Warning Signs That a Dog May Bite

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Chihuahua snarling
Chihuahua Snarling

Dogs can become aggressive for any number of reasons - fear, dominance, guarding possessions. No matter the reason for the dog aggression, the body language of a dog can let you know if he is about to bite. Knowing what to look for can help you prevent dog bites.

  • 01 of 07

    Growling and Snapping

    Growling and snapping are probably the most obvious signs that a dog is about to bite. Dogs growl or snap to let you know they are unhappy or uncomfortable. If a dog growls or snaps at you when you approach them, it's time to give them some space.

    Growling and snapping can be helpful, too. Your dog is communicating something to you. Pay attention to the times your dog growls or snaps. Does it happen when you approach them when they're eating, when strangers approach, or when you touch them while they're asleep? Knowing what elicits the growling and snapping allows you to manage the problem and work on changing the behavior.

  • 02 of 07

    Wagging Tail

    This is one of the signs that many people find surprising. Dog trainers often hear dog owners comment that their dog was wagging their tail right up until the moment they bit someone. But pay attention to the way your dog wags their tail.

    A happy dog may wag its tail and get their whole body involved. A dog who is about to bite is usually fairly rigid, and their tail will be pointed high and moving more quickly back and forth. This may be a sign of an impending dog bite.

  • 03 of 07

    Raised Fur

    When dogs are afraid or overly stimulated, you may see the hair on their backs stand up. In some dogs, just the hair on the back of the neck between the shoulders stands up. Other dogs have it at the neck and also near their tails. Still, other dogs may have a ridge of hair that stands up down the entire length of their backs. If you notice a dog has their hackles raised, it's a signal that they need you to back off.

  • 04 of 07

    Rigid Body Posture

    Often when a dog is about to become aggressive, his body language is a dead giveaway - no pun intended. A comfortable, happy dog usually has a relaxed body with their ears low and a happy, wagging tail. An aggressive dog is just the opposite. Their entire body may go stiff, and their ears and tail are raised high. If you reach out to pet a dog, and their entire body freezes rather than wiggling to get closer, they are not happy with being touched. It's time to move away to make them more comfortable.

  • 05 of 07

    Lip Licking, Yawning and Averting Gaze

    If you notice a dog is licking their lips (when food is not involved), yawning repeatedly, or turning their head to avoid meeting your gaze, they are trying to tell you something. Dogs engage in these behaviors to let you know they are uncomfortable with something going on around them. For instance, a dog who has never been around children may lick their lips or yawn when a child comes over to pet them. It does not necessarily mean that they are about to bite, but it is a warning that they are not comfortable. A dog who is uncomfortable, afraid, or stressed is more likely to bite. Your best bet when a dog uses one of these appeasement gestures is to try to alleviate their discomfort.

  • 06 of 07

    Cowering and Tail Tucking

    Cowering and tail tucking are more overt signs than lip licking or yawning that you are dealing with a fearful dog. While fearful dogs don't always bite, fear does increase the likelihood. If you encounter a dog who cowers away from you with their tail tucked between their legs, back off. Let them approach you in their own time, and they'll be less likely to feel the need to bite to defend himself.

  • 07 of 07

    Seeing the Whites of the Eyes

    Many dog trainers refer to this as whale eye. You'll see the whites of a dog's eye (sclera) when they move their head slightly but don't move their eyes. A half-moon of white will show around the dog's eyes. Their eyes may also widen to expose more the the sclera. Whale eye is a sign of anxiety in dogs. It's an expression many animal shelter workers are familiar with. Again, this doesn't necessarily mean that a dog is about to bite. It means that a dog is feeling anxious, and anxious dogs are more likely to bite. If you see a dog showing the whites of their eyes, it's a good idea to give them some space until they feel more relaxed.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.