Not all dogs speak the same language.
Dog Leaders watch dogs. By watching, Dog Leaders pay attention to social cues that signal friendly or aggressive behavior in dogs. Dog safety always comes first. Dog Leaders keep an eye on dog-to-dog greetings because first meetings between dogs can turn into fights.
Wise dog parents and Dog Leaders teach their dogs to sit or wait before greeting new people or new dogs. In the social world of dogs, the language difference between aggressive or dominant and puppyish or submissive dogs may turn dangerous. Plus due to size differences in dogs, a greeting might turn life threatening for a young or small dog. Dog Leaders supervise their dogs before they greet one another and during the greeting ritual. A dog-to-dog greeting can turn to a sudden dogfight due to mixed messages.
Here is a friendly greeting. Both dogs look relaxed. They notice each other without aggressive stares, neither dog is puffing itself up, straining or standing rigid with tail held straight up. One dog sits, showing respect for the slightly more dominant dog. The closed mouth on the Mohawk dog is a neutral expression. The husky is panting, showing excitement or a need to cool off. The body language of both dogs is saying, “We’re close to being equals.” and “I recognize your polite behavior.”
Tell your dog to sit before greeting another dog. Teach your dog to wait for your signal or special words like, “Okay” or “Say hello.” This gives you time to scan you dog’s body language and look at the new dog.
A Dog Leader looks at his or her dog, thinking:
- •Is my dog relaxed?
- •Is my dog wagging his tail slowly?
- •Is my dog showing any fear?
- •Is my dog showing any aggression?
If your dog is showing fear or aggression, it is best to skip greeting.
What confidant, calm and friendly interest looks like:
- Ears pulled back against the head
- Tail held high, not rigid
- Blinking eyes
- Relaxed open mouth or mouth closed, leaning a little forward
- Tail level with body, not stiff yet pointing away from the dog
- Tail held lower than body yet off the legs, sometimes swishing
Do not risk an aggressive or fearful greeting.
Dog Leaders keep dogs from fighting or getting hurt.
What fear looks like:
- Ears pulled back flat with wrinkled forehead, teeth bared
- Eyes turned away to avoid direct eye contact
- Hair bristles only on shoulders
- Tail tucked between legs
- Tail bristling only at the tip
- Licking the air
What aggression looks like:
- Ears forward with bared teeth and wrinkled nose
- Direct eye-to-eye stare
- Lips curled up to expose some teeth
- Lips curled to show most of the teeth, wrinkling above nose, mouth open
- Lips curled showing teeth and gums, nose wrinkled
- Tail straight out or straight up and stiff
- Hair bristles on shoulders
- Body slightly forward, feet braced
- Upright body with stiff-legged stance
How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren inspired this post. You will find a link to this book on my page Books for Dog Lovers.
What do you do to keep your dog safe when you are walking by other dogs?
Is your dog relaxed and confident when he greets new dogs?
Do you visit dog parks or public parks with your dog?
How do you keep your dog safe if another dog displays aggression?