While most dogs are gentle, all dogs have the potential for aggression. Dogs generally display behavioral signs before they attack. Dogs communicate primarily through body language: if a dog has raised hackles or appears stiff or tense, it may be a warning sign.
Physical cues usually indicate when a dog is on alert and might be preparing to defend itself. These signs typically occur in order, prior to the dog engaging in an attack.
Dogs may engage in a direct and prolonged stare when they feel threatened. Alternatively, they may avoid eye contact by looking to the side, squinting or turning the head.
Yawning and licking lips
While yawning can be a sign of sleepiness or boredom, dogs also yawn as a precursor to aggression. They may also lick their lips and whine. Baring teeth is another visual mouth-related warning that a dog may attack.
A dog that pins its ears back against its head is displaying a sign of fear or discomfort. This body language can quickly escalate into aggression if the source of the dog’s distress is not addressed.
Crouching and backing up
Dogs that are feeling stressed will often lower themselves to the ground and freeze in position. They may also back up, which can lead to becoming cornered, escalating the aggression. A cornered dog may become aggressive out of fear; a dog that becomes cornered needs an escape route; this may reduce the chances of an attack.
Growling, snapping and lunging
Growling and snarling are clear verbal indicators of a dog’s discomfort. The final sign of aggression is snapping and lunging; these behaviors typically occur as the last warning before biting. Dogs bite more than 4.5 million Americans each year.
Dog bites can cause serious injury and liability for their owners. In Alabama, Emily’s Law protects the public against dog attacks, so it is important to understand the behaviors that warn of upcoming aggression.