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Answers from vets about your dog:

10 Questions to Help You Avoid Dog Bites

Reviewed by Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, CAE; Katenna Jones, ScM, ACAAB, CFBC, CPDT-KA on Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Posted May 19, 2014 in Dog Behavior

Mychelle Blake is the Chief Executive Officer for The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). Pet Health Network recently interviewed her on the topic of avoiding dog bites. Mychelle worked with Katenna Jones, Director of Educational Programs for the APDT, to supply us with these important answers.

[Editor's Note: You should never approach a dog you don't know without consulting his/her owner first]

1. What are signs someone should look for before approaching an unfamiliar dog?

You want to look at their overall body language – does the dog seem relaxed, does it approach you on its own, etc.? If you see signs of stress, this is a big red flag to give the dog its space. Signs of stress include hard stares, freezing,  growling, lip licking, excessive yawning, panting, pacing, “hard” (taut) body language throughout, hackles up, tail up and straight or wagging but in a stiff motion, tail tucked under in fear, barking continuously, body blocking, and more.

We usually use the following analogy: you want to look at the entire body of a dog to understand what he’s saying. A common misconception is “a wagging tail means the dog is happy.” However, the meaning of a wagging tail can vary based on context, much like the meaning of single word would vary depending on context. Instead, think of each part of a dog’s body – the eyes, ears, tail, fur, body tension, and so on – like individual words. Combine them all together to form a “sentence” to better understand what a dog is saying.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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Jason has over 6 years of experience in the pet health industry and is managing editor of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.