Monday, August 2, 2010


Tails and Teeth

You see a dog playing with a toy. As you approach, the dog starts wagging her tail.  You of course assume that Lady wants to play so you try to grab the toy to throw for her and Lady snaps at you.
Did Lady aggress for no apparent reason or were the warning signs there?
">Lupe Taking a break at Tobin Park
Contrary to popular belief, a wagging tail doesn't always mean "I'm friendly" or "let's play" or "I'm happy to see you".  Some dogs will display what I call an "alpha wag".  Actually I don't remember if I call it that or if I read it somewhere and am now plagiarizing the term :)
Akitas can be notorious for this.  My Akita Mix, Cisco (RIP, baby). Had 3 different types of wags|
- Very loose and wide - I'm happy to see you or let's play
- Quicker but still a little loose- I don't want to have to hurt you, but if you don't fall down and expose your belly right now, there is going to be trouble
- Very stiff, short bursts - come any closer and you'll draw back a knub.
Some dogs show their "alpha wag" by putting their tales straight up in the air and wagging stiffly. Actually, it's not really a wag.. Maybe a better term is a quiver.
So how do you know if a dog is displaying an "alpha wag" or a happy wag? Look at the rest of the dog's body.  Is Junior stiff? Are his hackles up? Are his eyes soft or hard?  Are his lips loose or are they forming a "C" or an "O"?  Is his mouth open?
Is an alpha wag always bad?  No, but just be aware. Most dogs will pick up an alpha wag right away.  You might see two dogs meet. One stands tall, displays the alpha wag. The beta dog might hang her head, stick out her tongue or lick the alpha dog.  The very submissive dog might fall on his back and expose his belly and neck. So now these dogs have established the pecking order.
But be careful. If two dogs approach each other - each standing tall and stiff; each with tails high and stiff - this could mean trouble - two alpha dogs; neither one wanting to give up authority.
A dog showing his teeth doesn't necessarily mean he is being aggressive. Some dogs are just grinners.  Some show their teeth when they are being submissive (submissive grin). How do you know the difference?  Once again, check their other body signals.   See below for some info from the Humane Society of the United States:
Bottom line - always be extremely cautious around any dog whom you don't know.  If the pet parent is around, always ask for permission before touching.
A great book that addresses how dogs communicate is How to Speak Dog by Dr Stanley Coren. Available at the San Antonio and Randolph AFB Library.






Canine Behavior, Aggression, Fear, etc.. 

Taken from Humane Society of the United States Training Program