Dogs are not little people in fur coats. People are not alpha wolves. Our two species have different communication signals to indicate stress and head off a confrontation before it reaches critical mass. Here are some canine body-cues that frequently signal that a dog is headed towards an aroused state where bites are possible:

LIP LICKING: "Uncomfortable. Don't push me."

AVOIDING EYE CONTACT/BLINKING: "Uncomfortable. Don't push me."

LOOKING AWAY/TURNING AWAY: "Let's pretend you're not here, because I don't want to confront you."

PREOCCUPIED SNIFFING: "Let's pretend all's well"

TAIL LOW OR TUCKED: Uneasy, tense

WHALE EYE: "Trying to pretend I don't notice that you're crazy. Watching you in case you make a move to jump me."

NON-EXERTION PANTING: indicates elevated stress levels, sometimes chronic pain

GROWL: "Uncomfortable. Are you threatening me? Don't threaten me."

FLATTENED EARS: Discomfort, shyness, intensity

WOOF: "Uncomfortable. Don't push me."

LOWERED BODY POSTURE: Appeasing, very uncomfortable with social pressure

SHARP REPEATED BARK: Heightened anxiety and fear

HARD STARE: "Back off"

AIR SNAP: "Back off"

BARED TEETH: "Back off"

RAISED HACKLES: Heightened excitement/ anxiety

STIFF, ERECT TAIL: Heightened excitement/ anxiety


SLOW, EXAGGERATED MOVEMENTS: Anxiety, tensing for a fight

Seeing any of these signs should warn you to back off from a potential bite situation. If you don't think bites are a big deal, here are some statistics:

Dog Bites by the Numbers

See how fluent you are in dog signals! Count how many stress, appeasement and threat signals the dog in this video gives before delivering a bite. As the warning indicates at the beginning of the video, pushing an obviously stressed dog into defense is extremely dangerous.

Dog-owners are responsible to remove their dogs to a safe distance from social interactions that cause obvious stress, no matter how minor or foolish the "threat" may appear to our eyes. The more a dog is given opportunity to bite its way out of a stressful situation, the quicker it will turn to that escape hatch in future situations.

The information above is provided as a public service. Shasta Dogs does not receive financial benefit in exchange for advertising any service or product on this page or linked pages.