Signs Your Dog is Uncomfortable
Most dog bites occur when a dog feels scared, anxious, or protective. It’s important to remember that dogs communicate using very subtle body cues, so as pet parents we need to be able to recognize these cues and respond accordingly to help prevent dog bites. A dog will ALWAYS give a warning before biting someone, sometimes many warnings. The people who claim the dog gave no warning usually are not trained in dog body language. At TGDS, our staff are specially trained to recognize dog body language. It’s one of the many ways we ensure pets in our care are having a great time in their play group! There is one instance where a dog might not give a warning, so here is our advice: NEVER PUNISH A DOG FOR GROWLING! Dogs that have been punished for growling or snarling may give fewer warning signals – this is what we call ‘removing the tick from the time bomb.’ We understand, your friend’s kids are at your house playing around your dog. Your dog growls at the kids, you punish the dog because you want to keep the kids safe and because it’s a little embarrassing. But what you’re doing is teaching your dog not to communicate with you that they are scared or uncomfortable. When a dog growls, you should remove them from that situation immediately. This will not reward your dog for growling, but rather teach them that you have their back. Next, try to figure out what made your dog uncomfortable and how you can rectify that situation.
Here are the most common signs for dog is uncomfortable:
- Lip licking
- Whale eye (you see the whites of the eyes)
- Lack of focus
- Piloerection (hair on end)
- Head turn or averting eyes
- Shake off (resembling what they do after a bath)
- Paw lift
- Rolling onto back
These signals can easily be confused for other actions, which is why they are easy to miss. A lot of signs a dog is uncomfortable can also be signs that they are relaxed. It’s important to read the context of the situation. If your dog is laying in their favorite sun spot in your house and yawns, usually safe to say they are not stressed. But if there are new people or kids in your house, or you are somewhere new and your dog is yawning and turning away from everyone, they are feeling uncomfortable and nervous. One very common action for an uncomfortable dog is turning their head away while licking their lips. Their ears might hang a little lower than normal. When someone tries to engage with them, they may walk away or pretend like they don’t hear or see them. Your dog isn’t being aloof, they are uncomfortable.
Take this quiz to test your body language smarts! For more resources or information on dog body language, please talk to TGDS staff.