I'VE worked with dogs for almost two decades and lived with them for more than four decades.
It's easy for me to read a dog's body language and know what he or she is saying by a turn of the head, a cocked ear or wag of a tail.
But most people don't see - never mind know - the fundamental details of canine body language, especially when it comes to dogs that may be saying they are about to bite.
The majority of people think that just
because a dog's tail is wagging it is an approachable and friendly dog.
That's not the case.
To other dogs, the wag of a tail, the placement of their ears, the turn of a head are all detailed forms of communication that tell other dogs how they are feeling at any given moment. Most humans miss over 90 per cent of what a dog is saying in their body language and that can lead to someone getting bitten, especially around strange dogs.
When it comes to unfamiliar dogs it is always best to play it safe and leave them alone, especially if they are tied. A tied dog may feel threatened and insecure because its safety mechanism - being able to flee - is compromised and the next choice of self protection is to fight . . . which means bite.
When observing a dog, be it a familiar or strange dog, here are some things to take into consideration to let you know what the dog is feeling.
A dog that is moving in a carefree, casual motion, with their whole body wagging along with their tail, ears back but not pulled tight to the head, eyes half closed and lowering its head and possibly panting lightly is a relaxed dog.
Dogs that yawn are not always telling you they are tired. In fact, dogs yawn out of stress more than out of being tired. A stress yawn is a very wide, full mouth yawn exposing the teeth fully. The eyes close tightly and they give their heads a quick little shake at the end. This dog is anxious and nervous. If you are unfamiliar with a dog showing this behaviour, leave it alone.
Dogs that are standing stiff and look tense in their body, have a direct unwavering stare, with a high tail that is wagging in short quick wags, and tight lips/jaw are giving you a warning to back off, not asking you to come over for a belly rub.
Dogs that have their tail down low and tightly tucked between their legs are nervous and insecure dogs.
Their tail may be wagging but if they are trying to back away from you, don't approach them. They are trying to tell you they are worried and it's best to let them be.
A dog that is standing tall, with ears high on its head and forward stare, a slow wagging stiff tail but flicks its tongue out is not asking for a treat. It is very unsure and it's best to just go away.
Sometimes a dog will lower its head as you approach and turn it away to one side as if trying to avoid you . . . it is! This dog's body language is saying it wants to avoid your approach because it is uncomfortable and insecure. Please respect that.
The whites of a dog's eyes are rarely seen unless it is saying, "I am afraid, and uncomfortable so leave me alone." The dog will also have a closed mouth with tight lips.
The frozen stance, cold stare, stiff body, ears pulled tight against their head and looking at you sideways is the body language of a dog that is about to bite. Back away calmly and leave the dog alone.
These are general guidelines of course, and in no way intended to turn anyone into a dog whisperer, only to help keep you and your children safe from a potential dog bite.