Seeing a dog approach with a wagging tail can be difficult to resist. Their furry faces and soft coats seem to beg for attention.
Dog body language can often be challenging to interpret. In some cases, what appears to be a friendly wag can signify that the dog is nervous and needs space. The situation becomes more challenging when the owner does not know how to advocate for their dog’s needs.
As you are walking outside this summer, these are the signs you should watch for before petting a new dog.
What’s in a wag?
From a young age, you may have learned that when a dog wags its tail, it is happy. However, just like humans smile for different reasons, dogs also wag to communicate emotions other than “happy,” such as:
- Submissive. A dog that is cowering and wagging its tail may feel overwhelmed and need space.
- Aggressive. A tense body paired with an upright wagging tail often communicates that the dog feels threatened and wants space.
- Happy or excited. When dogs have a relaxed posture and a slightly upright wagging tail, they are often happy. A faster wag paired with the other traits may mean the dog feels more excited.
- Relaxed. A dog with a relaxed body and a low wagging tail communicates that it does not feel threatened.
When you encounter a dog with tense body language, it is best to give it space. On the other hand, when you meet a dog that is relaxed and wagging, ask the owner’s permission to pet their dog and then approach in a non-threatening way.
Growls are a good thing
Most dog owners want people to see them as having a friendly dog who is ready to engage with people. However, similar to people, dogs often have days when they are overwhelmed and stressed.
When a dog is stressed and needs some space, it will let out a growl. A growl is a dog communicating in the best way it knows that it wants the unfamiliar person to back off. When you respect a growl by backing away, you reward the dog for communicating its needs.
When a dog has encounters where they are scolded for growling, or the humans do not respect the growl, the dog may feel the need to escalate, which often means biting.
Looking at a dog’s body language is essential to meeting a new dog. When you learn how to read a dog’s stress signals and respect their space, they are more likely to see you as a friend.