog or walking with him, he may unconsciously slowly wave his tail. This is something I could compare to the slight smile on our faces.
  • Fast tail waving – means great fun or worry. When playing together, it is a joy. But if your pooch meets a new person or sees an unfamiliar dog, he may feel anxious. Usually, nervousness is accompanied by a stiff and straight tail.
  • Tail tucked between the legs – this is a sign of fear. With this behavior, the dog may be accompanied by trembling, panting, and drooling. This is a sign that your German shepherd is unsure of something and that something is making him very uncomfortable. If the cause was a sound or something harmless, try to calm him down by speaking to him in a gentle tone or entertaining him with something.
  • Tail wagging high in the air – usually indicates strong excitement or a display of dominance. It can also be a sign that he is challenging another animal.
  • A low-slung tail – indicates that the dog is relaxed.
  • A tail that remains about halfway up – means that the dog has not yet fully decided on his reaction or is unsure of his emotions.

Why Does a Shepherd Sleep by the Head?

Not every dog lover lets dogs into their bed but when they do, dogs have their preferences for sleeping together. Some love to sleep next to their owner’s head.

Although German shepherds are a large breed, they will still have a taste for you. Whether as a small puppy or as an already grown dog. German shepherds are very social dogs who feel a strong need to build a bond with their owners. They desire to feel comfortable and at ease in your presence.

Why might a German Shepherd want to sleep next to its owner’s head?

  1. The first reason why a dog may want to sleep near your head is that they want to be close to you. For them, the head is where all your expressions and tones of voice come from.
  2. The second reason may be the warmth of your head and the desire for more comfort. It is likely that they are laying down next to your head or even trying to lay down on top of it to make themselves more comfortable. It is through the head, hands, and feet that most heat flows to and from our body. It may look a little selfish, but it is also pleasant to know that you are the source of his relaxation.
  3. Still, there is a chance that he is afraid of something. If your dog is often anxious or fearful, it is natural that he will run to you – his protector. It is possible that your dog is not afraid of something in the immediate environment, but feels constant anxiety. Because of this, he may feel a constant need for proximity or to soothe his fear.
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It might seem strange, but German shepherds are generally more inclined to lay down next to their owner’s head. Even if your bed is small, your dog will find a way to get as close to you as possible. If you don’t like his habit, you should insist that he stay off the bed. Separating a small patch on which he could sleep, such as his legs, is often difficult for them to grasp.

Why does my German Shepherd lie down all the time?

Lying down is a normal thing. Every dog likes to lie down. Especially after intense play or running. Even if he happens to lie down all day, this is not a cause for concern. Nevertheless, you should be a little concerned if they start lying down and hiding from you for more than a day. Don’t worry for now. There are plenty of reasons why this might be the case.

  • Fatigue. He may just be tired, especially if he’s had a lot of exercises before, such as a long walk or hours of playing with a frisbee. Equally, the weather can affect his activity, just as it sometimes does for us.
  • Exhaustion from constant play. If he is constantly running around the house or in the garden during the day, he probably lies down often to regain energy. You don’t have to worry, he’s just having fun and resting in between playing!
  • If you have a puppy, expect him to lie down quite often. Fatigue is a common symptom in puppies of all dog breeds. Sleep is essential for healthy development. Let your puppy sleep as long as possible. Psst! Did you know that puppies can sleep up to 18 hours a night? Seriously.
  • A possible symptom of depression. German shepherds are prone to depression if their needs are not met. It doesn’t matter if this is due to lack of food, lack of sufficient interaction with you, or insufficient exercise. Remember that German shepherds need lots of mental stimulation and playtime, not just a walk on a leash for a so-called „oval out”! If you notice signs of depression, consult your veterinarian.
  • Soliciting attention. Some dogs are shy and won’t be brave enough to constantly seek your approval. The best way to see if he is doing this is to watch his eyes. If your shepherd’s eyes wander back and forth, looking at you and then somewhere else, it means he wants your attention. Walk up to him and see if he starts wagging his tail at you.