Whether or not you own a dog, if you like to approach one, it is important to be able to recognise signals that a dog is sending you to communicate how it feels about you.
Identifying certain signals can save you and your loved ones from a bad experience that could have been avoided.
Dogs do not communicate verbally as we do. Sure, they use vocalisation but it is not a sophisticated grammar structure that communicates a specific message as we humans use. Instead, dogs communicate with body posture and body language.
In this article, we cover a few of the most important signs that a dog can show when in distress or ready to lash out.
The dog is trying to look in an opposite direction from where you stand. It backs off when you approach it. It hides behind its owner’s legs and constantly tries to walk away from the situation.
When a dog acts this way, it generally has its ears flat and held backwards and the tail can be tucked between the legs.
Leave the dog alone and stop trying to approach it. A fearful dog, if cornered or trapped, would bite you as a last resort.
Frantic nose licking, yawning, heavy panting, lips held backwards, scratching even if there is no need to. These signs, even if not all present at the same time, are red flags that a dog is displaying a fidget response.
The dog is in distress and doesn’t know how to react yet. Again, give space to the dog and let it relax or else it can lash out at you.
Staring at your dog is enough to provoke a yawn. When a dog is yawning, it does it for two reasons.
1. He is stressed and is trying to relax.
2. She communicates that she is not looking for trouble. She has no intention to challenge you and consequently an attack is not necessary.
The dog is stressed about a presence of a person or another dog.
The nervous system will cause a muscle contraction on its back that will raise the hair on the dog’s back forming a ridge (piloerection function). The dog can be ready to attack if necessary.
Here, the dog is walking high on his toes, the head and tail are held up, the ridge is visible, the dog stares directly with eyes that may look bigger than what normally is.
The dog has a slow and stiff walk. He is communicating confidence and assertiveness.
Avoid direct eye contact with this dog and try not to approach it. The dog will not be afraid to back up its body language with actions.
Not always a moving or wagging tail is a sign of happiness. It all depends on the circumstances and what other body postures are displayed.
A high waving tail is a red flag. The dog is stressed and unsure about someone or something. It can possibly bite if approached.
One of the possible last warnings prior an attack is the moon or whale eye.
In this situation, the white part of the dog’s eye is exposed as to form a half moon. You can see this reaction in some dogs when they are hugged or when they are trying to protect a possession.
The moon or whale eye is generally followed by the freeze.
The dog will become motionless and it may bear its teeth. This is absolutely the last warning that a dog will give you. After the freeze, there is a bite.
The time between the freeze and the bite can be even a split second. Take the freeze very seriously as there will be no other reaction from the dog other than a bite.
When I write about leaving dogs that shows fear and distress alone, it seems obvious to me but apparently, it is not that obvious.
I often see people disrespecting the dog’s personal space, frantically touching the dog while chatting loudly and, worst of all, placing their face on the dog’s face to receive or give a kiss. Don’t do it!
Here is a video
showing a wrong approach towards a dog. Any warning signs displayed by the dog were disrespected
and ignored. We can learn a lot from this accident.
Warning, some viewers may find this video graphic.
Do you have any experience with dog’s body language? Did it help you to avoid a bad situation or the opposite? Feel free to leave a comment.
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Also, if you like the topic of dogs, please check my book ‘Before You Get A Dog’ by Simone Burani. You will find the essential knowledge written in simple language to have a great time with your pet.