Typically, seeing a dog is a positive part of the day, especially if you like dogs, but cannot have one. A dog’s soft fur and wagging tail can make them seem friendly, even in difficult circumstances.
However, since dogs have very different body language from humans, it can be difficult to dicern the difference between a friendly dog and an anxious one. In some cases, either you or the owner may be tempted to ignore signs of stress and move forward with a greeting.
Here are a few signs to help you recognize stress (and potential aggression) in a dog.
Tense body, stiff tail
Like humans, dogs have days where they feel friendly and social and days where they are stressed or overwhelmed. Unlike humans, a dog will not verbalize it’s needs or “fake it” because others expect them to be social.
When a dog is relaxed, you will see very lose movement and a big sweeping tail wag. However, when a dog feels nervous or overwhelmed, the dog’s body will be tense. A stressed dog may also still wag it’s tail, but it will be short stiff movements, not a big wag.
Owners aren’t always honest
Most dog owners want their dog to be known as the friendly one that everyone enjoys petting. Some owners may feel uncomfortable telling someone that they should not pet their dog.
When you meet a new dog, you should trust the dog’s body language when deciding if you are going to approach.
Sometimes there’s no warning
Similar to people, dogs have varying levels of telling someone they are uncomfortable. Ideally, you would see stiff body language, then a growl or a bark before a dog tries to bite. However, sometimes a dog learns that people will ignore it’s signals that it wants space.
When you are greeting a new dog, if you do not see happy, loose body language, it may be safer to keep your distance. The dog may not give a second indication (a bark or growl) that it feels uncomfortable.
It can be fun and exciting to meet new dogs while you are out, but it is essential to watch for signs that a dog may be uncomfortable meeting new people.