Dogs use various body postures and signals to communicate feelings such as fear, aggression, stress or playfulness. Learning to recognize these cues can help prevent escalations that lead to dog bites or attacks. Especially when interacting with unfamiliar dogs, being able to ‘read’ a canine correctly is an invaluable skill. This article outlines some common dog behaviors, what they indicate, and how to respond appropriately.
1. Relaxed vs Stiff/Tense
A relaxed dog displays a loose, wiggly body posture. Its movements are fluid and free and the tail may be loosely wagging at a natural height. A tense or stiff dog exhibits a more rigid, confined posture. The muscles might appear contracted, the neck is often extended forward, and the tail sticks straight out and upward. This signals that the dog feels threatened and is on high alert. To avoid provoking a tense dog further, don’t make direct eye contact, face it squarely or reach for it suddenly.
2. Calming/Stress Signals
Calming signals are a dog’s way to alleviate tension or stress in a situation. A lip lick, big yawn, averted gaze, body shake or sudden scratching are indicators of anxiety. Trembling, panting when not overheated, whining or frequent barking can also suggest distress. If a dog is exhibiting multiple stress signals, resist the urge to approach or pet it to provide comfort. Give it space and time to relax.
Growling often gets a bad rap but is actually a conscious signaling device to express discomfort with a situation or individual. Rather than attempting to suppress growls, it’s best to respect their communicative purpose. For example, if a child is patting a tolerant but growling dog, calmly remove the child and give the dog its space back. Punishing growls risks teaching some dogs not to warn before proceeding to snaps or bites.
4. Bared Teeth
Dogs display bared teeth under various circumstances. Pulled-back lips with teeth exposed could mean aggression, especially if accompanied by a direct stare, snarling and rigid posture. But a doggy grin with a lowered head, wagging tail and squinty eyes is indicative of excitement and friendliness. Differentiating between aggression and silliness requires noting the entire context of the body language. Proceed carefully if you are ever unsure.
While the average person may not master canine behavior as well as professional trainers, key body language cues can equip anyone to better navigate interactions. Paying attention to signals and responding appropriately both minimizes bites and enhances relationships between kids, adults and dogs. When doubtful, always exercise greater care by observing from a distance, moving slowly and allowing dogs adequate personal space.
Unfortunately, some dogs can bite even when they are unprovoked. In this case, there is the potential for serious injury. If you have been bitten by a dog, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney specializing in dog bite law to see if you can recover compensation.
Visit The Mass Injury Group at 15 Broad St #800 Boston, MA 02109.
Call now for a free consultation on (617) 263-0860.