In a previous Blog post, we referred to The Canine Ladder of Aggression – or The Aggression Ladder.
This is a tool we teach our Walkers to use and to become familiar with as it is important for them to understand the different stages of stress behaviours displayed by dogs, helping them to recognise when a dog is feeling under stress or threatened and to take the appropriate action before the behaviour escalates and to quickly get the situation under control. The faster we are able to identify a behaviour and react to remove a dog from a perceived threatening situation, the less chance there is of the situation escalating and a bite occurring.
A dog’s body language will tell you a lot if you know how to read it. Each breed has its own temperament, and within that, an individual dog will have its own unique personality limits of patience and tolerance, but the warning signs are universal and its worth being familiar with them with your own dogs.
The lower rungs of the ladder or “green zone” are when the initial signs of anxiety start, and these can easily be overlooked as they mirror your dog’s “usual” behaviour
Turning their head and/or body away, blinking, yawning, licking their nose repeatedly, licking, sitting or pawing would not be cause for concern unless they are doing these in succession or out of context. If in doubt, rather move away from anything that could be making your dog feel uncomfortable and/or threatened.
The middle rungs, or “amber zone” is indicated by more physical movement
A dog will often slink away from a perceived threat, with its ears pinned back, and tail tucked tightly between its legs, and will even go as far as to lie down submissively as if to say “I don’t want any trouble”. A dog exhibiting these behaviours is generally feeling really uncomfortable and if the danger does not go away the dog will move up to the danger signals.
The top rungs, or “red zone” is the danger zone, and by now there is no option but to move away from the situation as quickly, but as calmly as possible
These signs are unmistakeable and will mostly follow a pattern – your dog will stiffen, then will stare hard, growl, snap and finally try to bite, however, it is important to note that not all dogs will give the growl or snap first. Some dogs are more reactive than others and may try to bite as soon as they feel threatened.
It is very important to be able to recognise the early signs of a dog feeling uncomfortable – not only in your own dog, but also in dogs that may be near you, and to move away from the threat as soon as you can whilst still in the “green zone”.
Learning to recognise the early signs of a dog feeling uncomfortable whilst they are still in the “green zone” and giving them space to feel safe again will make sure that everyone has a fun and stress-free outing.