Few things strike fear in a dog lover's heart like the sight of a dog fight. They can be loud, with growling, snarling, snapping of teeth, or they can be eerily quiet, with both dogs completely focused on the "task" at hand. Knowing how to correctly break up a dog fight is another topic. Reading the signs that may lead to a dog fight is what we're discussing today.
Looking at these dogs, what do you think? Is this a fight brewing? The quick answer is no. These two boys are very good friends, neither one engages in resource guarding (aggressively defending food, toys, or other desirable objects or people), and they've never even thought of starting a fight. To an experienced eye, there are actually many subtle clues, such as the lack of facial wrinkling and the fact that the corner's of the mouth on both dogs are pulled back rather than pinched (this is called a "long commisure", dogs looking to fight would have the corners of their mouths pulled forward, a "short commisure"). Here's the uncropped picture:
Once you see the whole picture, you can see these dogs are happily playing.
Every day someone gets bitten breaking up a dog fight. All dogs, no matter what breed or how sweet, have a capacity for aggression given the right circumstances. Looking at the sweet Cavalier I have sitting on my lap as I write this, I wonder what could possibly ever bring out aggression in him, but the possibility is there. Learning to read a little bit of canine body language gives you the ability to "read" your dog, or your dog's companion, and foresee a possible problem, thereby keeping everyone safer.
Barbara Handelman has put together an excellent book and blog regarding just this. The blog is fabulous, with pictures to analyze and then a description of what's really going on. If there's a dog in your life, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's one of the best you'll find. You can visit at: https://woofandwordpress.com/blog/
In the meantime, here is a list of behaviors put together by Barbara that include a happy dog who'd like closer contact, and one who's looking for a little distance.
Distance decreasing (let's play) behaviors include:
- ears forward
- hip nudge
- muzzle nudge
- paw lift
- play bow
- relaxed tail whirling in a circle. If your dog has a docked tail, it may also include butt wagging
- submissive grin (corners of lips pulled back)
Distance increasing (you're in my space and I'd like you to get back) behaviors include:
- agnostic pucker (corners of mouth pulled forward and lips wrinkled)
- ears flattened or held back
- intent stare
- crouching with head lower than body (the classic stalking pose)
- head and/or body turned away
- height seeking posture (head up, trying to look bigger)
- low tone vocalization, low growl, or punctuated barking (repeating the same sound, barking intending to give the message "go away, go away")
There are so many things we do every day to keep our dogs safe and enrich their lives, from heartworm preventative and making sure they are on leash when we go for a walk, to trips to the dog park and playing with them in the backyard. Learning at least a little bit about canine body language is just one more thing you can add to your arsenal!