There’s a very good chance that if you are someone who enjoys talking about pets, then you have heard stories about people being attacked by angry dogs. It could be a mild nip that someone had when he or she tried to take a dog’s toy away or it could be a much more gruesome story. If you are planning on taking care of dogs of your own, these stories can be very discouraging to hear.
However, if you are still determined to take care of dogs or even adopt a dog of your own, it would do you well to read up on the signs that your dog is getting annoyed. Doing this will not only help you make sure that you back away from the dog at the right time, but it can also help you understand your dog better, furthering your bond with it.
Once you know what to look for, understanding when your dog is angry and doesn’t want to be bothered (or needs to be calmed down) will be one of the easiest parts of caring for a dog. However, as with many things, you will need to start at the beginning of understanding how dogs communicate with both dogs and other people so that you can understand how to know when a dog is angry.
How Do Dogs Communicate?
Dogs, much the same as other pack animals, communicate primarily through nonverbal body language. Vocalizing is a secondary form of communication that is not always preferred. Typically, when dogs “speak” to each other using body language, the main components of this are going to be the way they carry their tails, the ear and eye positioning, body movement, and facial expressions.
Understanding what at least some of this body language is will help you know what your dog is trying to convey to you. Understanding body language is also helpful if your dog doesn’t communicate what it wants very well and doesn’t always make it clear if it is in the mood for socializing or not.
It is important to keep in mind that the dog’s body language is also going to depend on the situation and the context of what it is doing and what the dog sees. For instance, a wagging tail doesn’t always mean that a dog is friendly and ready to see you. In some cases, it can mean arousal or even fear. You should always pay attention to the situation at hand to try and get some more insight into why your dog is acting the way it is, especially if you are in an unfamiliar territory.
Occasionally, dogs have been known to use their voices to communicate with other dogs, although this will depend entirely on the breed of your dog. As most people know, barking is one of the most noticeable ways that your dog will vocalize to you. Some dog breeds are known for being incredibly talkative and barking at the slightest movement. Other dogs are stoic and almost never bark.
Unfortunately, it can be somewhat difficult to ascertain why a dog barks. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, including asking for playtime, disciplining their young, warning of danger, threatening intruders, and even just as a sign of curiosity. Because of this variety of reasons, it isn’t always the best thing that you can do to rely solely on your dog’s vocalization to understand what it is trying to say. You should also try and understand some of the nonverbal signs as well. Dogs also have a few other ways of vocalizing. Dogs will whine when they want something or when they are in pain, although they can also whine when they are anxious, frustrated, or even scared. Dogs will also growl at threats to try and scare them away.
The most iconic form of dog communication, however, is howling. Howling is done to simply attract attention to the dog and announce its presence while also making contact with other dogs that might be within hearing range of the howl. Some dogs enjoy howling and will howl alongside anything that sounds vaguely like a howl, such as sirens or a person mimicking a dog howl.
Now that you understand a little bit more about how your dog is trying to communicate with you, you can focus on making sure that you understand when these signals mean to back away because your dog is angry.
What Kind of Communication Do Dogs Use When They Are Angry?
Dogs have about five “sets” of body communication with each one being used for different emotions and situations. The way that dogs move when they are “aggressive” doesn’t always mean that they are about to attack another dog. Sometimes aggression, or anger, shows itself when a dog is being possessive over a toy or food. It can happen if a dog is trying to defend its territory within your property and it can happen to people, animals, and even inanimate objects. Regardless, you should always be aware of the signs of an angry dog before you try to interact with your dog. Keep in mind that (most) dogs give warnings before actually causing bodily injury and you should heed these warnings as dog bites are no joke. These warnings often include stiffening up, baring teeth, and growling. These are the most common warning signs that a dog will show.
If you continue to approach the dog in this state, the dog might begin to escalate by growling louder, eyes growing wider, curling the lip, wrinkling the nose, and snapping at the air. When it gets to this stage, there is a good chance the dog will bite if you get too close so you should back off and let the dog calm down.
Sometimes, depending on the situation, the dog might begin to show body signals of fear as well. Especially if the dog feels that it showed fear in the first place but it was ignored, the dog might escalate to aggression to try and make its point. These signals of fear include licking lips (despite not being hurt), yawning, cowering, tucking its tail, and putting its ears back. These signs combined are ones that say “Leave me alone, do not come any closer” with varying undertones of fear or anger, depending on the dog.
Making Sure That Your Dog Is Healthy
A dog that becomes aggressive for seemingly no reason is not normal. Just the same as people, dogs often have a reason for becoming angry or aggressive. Even if some of these reasons seem stupid to the owner, there is always a reason. If the dog is not being possessive over toys or territory, there are no potential threats in sight, and the dog is still acting aggressive, then there might be an underlying cause. One of the largest underlying causes for anger in dogs not caused by an outside source is being ill or injured. Dogs don’t really understand germs and bacteria so they don’t understand why they might suddenly feel aches and pains. To anyone, that situation could be terrifying, which is why many dogs become aggressive when they are ill. A sudden shift in mood can sometimes indicate illness or pain, meaning that you should consider doing what you can to take your dog to the vet.
Just as with people, dogs can also become stressed by some situations, a common one being moving households. Also just as with people, some dogs do not handle that stress in a healthy way and your dog might begin to show signs of unprovoked aggression toward you. If you are going through a stressful time that also affects your dog, such as moving, changing your routine, or having new family members move into your house, and your dog is beginning to show signs of aggression, there’s a good chance that your dog is simply not handling stress the way that it should. Unfortunately, the only corrective measures to this are anti-anxiety medicines and simply doing your best to maintain a routine for your dog as well as providing extra care and pampering.
What Causes an Unhappy Dog?
Dogs often seem to be fickle creatures. They can seem picky with their food, insistent on their toys, and demanding to go outside on a whim. However, they can be pretty straightforward with what bothers them and what doesn’t. A territorial dog is going to be bothered by other pets encroaching on its “territory” even within the house. A possessive dog is going to be threatened by you taking away its toy when playtime is over because it is the dog’s toy, not yours. If a dog sees a stranger dog and that dog acts territorial and defensive, your dog might react in kind because it feels threatened by the other dog. These are some of the most common reasons why a dog might begin showing signs of anger toward you.
There is almost always a distinct reason for this aggression, barring stress, illness, and injury. Chances are that if you cannot find that distinct reason, such as territory being invaded, a toy being taken, or a stranger dog in the vicinity, then your dog might be showing signs of aggression because it is stressed, ill, or injured.