According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, millions of people are bitten by dogs every year, but the good news is most dog bites are preventable. Whether you’re a pet parent or a pet sitter, you can protect yourself and dogs in your care by learning to recognize signs of dog anxiety and aggression before it turns into a bite.
How to Recognize the Signs of Building Dog Aggression
Just like humans, dogs use body language to communicate how they’re feeling. Learning to read a dog’s body language—and when to remove a dog from a stressful situation—is the best thing you can do to prevent dog bites.
Dogs show a series of warnings before they bite, including:
- Body going stiff (especially if their tail is held high)
- Curling their lips
- Warning snap (a bite that doesn’t actually touch)
- Snapping at another dog
Even if a dog is wagging their tail, they could still be trying to tell you they’re feeling anxious or aggressive. Especially if you don’t know a dog, stay tuned in to their body language to make sure they’re feeling comfortable.
How to Safely Break Up a Fight
Hopefully you’re never in a situation where you have to break up a dog fight. If you are, try breaking it up by:
- Shouting or making a loud noise with objects you have handy.
- Placing a barrier between them, like a chair, board, or other object. Never grab a dog by their collar since they can reach back and bite you.
- If you have two people, pick up the dogs by their back legs, wheelbarrow style, and walk them backwards away from each other. As soon as you can after that, turn them away from each other and keep them separated.
Of course, intervene only if it’s safe for you.
Respect Your Dog’s Boundaries
Learn what your dog does and doesn’t tolerate in other dogs, and reward them for their good behavior. If you can, keep them away from situations that stress them out, like a busy dog park. Dogs have their own personalities and don’t always do what we expect, but if you learn how to tell when your dog is stressed and feeling aggressive, you can prevent fights by getting them out of that situation.
Tips for Pet Sitters
As a pet sitter, you take care of many different dogs with totally different personalities and triggers. Even the gentlest dogs can act strangely when they feel threatened. There are two big things you can do to help dogs stay happy and comfortable.
Learn Good Introduction Etiquette
When you’re introducing dogs who haven’t met before, here’s how you can help them feel at ease:
- Introduce them on neutral ground, like on the sidewalk outside your home or in a park (not a dog park).
- Keep their leashes loose so they have room to walk around and sniff each other (not nose-to-nose). If a dog is straining against their leash, it could hurt their neck, and the other dog will think they’re being aggressive.
- Be calm and talk to them in a soothing tone of voice. Dogs sense when people are tense and are likely to mirror how you’re feeling.
Want to learn how to read a dog’s behavior during your Meet & Greet? Check out our illustrated dog behavior guide. How you greet a wallflower dog should be different from how you react to an exuberant, jumpy pup.
Feed Dogs Separately
Even dogs who know each other may fight over food. Food aggression is the top cause of dog-to-dog bites during stays, and it’s easily preventable by feeding in separate rooms or crates. Even normally docile dogs can experience food aggression, so play it safe and feed dogs separately.
If Dogs Fight During a Stay
Hopefully you never experience a dog fight when you’re on the job. If you do experience one when you’re caring for a Rover dog:
- If a dog is injured, call the vet and follow their instructions.
- Call Rover at 888-453-7889.
- Call the owner. We know it’s unpleasant to deliver bad news, but waiting to tell the owner will only make things worse.
Every pet parent knows that sometimes unexpected things happen. We’re here to help you make the right decisions during these times of stress.
Most stays end with a happy dog and 5-star review. Nonetheless, we also want to make sure you have the information you need just in case a dog feels threatened. Whether you’re a pet parent, pet sitter, or general dog lover, understanding how to read a dog’s body language will help you deliver the best possible care.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.