Everyone gets frightened of something or someone from time to time, and animals are no exception. Fear is an emotional response to danger and causes our survival instincts to kick into high gear.
Even the most loving and docile of pets can lash out when put in a threatening situation, and the results can often be dangerous. In order to prevent an attack, there are a few things you should always look out for when interacting with any animal.
"The most important things to recognize are if the dog is staring at you, its lips are pulled back so teeth are showing, and it has a stiff tail pointing upward," said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "They also tend to be rigid and move slowly."
If you've noticed this body language and behavior from the animal, it is best to back away slowly and find a way to separate yourself. If you notice that the animal is becoming aggressive, it is best to freeze and avoid direct eye contact, said Beaver.
Just as you would when you come across a bear or other dangerous wild animal, you should never scream and run away or make any sudden movements. Wild animals and pets alike may view you as prey when you run, and it is their instinct to chase after you. Always stand your ground and keep your chest facing them, and your eyes averted.
You should always keep your distance from unfamiliar dogs, despite your urge to pet the unbelievably cute ones. Ask the owner prior to interacting with their pet, as they usually know if the animal handles strangers well. You should also let the dog sniff you or your hand before petting them. It’s best to let them approach you first.
Avoid dogs that are sleeping or eating, as you may startle them and cause them to respond negatively. Hugging an unfamiliar dog is also ill-advised. In dog world, hugging is a dominant expression. Although you may relish hugging your own dog, it undoubtedly enjoys it less than you do. While your own pet may tolerate your innocent hugs, in an unfamiliar or shy dog, they may warrant an unwanted reaction.
Dogs, like people, are complex products of genetics, upbringing, training, and experiences. While some breeds may demonstrate traits such as shyness or extroversion more frequently, generalizations are tricky. You can never fully judge an unknown animal by its furry cover and it is always best to be cautious.
What if the shy, aggressive dog in question belongs to you? Remember that dogs, like children, have inborn personalities that can be influenced to a certain extent, but not changed.
Dogs are masters at interpreting our facial expressions, body language, and vocal inflections. Your dog may sense your uncertainty and discomfort and become anxious. If your pet is displaying aggression, fear, or any other troublesome tendencies, consult your veterinarian.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.