Dogs are excellent at communication and they have many ways of doing so. When a dog is placed into a situation that can make them feel uncomfortable they will use their body to give warning signals, and it is important to understand those signals.
Dog aggression can be misunderstood if it is not handled appropriately. Most people think that a dog will react simply because it is “aggressive” when more often than not, that is not the case. The dog is often reacting purely because of fear and the environment or interactions it has/had in that environment. Consulting a professional dog trainer is always recommended when a dog shows signs of aggression, and there are many specialists out in the field to assist with specific issues.
A dog’s ears are extremely sensitive. They have a hearing range approximately double that of a human being, meaning they can heat up to 4x better than an average person.
A dog’s ears help express what emotion the dog is feeling in that moment simply by the way the dog has positioned them. A dog with forward facing ears generally means they are “alert” and actively listening/engaging in something. It can also mean they are content. If the dog has ears that are placed in a downward position and flat against their head, that can indicate the dog is feeling threatened or scared. Always use your common sense and awareness when a dog is displaying such signals, as this is usually one of the first warning signs a dog will give when feeling uncomfortable or stressed.
A dog has eyes that are well adjusted for night vision and are enhanced to detect movement quicker than the average human. They have larger lenses allowing them to let in more light, which in turn allows their eyes to adjust better in lower lighting conditions.
A dog will tell you a lot with their eyes alone. When a dogs is not feeling threatened or concerned in any way they will have normal, big colored eyes with little to no white visible. Once a dog begins to feel threatened in any way or stressed, they will start to show what is known as the infamous ”whale eye.” Whale eye is when you can see a large amount of white in the dogs eyes. The eyes are another way a dog will communicate before escalating to more extreme measures.
An adult dog’s mouth contains 42 teeth and contrary to popular belief, a dog’s mouth is not cleaner than a humans!
Dogs will tell you plenty with their mouth, and not all of the signals need to be vocal. When dogs are happy or content, their mouths will usually be closed or during warmer months they can even have a slight pant. But when dogs start to feel stressed or uneasy, they will show us with their mouth before they say anything at all.
Once a dog is placed into a situation where they feel uncomfortable they will usually start to pant, but this isn’t a normal pant, it is often a heavy, tongue all the way out, wide grinned pant. It escalates from there to lip licking, excessive drooling, low growling, and if pushed enough the dog may potentially snap, bark, lunge or even bite.
If a dog has reached this level of stress, it is very important not to push them into exhaustion or even unnecessary aggression. Use common sense and responsible decision making while handling this situation. It takes a lot to push a dog to the point of biting, and they will usually only do it out of fear.
One of the easiest ways to tell what a dog is feeling is simply by reading their actual body language and positioning. All dogs tell us how they are feeling by how they hold themselves, and it is important to understand that language when interacting with a dog in a stressed out state.
When a dog is happy and relaxed it is relatively easy to tell, they are considered “loose” and often have a look to them that shows their muscles are relaxed, they’re not overly alert, and they tend to lay down and close their eyes. But when a dog feels threatened or uncomfortable it also gives you signals with its actual body.
Dogs will often tremble, shake, pant, pace up and down, whine, scratch and show some other seemingly simple and innocent behaviors when they feel stressed, anxious or threatened. They also will tense or stiffen up in posture, raise their hackles on their backs, lower or turn their head, stiffen their tail and sometimes show a slight wag. From their it can escalate to growling, snapping, and even lunging attacks if a dog feels threatened enough.