• I've heard this said too many times to count. "My dog bit out of nowhere". Most often this happens if a dog doesn't growl or show it's teeth prior to a bite. Both of these signs would be enough for most people to get the hint or the cue that the dog was uncomfortable. But what happens when the dog doesn't growl or show their teeth prior to a bite?

  • Below I'm going to classify body language into Green light (keep going) Yellow light( slow down, proceed with caution) and red light (come to a complete stop).

  • Green Light

    Below are some examples of body language that would typically indicate a happy, relaxed dog.

    • Loose, relaxed body posture
    • Body may be wiggly, tail wagging (full butt wiggle)
    • Ears are in normal position
    • Relaxed facial muscles
    • Slightly open mouth, tongue out or to the side with relaxed cheek muscles
    • "Soft eyes"- Eyes are relaxed and or squinty


  • Yellow light

    There are signs of mild anxiety, uncertainty or conflicting stress that may include what we call displacement behaviours. These are normal behaviour but happening out of context. They may happen when the animal is conflicted, stressed or unsure about a situation and may include:

    • Panting when not hot
    • Shaking off when not wet
    • Tongue flicks or licking their lips
    • Itching suddenly
    • Mouth pulled back & muscles in the face tense
    • Suddenly yawning

    You may see some of the behaviours during play groups or interactions between dogs. If you happen to see some of these behaviours, I would consider the context in which it's happening and give your dog a break. As an example, if during a veterinary exam, your dog begins panting heavily after doing a few shakes, I might give a break for a few minutes before returning to handling and medical procedures. Allow the dog time to compose themselves before they are re-exposed to the situation.

  • Red light

    Dogs may show much more subtle signs of anxiety prior to escalating to a bite. Typical body language I see that will make me take special consideration when working with dogs includes the following:

    • Freezing or stiff body language
    • Head turn
    • Ears pinned back or to the side
    • Wide eyes
    • Whale eye (showing whites of the eyes), avoiding eye contact
    • Staring at another animal or a person

    These are just a few of many subtle signs of body language that a dog is definitely uncomfortable and should be given some space either by removing them from the situation or by removing the threatening trigger before they escalate to more obvious signs of fear including growling, showing their teeth, snapping or biting.

    Without getting too much into behaviour analysis, taking into consideration the context of aggression is important as well in preventing further episodes of aggression. Consulting with a certified trainer of behaviour consultant can help discuss contexts of aggression, management and appropriate behaviour modification to prevent escalations of aggression in the future.