As dog walkers and in home pet sitters, we see a lot of warning signals-many that are cause for alarm. Before approaching a dog, it’s a good idea to take a step back and determine whether they are approachable. Teaching your kids how to read canine body language is an important aspect of positive and safe dog interactions and sets a dog up for success or failure in the home environment.
1. Assess the dog as a whole
The overall body posture and position of a dog can say a lot. If a dog is actively choosing to keep their distance from people, that is a good indication that they are nervous of being approached. Caution should be taken as fearful dogs can quickly turn aggressive.
If the dog does approach you, assess whether they have a stiff body posture or if they are relaxed. An approachable dog will have a relaxed body posture and may wiggle from excitement. Nervous dogs will generally be stiff, hunched over, tuck their tails in, hold their head down, back away, hide under furniture and avoid eye contact with people.
2. Look at their facial expression
Facial expression is another signal to take note of. Do not stare directly into an unknown dog’s eyes as this can be intimidating for them, but take a quick glance to determine whether the eyes look worried or dilated. Ears will be carried in a normal posture in an approachable dog, but will be tense and perked up or flattened in a hesitant dog.
Look at the dog’s mouth for offensive signs such as baring the teeth and snapping at the air. Panting and drooling can also indicate that a dog is nervous and unsettled.
3. Watch for their response to interaction
Dogs should be approached in an unthreatening manner by bending down to their level and letting them sniff you before petting. Keep a close eye on their response to the initial interaction. NEVER pick a dog up or pat them repeatedly on top of their head.
A confident and comfortable dog will be relaxed with their tail wagging. Calm dogs will have a ‘loose’ body posture. If the dog tenses up, flinches, or backs away from you then this is an indication to back off from the interaction and wait for the dog to comfortably approach you.
Never force your attention on a dog without first reading their body language. Continue to watch for their response to your interaction and back off if you think the dog feels unsure in any way. Teach your children about canine body language and always supervise them around dogs.