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Reading Dog Behaviour


Understanding the signals that dogs display will help you to know how to behave around them.

An aggressive dog
  • makes itself bigger by raising its hackles (hair along its neck and back), and standing on the tips of its paws
  • lifts its lips to show its teeth
  • barks, growls or snarls
  • lays its ears back
  • has its tail raised
  • stares directly at what it’s threatening.

Calm the situation
  • avoid direct eye contact which can be interpreted as threatening
  • stand still, looking down and keeping your arms still in front of you
  • slowly and calmly start moving away without turning your back on the dog - try and keep side on to it

For more information see Getting out of Danger.


A frightened dog
  • makes itself smaller by hunching or lying down
  • lays its ears flat
  • curls its tail between its legs.

Because a frightened dog may become aggressive, you should try and remove or reduce the level of threat
  • speak quietly and soothingly
  • avoid direct eye contact
  • walk away slowly and calmly, staying side on to the dog.


A playful dog
A dog that simply wants to play can still be worrying, especially if you are not familiar with dogs. A playful dog
  • might bark, but doesn’t snarl
  • approaches and retreats, often ‘kneeling’ down then jumping up
  • holds its tail horizontal, or wagging
  • looks at you, and away.
A dog that wants you to play won’t hurt you deliberately, but might still be frightening because it might can jump up at you.

If you don’t respond, it will soon give up trying to get your attention.
  • stand still without making eye contact
  • walk away slowly and calmly, staying side on to the dog.

In all cases, you have a right not to be frightened or annoyed by a dog. Dog owners should respond courteously and control their dog, if you complain. If you are concerned, you can contact the Dog Control Officer at your Local Council.
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