The Five Subtle Warning Signals Dogs Display – Before They Bite.

In the last two episodes of the Raising Your Paws podcast, we were talking about how at times, dogs can see you as a competitor for something they want – like the hotdog they stole from the kitchen counter, or your favorite hat, or your child’s toy. And there are ways a dog communicates they just may bite you in order to keep it.

A key for preventing getting bitten or attacked in these cases is to learn and recognize the signs dogs use to let us know a bite or attack is imminent. 

Besides the slightly raised lip, this dog is using  three other warning signs to communicate, “back away from my chew toy or I may have to get physical with you to keep it.” Do you know what they are?

My guest, on the latest two shows, was dog aggression expert, Bryan Bailey, and the author of the book, “The Hammer: Why Dogs Attack Us and How To Prevent It.” He talks about the major reason dogs get aggressive towards people and the signs to watch for in episode 36. You can listen to this, but I have listed the signs for you to remember, below.

In episode 37 hear how a dog can quickly switch from defending an object to thinking they need to defend themselves and why this becomes deadly and then what to do to survive if you are attacked by a dog.

 

The 5 Subtle Signals Your Dog Uses to Warn You Before They Bite. 

Wolves use a series of ritualized body postures, facial and vocal signals to communicate their intent to attack –  before they actually do, in the hope that their warning, will be heeded by potential adversaries. The goal of those signals is to keep the food or protect the territory, or drive the competitor away etc., without having to resort to actual combat – which is a risky physical confrontation that can be hazardous to their health and life.

Your dog has the same inherited behaviors and survival strategies of wolves. Here is an example of how this could play out with your domesticated pooch and you.

Your dog is lying on the floor, happily chewing on a new bone that you gave him as a special gift. You figure the dog has had it long enough and its time for you to put it away.  You get up and start walking towards your dog. Your dog is on to you – in his mind –  just your approach  towards him demonstrates your obvious intent to take the prized bone away, but he does not know that you don’t want to eat it yourself or that he’ll getting it back later on.  In your dog’s eyes, you have just become a competitor for this highly valued item.

Since your dog, desperately wants to keep the bone to himself, but also wants to avoid physical contact with you, he will begin to systematically display a series of warning signals going from very subtle ones to increasingly ferocious ones if needed,  to tell you it’s MINE, you can’t have it and you’d better back off and go away or I might have to fight you for it.  Your dog is trying not to bite or fight!

You don’t even have to be meaning to take an object away.  One evening when I had friends over, my dog Rosy, displayed warning signs when one friend walked near her as Rosy lay on the floor gnawing on a dried beef tendon.  She calmed down when she realized Ivy didn’t want her treat – she only was on her way to the bathroom.

It is the subtle signs and signals that we tend to miss or not recognize,  and because we don’t notice them, we continue our behavior, like petting the dog that doesn’t want to be touched or reaching out a hand towards a strange dog or moving close to a dog with a coveted item that we want to take away and that’s what gets us into trouble.  Do yourself and your pet a big favor and start watching for what your dog is telling you.

The subtle warning signs that give notice of an impending bite or attack are:

Note the crescent moon shape of the white part of the dog’s eye and the ears pinned back. This dog is communicating possible aggression towards this cat.
  1. The body or torso of the dog may become stiff or rigid.
  2. The dog looks at you out of the corner of their eye. Called the “crescent moon” because this is the shape of the white part of the eye you can see.
  3. The ears have suddenly moved back.
  4. The tail has risen as fully high as it can go or dropped down below the parallel line of the dog’s body.
Notice the high tail position. This dog obviously is showing its teeth but may not always exhibit both signs at the same time.
Notice the base of the tail that falls below the parallel line of the dog’s back. This may occur without the more obvious barking and showing of teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. The eyes show a hard stare – sometimes described as “lifeless” eyes.

If these signals don’t work to make an opponent stop and back away, a dog will raise the stakes and display increasingly more aggressive actions.  These are the more noticeable and dramatic behaviors you expect from dogs.

  1. A deep growl, with fangs exposed.
  2. When guarding a valued item, the dog may straddle the object and increase the viciousness of the growl.

Any additional advance on your part towards the dog after seeing these last signs, will most likely result in an attack.

All of the above signs and signals are also used by your dog towards any other animal, dogs or cats that threaten them. By paying attention to this language of dogs, and responding in ways that will alleviate the conflict instead of increasing it, you can help protect yourself and others from dog bites that occur, all too often, from ALL sizes and breeds of dogs.

Full Show Notes

Raising Your Paws Episode 37  Title: How to Survive a Dog Attack and Why Your Cat Should Wear Glasses.

Do cats see in color? How does your cat’s eyes show you its mood? You’d think that cats have really good vision – but the truth may surprise you. I’ll take a closer look at those large, beautiful eyes feline eyes.

Then, if your dog picks up garbage to eat when you’re out walking, do you try to take it out of their mouth? To avoid getting bitten in the process, Dog aggression expert, Bryan Bailey, author of the book, “The Hammer: Why Dogs Attack Us and How to Prevent It” offers this caution. You’ll also hear exactly what to do if you get attacked by an aggressive dog, in order to survive.

I’d love to hear your feedback about the podcast and at the same time you’ll be helping us grow the show –  by rating and reviewing it.

It’s best to do so at i-Tunes. Here is the link to the page. Click, “View in i-Tunes” and then “Ratings and Reviews.” Thank you so very much.

Resources for this Episode.

Source for the story about cat’s eyes. What Your Cat Knows, by Sally Morgan.

Bryan Bailey’s Website.

Bryan Bailey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon link to order The Hammer: Why Dogs Attack Us and How to Prevent It.

Bryan Bailey’s “Taming the Wild” Training and Boarding Company.

2 thoughts on “The Five Subtle Warning Signals Dogs Display – Before They Bite.

  1. I like to know is tail wagging can take place as a dog goes after another dog? I was told the action of attacks it also comes with the tail wagging.
    Thank you,
    Lilly

    1. Dear Lilly, thank you for writing. Yes, a dog’s tail can be wagging during aggressive behaviors. The tail may be held high relative to the dogs back and the base of the tail, and it often appears stiff, with the tip or the top part of the tail, wagging quite fast.

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