Watch for Warning Signs of an Aggressive Dog

Aggressive Dogs: Body Language

It’s very important to learn to recognize signs of an aggressive dog and potential dog fight. It can mean the difference between a romp at the dog park or a day in the veterinary emergency room.

You have to be able to decode the body language of an aggressive dog. Here are a few signals dogs use to say, "Back off":

  • An intense stare.
  • Ears that are either laid back flat or standing straight up.
  • Bared teeth or curled lips. Some dogs do "smile" when excited, but their happy body language won't be confused with aggression.
  • A slightly upturned nose, typically caused by the lifting of lips to bare teeth.
  • A guarding posture in which the dog's neck is a bit lower than shoulder level and his head is lowered and stretched forward.
  • Hair standing up, starting in the neck area, as a result of the piloerector reflex.
  • A squared-off, tense, and very quiet stance.
  • A stiff and straight tail or one placed high over the dog's back. Short, staccato wags, or wagging at just the tip, can be a threat gesture.

The instant you conclude that a dog is giving an aggressive signal, you must heed that warning. And you may have to help your dog heed it, if his social skills aren't the best (meaning he can't read the message the other dog is giving him). Remove your dog immediately and calmly from the situation.

Find a dog trainer near your location and take the Canine Good Citizen test for your dog.