“The dog just snapped!”

June 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

When dog bites are reported in the news, how often do you hear, “The dog just snapped”? Quite a few, I think. Well, in a vast majority of cases, that’s just not true.

Dogs are not humans. They do not communicate verbally. They can’t say, “I’m uncomfortable” or “I’m scared.” Dogs communicate primarily with body language.

In addition, what is acceptable in human culture (hugging, making eye contact) is not acceptable in dog culture — both of those examples are threatening gestures to dogs.

So, what are some signs that dogs give to express their discomfort or fear?  The following are courtesy of Doggone Safe, a Canada-based group committed to education initiatives to prevent dog bites.

  • One paw raised
  • ‘Half moon eye’
  • Displacement behaviors — behaviors that are out of context for the situation, for example:
    • Yawning when not tired
    • Licking chops without the presence of food
    • Sudden scratching when not itchy
    • Sudden biting at paws or other body part
    • Sudden sniffing the ground or other object
    • Wet dog shake when not wet or dirty
  • Avoidance behaviors, including:
    • The dog gets up and leaves an uncomfortable situation
    • Turning head away
    • Hiding behind person or object
    • Barking and retreating
    • Rolling over on back in submissive way (please don’t hurt me!)
  • Tail between legs
  • Tail low and only the end is wagging
  • Tail between legs and wagging
  • Tail down or straight for curly-tailed dog
  • Ears sideways for erect-eared dog
  • Ears back and very rapid panting
  • Dog goes into another room away from you and urinates or defecates

The site also lists signs of aggression, and signs of an imminent bite.

For further information on how human actions are interpreted by dogs, please read Dr. Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash.


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