How to Read Bulldog Body Language: Understanding “Dog Talk!”


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Having a Bulldog, you know how important it is to be able to communicate with your dog. Aside from breed stereotypes, there are also dog body language myths that might lead you to misunderstand your best friend, so here’s how to read your Bulldog’s body language.

To read your Bulldog’s body language, you should pay attention to his tail, head position, face, and limb movements. Growls, gearing limbs to spring up, teeth-baring, and a lowered tail are negatives, whereas a smile, belly-baring, broad or rapid tail wagging, and eased back ears are all positives.

This post will serve as a guide to reading your Bulldog’s body language so you can connect better. You’ll also be introduced, in some cases, to human equivalents, so you’ll have a better frame of reference. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to figure out your Bulldog’s mood and even his opinion of your behavior in some cases.

A Bulldog lying on his back exposing his belly. How to Read Bulldog Body Language

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Effectively communicating with your Bulldog is a two-way thing that ultimately increases the bond between you. But first, let’s look at how Bulldogs communicate.

How Do Bulldogs Communicate?

I’m always fascinated with “dog speak,” and I love watching my dog’s body language, particularly when she is around other dogs. If you are a new Bulldog owner, you’ll soon get to know how he communicates with humans, dogs, and other animals. So, how do Bulldogs communicate?

Bulldogs communicate by various dog vocalizations such as barking, growling, snorting, whining, and sighing. They also use other gestures by utilizing body language signals, e.g., position and movement of the tail and ears, and body posture and positions.

Successfully communicating with your Bulldog through body language also helps when training as you’ll strengthen your understanding of your dog’s emotions.

An important point to note is when trying to read your Bulldog’s body language, you have to evaluate the context of the situation and your dog’s current environment.

You have to look at the whole picture!

Bulldog Body Language

Bulldog body language cannot be reverse-engineered from human body language. However, the fact that the breed evolved with human interference means that Bulldogs are inherently able to tap into human body language, and some dog communication and body language is easier to pick up on naturally.

If you find your dog looking guilty, for example, you’ll already know he made a mess! Similarly, if you’re visibly upset, you’ll find him getting affected too. 

If you’re reading this and haven’t yet gotten a Bulldog, then rest assured that you won’t have to mathematically calculate and cross-reference each move he makes. You will generally get the vibe, and he, too, will understand you. Bulldogs are emotionally intelligent even if their working intelligence is low. That said, it is never smart to rely on vagueness for communication.

You value your Bulldog, and he’s going to be a huge part of your family. Clarity in communication is ideal, and though I can’t write an article to explain to him what your body language means, I have compiled a list of actions, indicators, and gestures you should know about. This will lend understanding to the functional yet vague non-verbal communication that you and your Bulldog might otherwise have.

Watch How to Understand Your Dog’s Body Language…

Bulldog Belly Showing

This might seem like your Bulldog wants you to pat his belly, and to some degree, he does. But the actual meaning of this gesture is to show submission and trust. Whether it is 90% trust and 10% submission or 10% trust and 90% submission isn’t clear because canines do not separate the two. 

Bulldogs have a fighting spirit and will not submit to someone they don’t trust. If your dog is showing his belly, you may pat or rub it; but if he pees when you do so – please understand that this is involuntary. If you scold him, you might communicate anger with trust making him more reluctant to trust you in the future. 

Growling and Showing Teeth

If your Bulldog growls and shows teeth, it might seem like he is angry and aggressive. This is practical to assume because, of course, he is growling out of anger, not pleasure. However, the “anger” assumption is often misplaced. It can be anything ranging from fear to insecurity that causes aggression in Bulldogs. 

Sometimes, it is simply bad training and miscommunication. Stubborn behavior with Bulldogs can cause frustration, which too can have your dog on edge. If you’re scolding him and he’s doing everything he can to calm you, it is only a matter of time before he catches your emotion and decides it is his time to get upset. 

Continuously scolding your dog is like ignoring your anniversary because your partner left the dishes in the sink! They might be wrong, but you’ve made them upset by being upset. De-escalation is the best strategy with Bulldogs, especially if the growling and teeth-baring are accompanied by:

  • Looking tense
  • Leaning back a little (ready to spring)
  • Lowering body to the ground (again, ready to spring)

It is worth mentioning here that the above scenario with a dog’s own owner is very, very rare and is a sign of a mistreated or unsocialized Bulldog. And if you encounter this, you should de-escalate by distracting him with his favorite toys or treats and get a professional dog trainer’s help immediately.

If you’re thinking about getting a Bulldog, please don’t let a rare scenario illustrated purely for educational purposes discourage you. Well-trained Bulldogs will never do this to their owners.

But if you’re around others, you still need to watch out for this body language. While your dog might be submissive and loving towards you, he may not take the same liking to others. 

Read More: How To Discipline a Bulldog: The Do’s and Dont’s

Bulldog Smiling or Grinning

If your Bulldog seems to smile, you might think he is happy. You would be partially right because dogs are generally happy unless they are upset! The grin, however, is a sign of submission or a side-effect of showing his submission. When your Bulldog pulls back his ears and shows his mouth, it opens in what resembles a human smile. This is unlike belly-baring, though. 

Submission isn’t a mood; it is an acknowledgment. When your Bulldog is feeling lazy and is acknowledging his submissive position, he shows his belly. In contrast, when he feels active and is showing submission, he will smile, followed by a flurry of activity that is an invitation to play. The smile is his way of showing you that his activity isn’t supposed to be threatening.

In some cases, he will bend one of his front limbs, which further indicates the absence of intention to attack (unlike showing claws). He might, alongside this, jump up and down and start leaning on you. He has done his part showing you that none of this means he’s interested in biting you. Give him his props and accept his energy. It is time to play!

Bulldog Looking Away

You might take this one of two ways, depending on your experiences before. Lack of eye contact can be seen as guilt or the desire not to communicate. The former is true while the latter isn’t. 

But to get more precise, turning their head sideways is a dog’s version of the ostrich’s head in the sand move. He doesn’t want to look you in the eye because he perceives that as aggression. It is no coincidence that he looks sideways only when you are scolding or if he has done something seriously wrong.

Either way, pushing it and continuing to scold is not the right way to go.

Suddenly calming down is the best way to get your doggo to see that his “strategy” has worked and that he is indeed a good boy for trying to de-escalate the situation instead of getting into the dog version of arguing why he had the right to make a mess of your Amazon package of Zuke’s Natural Treats, which you purchased with my affiliate link, of course! 

By the way, these treats are great for Bulldogs as they’re only 3.5 calories each, and with the breed being prone to weight gain, they are an ideal healthy treat for both pups and adults.

Bulldog Looking Away. Bulldog Body Language

The Bulldog version of playing lawyer after making a mistake is barking as you discipline him. Turning sideways is the opposite of that and must be rewarded with calmness. You can continue not playing with him if he has made a mess but must let go of your inclination to scold. 

The contradiction between your Bulldog’s low working intelligence and high emotional intelligence means your dog isn’t smart enough to understand why your anger is connected to his actions. Still, he might take it personally that you could feel that way about him.

Bulldog Tail-Wagging

The human interpretation of dogs wagging their tails is a projection of humans waving their arms. This is broadly true because humans do not have tails, and dogs do not have the ability to wave their arms! 

It is only logical to assume that some level of emulation may have passed down the centuries of canine domestication. But a dog’s tail is far more specialized at communication than simply waving to indicate excitement or happiness.

Although English Bulldogs have short and stubby tails (often resembling a corkscrew), you can still read their body language from their tails by looking at the base. Although clues may not be as clearly recognizable as breeds with long tails, they imitate the same signals.

Let’s discuss what each of your Bulldog’s tail movements means.

Tail Wagging to the Right Equals a Human Thumbs Up

I find it amazing that scientists have discovered that left or right tail wagging means your dog is experiencing different emotions.

If your Bulldog’s tail is curved, swooshed, resting, or wagging towards his right, he is happy, relaxed, and positive. This is easy to remember with the following memory device, “right means things are alright.” You might notice this when giving him treats.

Tail Wagging to the Left Equals a Human Thumbs Down

If your Bulldog’s swooshing, curving, resting, or wagging his tail towards his left side, he is not having a good time and could be experiencing negative feelings or fear. You should do whatever you can to reduce his stress and make him less anxious. Take note if you see your Bulldog’s tail wagging to the left in the company of another dominant dog whose tail is wagging to the right.

Fast Tail Wagging Equals a Human Fist Pump

You may naturally pick up on your Bulldog’s excitement when he wags his tail really fast. The speed can vary from breed to breed, and this might be harder to notice with Bulldogs, so you must pay attention.

It won’t be easy to figure out whether your Bulldog is wagging his tail because he is happy or excited. The wags are broader and slower to communicate happiness and short and rapid for excitement. Fortunately, you’re not supposed to figure this out from observing an inch-long tail alone; you should actually look for other clues of excitement like jumping up and down.

Broad Tail Wagging Equals Human Arm-Waving

As mentioned above, broad but fast wags indicate happiness, such as reaching for the treat tin or getting his harness to go for a walk. Since Bulldog tails are too short to be effective as solo signals, you can also watch out for your Bulldog’s smile (covered above) or any other signs of humbleness. 

Another way to figure out your Bulldog’s body language when he is happy is to observe him as he eats food he loves or during an engaging play session. By simply observing his body language, you’re learning how to pick up on subtle cues naturally.

A Tail Held High and Stiff is Like a Confident Human

When trying to decode your Bulldog’s high tail position (even for a short stubby tail), it usually shows his alertness and desire to display dominance. In general, when dogs are alert, their tails will raise, and ears will go up, although the latter is difficult to observe in Bulldogs due to having “rose ears” that fall to the side rather than standing upright or pricked.

Incidentally, erect ears are also seen as a fault in the official Bulldog breed standard.

In this position, your Bulldog’s tail means he is ready to confront whatever caught his attention, such as another interesting dog at the park. A tail held high is also a display of confidence and superiority.

A Lowered Tail is Like a Bowed Head

Humans can bow their heads in respect or submission, depending on the context. Similarly, your Bulldog might be showing social submission in the presence of others or just displaying respect to you. If his tail is neither in a dominant or submissive position, he might be feeling a little unsure and is still weighing up his options.

In some instances, he may even show concern by lowering his tail. Bulldogs with the shortest tails often cannot pull this off because of the rigidity of their stub tail. 

A Wagging Lowered Tail is Like Nail-Biting

While nail-biting is most often portrayed in cartoons as a signifier of concerns, humans rarely nail-bite in public, thanks to cultural disapproval for nail-chomping. Dogs, however, don’t get talked about around the office watercooler, freeing them up to display lowered tail-wagging (their version of nail-biting) when they are anxious.

Once again, very few Bulldogs can pull this off visibly because their tails are too short. That’s why you have to keep an eye out for other signs of anxiousness and stress.

How to Understand The Language of a Dog’s Tail…

Bulldog Turning Sideways

When your Bulldog turns sideways, you might think he’s curious about something that’s at a right angle to you or that he is showing defiance. Both of those are often incorrect and are often projections. If you are too attached to your dog, you might take him looking away personally. If you’re emotionally secure, you might assume his movement has nothing to do with how he feels.

Your Bulldog turns sideways to indicate a lack of desire for confrontation. This is an extension of looking away, albeit more reflective of what your Bulldog thinks. If you’re talking to him more sternly, and he decides to look away, he thinks you’re aggressive, and he should defer to your authority to make things safe.

But if you’re particularly harsh in the way you talk, something I would strongly advise against, he might think he is in danger of being physically punished, and turning sideways is his way of showing he has no intention of defending himself and trusts you to take this as a sign that he doesn’t want a clash.

Looking away doesn’t always develop into turning sideways. In some instances, it turns to growls and teeth-baring, which shows your Bulldog doesn’t feel safe enough to show submission as a way to neutralize the situation. Turning sideways is something you shouldn’t forcefully reverse regardless of the rationale.

Your Bulldog might turn 90 degrees because something caught his attention, or he might do so to avoid contact. Either way, pulling his leash and forcing him in a position where you make eye contact only invites aggression. Avoid this at all costs and use ignoring-driven punishing behaviors as opposed to scolding or forceful deprivation.

Bulldog Ears/Head Up and Stiff Extended Limbs

An almost upright tail also complements this combination. By looking at your Bulldog standing tall with his head up, you can easily conclude that he is alert. There’s some nuance, but you’re mostly right. 

The only ones you should be aware of are when he’s aggressively barking and when he’s silent. Silence signals curiosity, whereas incessant barking is indicative of a willingness to pounce at the “threat.” In both cases, the higher head shows some openness to a threat. 

Bulldogs aren’t typical hunting dogs, and their muscle mass makes them heavy and unfit to hunt anything quicker than a Boston jaywalker. However, they have hunting instincts which means curiosity and threat-detection are not far off from prey detection. 

So, whenever your Bulldog has his head and ears up with his general body language being erect, you can assume it is only a matter of time before he shows true aggression. That’s why distracting him with a toy is a great way to get his attention from whatever he is over cautious about.

Bulldog Shivering With Tail and Head Down

As a responsible dog owner, this state should never be one you witness at home. This is a simple mammalian display of being terrified and is often a reflection of a cruelly treated dog expecting the worst. However, shivering with generally droopy body language can be a result of irrational fear. You might be able to empathize with this if you sleep with the lights on after a Netflix horror binge! 

Just like you might start seeing a man in a trenchcoat when it is, in fact, a hanger, your Bulldog might start thinking he is dying simply because his gut is upset! Bulldogs can get sick easily, and that’s why you should comfort your dog with a calm voice tone and open body language. Relax your own body to let him mirror you and distract him with healthy food and toys. 

Limbs Extended, Belly to the Ground

Finally, I leave you with the indicator of your Bulldog communicating that he wants to be left alone. This is hard to pick up and a counterproductive display on your dog’s part.

When your dog is lying flat, he truly wants his alone time and doesn’t have the energy to play or interact. It is easy to get taken in by how cute he looks and want to pat him or pick him up. Restrain yourself and respect his mood. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Final Thoughts

Bulldogs are pretty expressive with their body language and how they communicate, which means that most people can pick up what emotional state their dogs are in. No one hears their dog growl and thinks, “gee, he sounds very happy!” But this article gives you unique insight into the nuance of each gesture and body position. It even clarifies some wrong assumptions.

In any case, ensure you take each gesture in context and you’ll soon get to know what your new pup is trying to tell you.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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