Dogs understand us so much more than people give them credit for. They know if we are happy or sad by our body language, the look on our face and by our tone of voice. They can read us like a book, but most pet owners haven’t a clue what a dog is trying to tell them. If more dog owners understood what a dog’s snarls and posturing were all about, dogs wouldn’t get into as much trouble and confrontations could be defused before things get out of control. Understanding a dog’s body language is just as important as understanding any language. If you own a dog, take the time to understand what his body language is saying. Teach your kids how to watch and listen when they are around dogs.
There are no bad dogs or bad breeds. Pit Bulls are not mean by nature. No dogs is, but when humans are irresponsible and teach certain breeds the wrong things, then it becomes a problem that’s intensified by fear of the unknown. The unknown in this case is how the dog will react to other people and pets around him just because he was born a specific breed. That’s the same thing as saying all people from a certain race are all bad because some people of that race have committed crimes against others. Dog behavior is altered through selective training by the human who controls him.
In the right circumstances, any dog is capable of attacking and biting. Knowing how to read a dog’s body language and listening to what his growls and barks are saying can save you, your child and the dog from misunderstandings that escalate as a result of us not understanding what a dog is trying to say. Most problems with dogs can be avoided because a dog isn’t shy in telling us when it’s time to back off and leave him alone. We just aren’t alert enough to pay attention to the dog when he’s telling us to stop what we’re doing.
A confident, dominant dog is not necessarily an aggressive dog. The dominant dog will have his tail standing over his back in a relaxed position. His ears are erect and his eyes are calm looking and bright. He’s telling us he’s comfortable in his own skin and feels good about himself. He has a relaxed look throughout his entire body as well as a relaxed state of mind.
The fearful dog behavior is the dog you most need to be careful of. His state of mind is more confused and he’s not sure how he should react to his fear or confusion. Dog behavior is much like that of ours when we feel trapped. Our desire is to run away from what’s scaring us and if we have to fight to get away, then we will do so. The scared dog has his tail tucked tight between his legs. His eyes are focused on what’s scaring him and you can see his fear or confusion in the way he holds his body and how he moves. His ears are laid back against his head and if his tail is wagging between his legs, it’s a false sign of being friendly. Never turn your back on a fearful dog, because he’s apt to attack out of fear.
Just because a dog has his tail between his legs, that doesn’t make him a fearful or dangerous dog. Submissive dogs will also tuck their tail and hunker down close to the ground. But the difference is the look in the eyes of a dog who is submitting and his body language. The submissive dog will usually roll on their back and lick us or another dog to show they aren’t a threat. They don’t usually growl or snap at us or at the other dog. The fearful dog is likely to do both. A warning growl that says, “Do not come any closer and if you do, then you are forcing me to bite.” means exactly what it sounds like. Anytime you hear a dog growling, you need to pay attention to the growls and what his body language is like. Dogs growl for a reason. It’s just like a rattlesnake who shakes his tail with that telltale sound when we get too close to them. Listen to what the dog is saying and respect him by doing what he asks. A dog’s behavior is no different than our own when we tell someone we don’t want to be bothered at that particular time.
The dog behavior of a more aggressive dog isn’t necessarily showing confidence or fear. Aggressive dogs are on guard to protect whatever he feels needs to be protected from people or other pets and that can include his space. His body language and growls have to be paid attention to because he’s trying to talk to us using the only method he has. It’s our fault when we don’t listen to his voice or heed his body language and we end up getting bit. The aggressive dog, like the fearful dog, should not be ignored. The tail stands up straight over his back and it may be wagging, but as with the fearful dog, this is a red flag that is saying to stay away. The hair on the back of his neck and along his rump just above his tail will stand on end. His ears will be back on his head and his eyes will be focused on the source of his aggression. Never approach an aggressive looking dog. Do not make eye contact with him. Walk away slowly and never run because that’s an invitation for him to chase you.
The aggressive dog and the fearful dog’s body language speaks loudly and gives us all the warnings we need to stop a dog fight before it begins or walk away from an unfamiliar dog we meet outside who is showing aggression towards us. Understanding what a dog is saying with his growls and his body language can help keep us and our kids out of harms way by knowing when we need to step back and give a dog his space. If you take the time to listen and watch what a dog is saying, you have the ability to handle most situations with a dog. The language of dogs is easy to understand, but you have to learn it just like any other language.
Jenna Stregowski, RVT, Reading Your Dog’s Body Language, About.com: Dogs
Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language, BestFriendsPetCare.com
Stanley Coren, How To Read Your Dog’s Body Language, moderndog