Nearly 90 percent of dogs communicate silently. Vocalizations and bites represent only 10 percent of their language. So, how do you know what your dog is saying in his silence?
Here are some common signals and their meaning:
Turning the head away: Peaceful intentions. Avoiding possible conflict. Prevents eye contact, which most dogs find threatening.
Lip licking: Peaceful intentions. Calms a social group, eases tension. But it also may precede a bite from a fearful dog.
Yawning: Stress reducer. Commonly observed at the veterinarian’s office or at the groomer.
Tail positions: Up means confidence. Down signals a relaxed or submissive state. Between legs means fear. Wagging with entire body signals joy. Wagging without the body indicates stress, interest or excitement.
Raised hackles: The dog feels threatened or is overstimulated.
Shivering: Fear, tension or overstimulated.
Paw lift: Forward weight distribution signals a friendly state or begging. Rear weight distribution could indicate fear or distrust.
Closed mouth: Precedes bite. Helps gain scent, conveys seriousness.
Open mouth: Relaxed.
Grimace: Tense jaw muscles with mouth pulled back at corners exposing canines or all teeth signals fear, excitement or aggression.
Whale eye (whites of eyes visible, dilated pupils): Conveys fear or aggression.
Presenting stomach: Laying squarely on back with paws over center of chest signals submission or trust. On side, lifting one hind leg indicates fear, apprehension or fearful submission.
Sneeze: During or after enjoyable activity signals happiness.
Bowing: Means the dog is playful.
Breathing: Through stomach signals a relaxed state. Through chest indicates excitment or stress.
Sniffing ground: This is a calming signal that shows peaceful intent, relief of stress or an attempt to gain a scent.
Freezing: Signals the dog is contemplating a fight or flight.
Drooling: During the presence of food means the dog is hungry. During stressful situations signals fear and, for dogs that suffer car-sickness, often precedes vomiting.
Dogs are a lot like humans. They all possess unique personality traits, emotions and behaviors. No two dogs will react the same in any given situation or when around other dogs. Here are some common triggers to watch for aggressive behavior in dogs.
Many dogs take guarding their home and owners very seriously! Territoriality is an extension of resource guarding, when the entire home and property become a valuable resource which the dog wants to guard from intruders at any cost. Resource guarding is natural behavior. Dogs that resource guard will view approach by other dogs or humans as a threat to what they perceive to be valuable. This may be it’s home property, the owner, a meal or a toy, or a preferred sleeping space.
Other dogs can trigger aggression in your dog for a variety of causes. Inter-sex aggression is aggression toward dogs of the same sex. This tends to be most common in dogs that are sexually intact and are generally resource guarding for reproductive advantage.
Type-specific aggression can occur when a dog has a socialization deficit with dogs of a particular body type (large, black dogs for instance) or a history of negative experiences with a dog of particular body type. Or, behavior-specific aggression. Dogs, like people, cannot be expected to indefinitely tolerate even the rudest behavior of other dogs. Many dogs will not hesitate to use their voices, body or teeth to tell a rude dog to “back off!”
Movement can trigger aggression in dogs. Because dogs are predators, they are hard-wired to chase after and bite at things that move quickly and unpredictably. Animals which move quickly (squirrels, birds, cats, etc.) are frequent triggers. Human triggers for motion reactivity include biking, jogging, skateboarding, or moving automobiles.
Frustration is another common cause of dog aggression. Frustration creates stress, which contributes to aggression. Frustration aggression often shows in relation to barriers including leashes or fences. The dog may want to check out a person or dog on the other side of the fence but becomes frustrated because he cannot. He may redirect his aggression toward a familiar human or animal as a result. If barking always worked to get attention but suddenly the owner begins ignoring the barking, the dog may experiment to find out if nipping is a more effective way of getting attention.
Dogs can be aggressive to specific groups of people with certain common characteristics such as men with beards, small children, people in walkers or wheelchairs, individuals with altered mobility, even individuals wearing a certain cologne or perfume.
The predictors of dog aggression vary widely. The most important thing to remember is a dog’s response to a stimulus will be effected positively (create a positive, happy response) by the number of positive experiences the dog has in the presence of that trigger, particularly during critical periods of development such as when they’re a new puppy!
Aggressive behavior is always a good opportunity for teaching a dog new tricks! Positive ones!