Top Seven Signs a Dog May Bite

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by on October 10, 2012 · 0 comments

Dogs can become aggressive for any number of reasons – fear, dominance, guarding possessions. No matter the reason for the dog aggression, the body language of a dog can let you know if he is about to bite. Knowing what to look for can help you prevent dog bites.

1. Growling and Snapping

Growling and snapping are probably the most obvious signs that a dog is about to bite. Dogs growl or snap to let you know they are unhappy or uncomfortable. If a dog growls or snaps at you when you approach him, it’s time to give him some space.

Growling and snapping can be helpful, too. Pay attention to the times your dog growls or snaps. Does it happen when you approach him when he’s eating, when strangers approach, or when you touch him while he’s asleep? Knowing what elicits the growling and snapping allows you to manage the problem and work on changing the behavior.

2. Wagging Tail

This is one of the signs that many people find surprising. Dog trainers often hear dog owners comment that their dog was wagging his tail right up until the moment he bit someone. But pay attention to the way your dog wags his tail.

A happy dog may wag his tail and get his whole body involved. A dog who is about to bite is usually fairly rigid, and his tail will be pointed high and moving more quickly back and forth. This may be a sign of an impending dog bite.

3. Raised Fur

When dogs are afraid or overly stimulated, you may see the hair on their backs stand up. In some dogs, just the hair on the back of the neck between the shoulders stands up. Other dogs have it at the neck and also near their tails. Still other dogs may have a ridge of hair that stands up down the entire length of their backs. If you notice a dog has his hackles raised, it’s a signal that he needs you to back off.

4. Rigid Body Posture

Often when a dog is about to become aggressive, his body language is a dead giveaway – no pun intended. A comfortable, happy dog usually has a relaxed body with his ears low and a happy, wagging tail. An aggressive dog is just the opposite. His entire body may go stiff, and his ears and tail are raised high. If you reach out to pet a dog, and his entire body freezes rather than wiggling to get closer, he is not happy with being touched. It’s time to move away to make him more comfortable.

5. Lip Licking, Yawning and Averting Gaze

If you notice a dog is licking his lips (when food is not involved), yawning repeatedly, or turning his head to avoid meeting your gaze, he is trying to tell you something. Dogs engage in these behaviors to let you know they are uncomfortable with something going on around them. For instance, a dog who has never been around children may lick his lips or yawn when a child comes over to pet him. It does not necessarily mean that he is about to bite, but it is a warning that he is not comfortable. A dog who is uncomfortable, afraid, or stressed is more likely to bite. Your best bet when a dog uses one of these appeasement gestures is to try to alleviate his discomfort.

6. Cowering and Tail Tucking

Cowering and tail tucking are more overt signs than lip licking or yawning that you are dealing with a fearful dog. While fearful dogs don’t always bite, fear does increase the likelihood. If you encounter a dog who cowers away from you with his tail tucked between his legs, back off. Let him approach you in his own time, and he’ll be less likely to feel the need to bite to defend himself.

7. Seeing the Whites of the Eyes

Many dog trainers refer to this as whale eye. You’ll see the whites of a dog’s eye when he moves his head slightly, but doesn’t move his eyes. A half moon of white will show around the dog’s eyes. Whale eye is a sign of anxiety in dogs. It’s an expression many animal shelter workers are familiar with. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog is about to bite. It means that a dog is feeling anxious, and anxious dogs are more likely to bite. If you see a dog showing the whites of his eyes, it’s a good idea to give him some space until he feels more relaxed.


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