Originally published on ArlNow.com 

When it comes to aggression, trainers often hear the same thing.

“Rover bit me out of the blue,” or “Fluffy growled at my son and never gave any other indications he was uncomfortable.”

Both of these situations are highly unlikely since dogs very rarely do things without prior warning signs.

More likely, the dog has been telling you that he or she is uncomfortable. Because we do not speak the same language, we were unable to interpret what they were saying.

Lacking a rich verbal language, dogs rely on body language to communicate. This means that in order to “hear” what they are saying, we need to be watching very closely. We need to be listening with our eyes.

Learning any new language can be challenging. But just like with any new language, the more you practice, the more fluent you become. Phrases that were once hard to hear become easier and easier to interpret. The more time you spend watching your dog and studying dog body language, the better you will become at interpreting how your dog is feeling or what they are trying to tell you.

In those out of the blue incidents, what is often happening is that the dog is giving subtle signs that they are uncomfortable. These signs are either misread or missed altogether. After hours, days or weeks of giving off stress signs that are ignored, the dog finally escalates and growls or snaps. Some commonly missed subtle indicators of stress are yawning, lip licking and eye rolling. These can be easy to miss.

Learning to interpret how your dog is feeling can help avoid those “out of the blue” incidents that are not really out of the blue. They can also help inform a management and training plan to make your dog more comfortable. Not sure what your dog is trying to say? Ask your trainer or register for a seminar on dog body language. The information can be eye opening.