I had a client many years ago contact me in hopes of curtailing their dog’s aggression. I went to the initial consultation expecting a possibly vicious animal. The dog that I met, however, was a huge 100 pound puppy. Full of life and excitement, he sat down in front of me and gave me a high-five.
There is a vast difference between aggression and exuberance in a dog, but sometimes even an experienced owner (like my previous clients) has difficulty distinguishing between the two. This was the first of many consultations I’ve had over the years with owners that were fearful of their “vicious” dogs. Fourteen out of twenty of these seemingly aggressive animals were overly exuberant and in need of boundary training.
The best way you’ll be able to tell the difference is by observing your dog’s body language. Check out some important telltale signs here.
Scenario #1: Guests At Door
Someone rings the doorbell, the dog starts growling, howling and charges the door, pushing his way past his human to see who’s there. He refuses to budge until the door is open. Before labeling this reaction as aggression study his body language. Are his ears up, eyes straight ahead, his tail up, swaying at a steady pace? Then he’s naturally excited to see who’s visiting. He is in need of training and needs to learn some manners when guests arrive. While enthusiasm is great, rude behavior isn’t.
Consider body language:
If the head is low, the tail is low and slow and the body tense, that would be considered aggression and needs to be dealt with before someone gets hurt.
Scenario #2: On A Walk
While out for a morning stroll the dog begins to pull, lunge and bark at a dog coming from the opposite direction. Is this aggression, eagerness to check out the other dog, or reaction to the oncoming dog’s stance? Consider all the factors including body language before jumping to conclusions.
Consider body language: Is the tail wagging and ears perked? He may just be excited.
Scenario #3: Play Time
Sometimes dogs get a little carried away during roughhouse, most often not realizing their own limitations. They’ve been known to nip, bite, scratch, claw as if the person their playing with is another dog.
While this doesn’t indicate an aggressive nature, it does allow the dog to treat his human like another dog and doesn’t understand that his natural actions may hurt his playmate.
Keep in mind these are merely scenarios of actions I’ve encountered. It is a guide to show that not all reactions are aggressive. However, if there is an owner that lives with a truly aggressive dog, contact a professional certified trainer for a consult.
Sometimes a dog’s bark is truly worse than his bite.