Dogs can’t talk but that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. In fact they don’t even need to bark in order to express their feelings with humans and other dogs. Canine communication can involve their entire body from the tops of their ears to the end of their tails. The range of expression they can convey is extensive.
Before delving into how dogs express themselves via their body language, it’s important to understand why it’s crucial to understand what a dog may be trying to tell us. Accurately translating a dog’s body language can assist in having a healthy relationship with your dog and it can help prevent an avoidable confrontation with an aggressive animal. But in order to do so you must be able to identify the correct signs.
Aggressive dogs are usually easy to spot. At least the obvious ones are. They give tell tale signals that they’re on edge and unhappy with your presence. They growl and snarl, baring their teeth in warning. But an aggressive dog may not always growl before he attacks. The secret to spotting an non-obvious aggressive dog is seen in his eyes. He may not look directly at the person or animal he’s feeling aggressive towards. He will choose instead to look at them out of the corner of his eyes, so the white part of his eyes are exposed. This look is different than a sideways glance you might catch your dog giving you for a brief instant. A potentially aggressive dog will never let his eyes off you.
There are different sorts of aggression in canines. Sometimes dogs can be what the ASPCA calls “Defensively Aggressive.” According to their website, a defensive aggressive dog would prefer to avoid an altercation all together if he can. He has a mix of fear and anger and as such he exhibits both offensive and defensive positions in body language. They want to put on a good show so they stand alert, ears upright, and they may even bark at you, but their barks my be higher pitched than an aggressive dog’s bark. These dogs are usually bluffing unless the person or animal threatens him in some way. In contrast an offensive aggressive dogs pulls no punches. He won’t retreat if his enemy retreats. He will possibly continue to attack. His body posture is large and intimidating. His head is high, ears alert, and his tail is even on guard. His barks are low and very threatening. A fearful dog will often look away from you, expressing his submissiveness to you, while an aggressive, threatened dog will open his eyes wide so that his eyes even appear to be much larger than they actually are. A relaxed dog’s eyes will appear normal sized.
It’s always important to pay attention to the temperament of dogs, especially strange dogs who are not used to your company. If you notice any sort of body language that hints at possible aggression, the best strategy is to avoid the altercation and let the dog have his space until he is familiar enough with your presence so he will not pose a threat to you. In the meantime, let’s hope these clues help you in recognizing and avoiding any potential confrontations.