Summer’s almost here, and you’ll see more furry friends on your walks with Fido. Learn their body language to keep your walks safe and fun for everyone.

FLUFFY: Hey, Fido, you’re looking kind of grim. What’s going on?

FIDO: Mom and I just had a really scary experience while we were out for our walk.

FLUFFY: Ooooh! What happened?

FIDO: Some dog came along, and I thought he wanted to play, but it turned out he was really mean. He almost hurt me! Things worked out okay, but it could have gone terribly wrong.

FLUFFY: Wow, that’s not good!

FIDO: You bet it’s not! Mom didn’t realize he was mad or she would have gotten me out of there sooner.

FLUFFY: I think we’d better get Pearl and Meryl to send out some info on how to tell dog play from dog fights.

…And so they did. Keep your dog safe on his walks with these simple tips.

This is what we love to see! There’s not much that warms the heart of a dog owner as much as knowing that his or her dog is feeling happy. Fortunately for us, it’s easy to get that gratification, because it’s not hard to recognize a happy dog. We see a relaxed, natural looking body, with the mouth gently closed or just slightly open. If we’re lucky, we may get to see a little smile on our dog’s face as he wags his tail or nuzzles up to us. Heaven!


When she’s feeling playful, your dog’s body movements will get bouncy, even jerky, as she runs around you and then takes off, inviting a game of chase or keep-away. Although dogs have many different styles of play, there is one that’s universal and very important to recognize. It’s called the “play bow”, and you’ll find it interspersed in almost all play. When your dog “play bows”, she bounces into bowing position with her forelegs on the ground and her rear legs extended so that her butt sticks up. This is a signal to other dogs that everything to come is play, and that they shouldn’t get upset. If you don’t see this bow once or twice, the dogs may not be playing at all, and you should be alert for other signs of aggression.

Aggression wears many faces. Dogs feel, and demonstrate, three distinct types of aggression: fearful, offensive and defensive. Recognizing the differences between them will allow you to respond appropriately and help keep your dog safe.

When a dog feels fearfully aggressive, he will try to make himself look as small as possible, even going so far as to cower close to the ground. This dog doesn’t want to fight, but he will do so if he feels trapped. Even if he does lash out, it will typically be a quick nip or bite, after which he will retreat and cower again, to indicate that he is really not a threat. You can avoid the escalation to aggression by simply removing your dog from the situation. The fearful dog will not follow or attack.


A defensively aggressive dog will usually give plenty of notice before acting out. He’s more afraid than angry, and he doesn’t want to fight, but will defend himself if he has to. This dog wants to intimidate, so he’ll make himself look as large as possible. He’ll puff up his body, place his ears up and forward, and his tail will be high and rigid. He’ll draw his lips back to display his teeth, and he may growl, snarl or bark. All of these behaviors are designed to get the other dog to back off. The defensively aggressive dog will not make the first move and would prefer to walk away from the fight. When you see these behaviors, you want to put distance between the animals without making any sudden moves. Keep a tight hold on your dog’s leash, and slowly back away from the other animal, keeping your own eyes lowered and your voice soft and non-threatening.
The most difficult and dangerous aggression is offensive aggression. This dog is angry, ready to fight, and may not back off even if the person or animal holding her focus does his or her best to diffuse the situation. As with defensive aggression, this dog will do her best to intimidate through body language. She may also stare directly at the object of her aggression, which is an unmistakable signal that a fight may be coming. Her ears will be flat and back, she will be growling and snarling, and she may show the whites of her eyes. When you see this, stand absolutely still and silent (and your dog should be trained to do the same). Don’t wave your hands around, shout or run. Just be still, and don’t make eye contact, and the dog may lose interest and walk away.
If she continues to approach, try throwing a toy or some treats in the opposite direction. This may distract her and give you time to slowly withdraw to safety (never run!).
If the dog lunges, there are actions you can take to minimize the potential damage. It’s a good idea to carry something you can use defensively when you’re out walking, even in familiar neighborhoods. An air horn to frighten the animal, or a toy baseball bat or sturdy stick to fight her off, can come in very handy. Some people like to carry a quick opening umbrella that can be used as a shield. Hopefully you’ll never need any of this, but if you do, you’ll be happy to have it. If your best efforts to fight her off don’t work, roll into a fetal position with your dog underneath you. This will make you as small a target as possible while protecting your dog’s vital organs and your own.
And, of course, always carry your phone, with full contact information for the closest emergency veterinary center.
Okay, you’re all set to be safe, so go give Fido a kiss, grab a leash and head out for a fun walk!

We hope you enjoyed these tips, and that you learned something, too! We’d love to hear from you, so please send your ideas to


Meryl Schwarz, M.A., M.Ed., is an animal lover and Certified Professional Coach specializing in grief support for people grieving their beloved animals. Whether you’re grieving a terminal diagnosis, the normal aging process, a disappearance or a death, Meryl offers compassionate and caring support with the wisdom of experience. Visit her website at to schedule an appointment by Skype or phone.