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Learn Your Dog’s Language to Prevent Unfriendly Encounters

Dogs can quickly become the apple of every dog owner’s eyes. They can be companions for the lonely, sources of emotional support, or just downright fur babies. However, every dog owner needs to keep in mind that their canine buddy can, under the right circumstances, show aggression to other people, dogs, or animals, even if they are angels at home. 

By learning dog language, you can tell when your dog is aggressive or about to be. You will then be able to intervene as necessary. 

Let’s get started! 

Reasons Why Dogs Become Unfriendly 

By understanding these reasons behind aggression, you will be able to stay alert and know when to watch out for unfriendly dog language. 

1. Fear 

In animals, fear can be followed by aggression; because when flight doesn’t work, they fight. So it’s best not to underestimate the potential aggression of a “scared dog.” 

Typically, the aggressive behaviour will only take over if the dog is pursued, cornered, and/or threatened. This can lead to rapid shallow bites, which are meant to make the threat back off so that the dog can run away. 

2. Possessiveness 

Dogs can show aggression due to possessiveness or resource guarding. Therefore, aggression can be due to guarding territory, food, or their toys.  

3. Illness or Injury 

Pain due to an injury or illness will make a dog more aggressive than usual. Certain medical conditions affecting the dog’s brain can also bring about unreasonable aggression.  

4. Show of Dominance 

Dogs may show aggressive behaviour to show dominance. This is usually directed at other dogs but can be towards people as well. It’s important to note that this is the least common cause of canine aggression. Ensure to rule out all of the above before concluding that your dog is only trying to prove dominance. 

A dog trying to prove dominance to another dog through aggression

Dog Language That Signal Unfriendly Encounters

While these seven signals are things to watch out for while your dog socializes with others, it’s also important to state that even though their tails may be wagging, that doesn’t mean they are comfortable or happy. Even if you haven’t seen threatening behaviour from your pet before, you can never assume that they wouldn’t bite or become aggressive with another dog. Biting is a natural form of communication between dogs, and used as their first means of defense. 

At the end of the day, your pet is still an animal that is capable of biting and you need to be on the lookout for hostile dog language and behaviour. Look at all the signs; it’s important to be vigilant especially if your puppy is still an intact male. 

1. Shaking, Trembling, & Hiding 

These are all signs that your dog is afraid. As we’ve touched on earlier, fear doesn’t always lead to aggression. But should a dog be pursued or cornered during times of heightened stress, it may exhibit aggression.  

2. Whale Eye 

Whale eye” is a term used to describe dog behaviour wherein the dog averts their head slightly to the side with its eyes fixed on someone or something. As a result, the whites of the dog’s eyes, which usually do not show very much, become more exposed to their eyes’ inner or outer side. 

Whale eye means that the dog is experiencing stress, discomfort, anxiety, or fear. This can be due to the presence of someone or something. Dogs may also exhibit this when they dislike what’s being done to them, like a veterinary examination, a tight hug, being petted somewhere uncomfortable, or tail pulling. The discomfort the dog is facing can eventually lead to more overt aggressive dog language.   

3. Showing Teeth & Wrinkled Nose 

This is often shown in movies when there is a terror dog in the neighbourhood, usually named “Spike,” that a character runs away from. The dog wrinkles his nose and pulls back his lips, thereby showing most of his teeth. This gesture is so iconic in depicting aggression because it is a warning that the dog will soon bite. 

However, this is not to be mistaken with the “submissive grin” wherein the dog retracts their lips vertically, showing only the incisors and canines. It can be somewhat challenging to tell these two apart. The best way to distinguish between them is to look at the accompanying dog language. 

An aggressive showing of teeth is accompanied by growling, body stiffening, and fur standing. Meanwhile, a submissive grin is often accompanied by submissive dog language like a low-hanging tail, laid-back ears, and a relaxed stance.

A dog snarling at someone that her owner is speaking to

4. Growling 

We have all heard a dog’s growl at one point or another. When accompanied by dog body language like a stiff stance, crouching, and showing most of their teeth, this is definitely an aggressive growl.

This kind of growl means that the dog wants someone to stop what they are doing to them or to stop approaching any further. It is best not to discourage growling for dog owners as this is a dog’s way of being transparent and communicating. If all growls are suppressed, your dog may skip to snapping or biting when provoked, cornered, or threatened. 

Sometimes dogs may growl while playing with other dogs. As long as there are no other aggressive indicators to accompany the growl, the dog’s body is relaxed, and the other dog is unharmed, this kind of growl is harmless. 

5. Snapping 

When a dog snaps at somebody, it means they want that person to move away or to stop what they’re doing. This is a common behaviour linked to being cornered, guarding resources, guarding territory, and so on.

6. Fur Standing Up & A Rigid Body 

In dog language, the term for standing fur is “raised hackles.” A dog’s hackles refer to the fur along its back and neck. When these patches of fur stand, it may look like the dog is ready to fight or attack. However, it can also be because of nervousness, fear, anxiety, and even excitement. 

Therefore, it is important to observe other dog language cues that accompany raised hackles or raised fur. Look for a rigid stance, growling, barking, and other aggressive markers to be sure. If there are no other signs of aggression, the raised hackles may not be a sign of aggression. 

7. Barking 

Barking is often linked to your dog’s territorial instinct. When a person or animal comes too close, this can trigger barking, which gets louder if the person or animal approaches closer. Typically, a dog that is about to bite will bark or growl deeply before doing so. 

Final Notes 

Now that you are aware of the dog language that signals unfriendly encounters, you can better protect yourself, other people, and your dog from these unpleasant scenarios. In addition to recognizing these signs, you can also train your dog commands like “sit”, “down”, or “come” to help stop them in their tracks when needed. You can also explore our blog for more helpful resources. 

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