Dogs use their bodies and paws to express a variety of different things. Below are some examples and what they mean.
Dog crouches with front legs extended, rear up, and head near the ground: This is the classic play-bow and means simply “I want to play!”
Stiff-legged, upright posture or slow, stiff-legged movement forward: “I am in charge around here!” and “I challenge you.” A dominant dog will use this posture to indicate assertion of authority and a willingness to fight for it.
Body slightly sloped forward, feet braced: “I accept your challenge and am ready to fight!”
Dog rolls on side or exposes underside: “Let us not argue” or “I am not a threat to you” or “I accept that you are in charge here.” This is a submissive response to avert conflict. Many dogs adopt this posture in a fairly relaxed and contented manner when they are around their pack leader. When your dog rolls on his back for a belly rub, he is actually accepting you as leader of the pack.
Dog places head on another dog’s shoulder or places paw on the back of another dog: “I want you to know who is the boss around here.” These gestures are commonly used by dominant dogs, pack leaders, and dogs that have aspirations of becoming a pack leader.
Mouthing: This shows up in dog-human interactions as the dog taking the handler’s hand in his mouth or, while walking, taking the lead in the mouth. Mouthing can be a serious sign of dominance challenging and shows that the dog does not accept the human as pack leader.
Dog places paw on master’s knee: “Look, I am here” or “Pay attention to me.” This attention-seeking signal has many variations. They include pawing the air in front of their master or sliding the head under the master’s hand.
Hair bristles on back and shoulders: This is a sign of anticipated aggression. A ridge of hair bristling down the back is a sign that says “Do not push me, I am angry!” When the bristling extends to the shoulders it means “I have had it with you” and is a sign of an imminent attack.
Dog sits with one front paw slightly raised: This is another sign of stress but is combined with insecurity. It means “I am anxious, uneasy and concerned.”
Dog rolls on his back and rubs it on the ground: This is sometimes preceded by nose rubbing where the dog pushes his face, and possibly his chest against the ground in a rubbing motion or rubs the face with a forepaw, from eyes to nose. They often follow feeding or occur as the dog’s owner begins to prepare food. However they also can occur following or in anticipation of other pleasant activities.