How to tell if your dog is trying to kill you

Let’s be blunt – dogs are better than cats.

Dogs help you eat your food, they keep your shoe population under control, they teach you to watch where you step and they let you know when someone comes within a 5km radius of your house at 3am. How considerate is that right?

The most accurate animated dog ever from the movie Up!

Dogs are great but unfortunately that can’t all talk like Dug. Don’t worry, though, dogs have figured out how to explain things so even us slow humans can understand. It’s all in the body language.

A happy dog- though I imagine the owners aren’t as excited via flickr
This dog has noticed something, but the lowered tail means he’s not too concerned just yet via flickr.

When a dog is happy or just chillin’, their muscles are relaxed and their tail and ears are held naturally. The mouth may be closed or slightly open and the corners turned up slightly as though they’re smiling. They might also wag their tail from side to side or in a circle. Or just twitch it a little if they’re like my lazy beagle.

When a dog is alert, say when they hear a noise, they stand upright with their body weight balanced on all fours while they figure out if its a good noise or a bad one. Their ears are up and forward. The tail will be stiff, hanging normally or sticking up vertically, depending on what’s caught their attention. The mouth is usually closed.

An excited dog will look similar to an alert dog, but with a side of red bull. They appear more energetic and ready for action. The tail may or may not wag. The mouth is usually open and they may bark.

When do pugs not look excited? via (no clear source)
If your dog really thinks your slow, they’ll chuck in a play bow on top of showing you the ball via flickr.

When a dog is feeling playful, they’re body movements are bouncy and jerky and more exaggerated than normal. The play bow is a big tell, and can be a useful sign that your dog’s new friend just wants to have fun. The mouth may be slightly open and the corners turned up as if smiling. It can be confusing if the dog starts growling or making high pitched barks, but keep an eye on the tail- if it’s wagging  (and they occasionally let the poor human win) its still play.


A scared dog tries to look as small as possible with  a hunched body and the tail held low or between the legs. Their head will be lowered and their eyes will be looking below the line of sight of the threat. Their ears will be flattened back on the skull, and they might cowerclose to the ground. They may nervously lick their lips or yawn loudly to release tension.

A scared dog will sometimes yawn hugely to release tension via ASPCA.

A dog that is fearfully aggressive isn’t likely to attack or bite a person or animal unless they feel trapped with no other option. They won’t look any different from a scared dog except that they may show their teeth or growl. If they do snap or bite, its usually lightening quick and then they retreat as far away from the threat as possible. Take a look at the video below to find out more.

An offensively aggressive dog is one that feels threatened, but confident that they can win.  They will try to make themselves look large and intimidating, holding their head up high, ears up and angled forwards and tail stiff and raised high. Their hackles (the fur on their shoulders) might be up. Their body weight may be on their front legs so that they’re ready to lunge forward if needed. They show their teeth by wrinkling their muzzle and retracting their lips upwards. Dogs may try another tactic where they move their lips forward over their teeth and blow air so their lips look puffy and large. You can usually hear them breathing heavily or making  a low growling noise that slowly rises in volume if the threat doesn’t back off. Unless it does, the dog will usually start barking or snarling. Check out the video below on how to deal with an aggressive dog.

Called an ‘agressive pucker’, this is one of a dog’s subtler warnings via ASPCA.

Most of the time, dogs are lovable idiots whose only goal for the day is to get scratched in juuuuuuust the right spot. But even the gentlest breeds can react badly if they’ve been regularly beaten by humans or attacked by other dogs. Some may have had limited experiences with other dogs or humans and may simply not know the correct way to act. Learning how to read dog body language will not only help keep your dog happy but also protect you (and even cat lovers) from unfamiliar dogs on the streets.

6 Responses to “How to tell if your dog is trying to kill you”

  1. lgovers says:

    Great blog post! All dog owners should learn all of these behavioral signs. Knowing this sort of information can only help strengthen your bond to your dog and improve everyone’s lives…. including your neighbor’s.

  2. haamer says:

    I wonder if dogs interpret human body language the similar way? or maybe they can hear human’s heart pounding….cuz every dog in the street barks at me when i pass by 🙁 ….( n yes I DO get scared of dogs …..something that I got from “back home”!)

  3. Olivia Campbell says:

    I think reading animal behaviour should be taught to children very early on! It would prevent a lot of stress for both the animal and the child and hopefully prevent dangerous situations.

  4. jiaz3 says:

    This is a really good blog, besides, it is really important to know animals’ behavior! They also have feelings and we should communicate with them even though they can’t talk:)

  5. gpereira says:

    I’m going to be observing my dogs’ behaviour a lot more closely from now on. It’ll definitely be interesting seeing the differences between a feisty pomeranian and a gently staffy. Awesome post

  6. huynhj says:

    Thanks for the very informative post! I’ve always been pro-dog. They’re so loveable, and always happy to see you. I love the way dogs greet their owners after a day of work with such enthusiasm. And it’s the same sort of excitement even when you’ve left the house, room or just out of their sight for five minutes! Or maybe it’s because I own a pug. Like you said – pugs always looks excited =D