The Threat of Stillness

5_2147 Large guard dog.jpgI recently observed a temperament test being conducted to determine whether a dog was aggressive toward other dogs. The dog in question was a large, strong breed, and there was much concern because of his past history. As I watched, it became obvious that the other dog being used in the test was very worried. She licked her lips and averted her gaze, both common stress signals. But something else concerned me a lot more: she seemed afraid to move a muscle. Was it because the dog being tested was lunging at her, barking, or otherwise being overtly threatening? No. In fact, he was standing stock still, head slightly lowered, body tensed, staring directly at her. I could feel the tension in my own body just watching it. Seconds later, the dog being tested exploded in a display that, had he not been on leash, surely would have ended in physical harm to the other dog.

We are taught things about dogs early on. We learn that a growl is a warning, and that if a tail is wagging, that dog is happy (although that isn’t always the case). If a dog is lunging and barking we know to be careful, because the dog is emotionally aroused in a potentially dangerous way. But what we’re not taught is to beware of stillness.

As most trainers know, the vast majority of what we call “aggression” is really fear-based reactivity. While it’s true there are dogs out there who are flat-out aggressive, there are a lot more who are acting defensively. All of that lunging and barking is their way of saying, “Stay away from me! Don’t make me come over there!” In truth, they don’t want to come over there. What they want is for the scary thing to vanish into oblivion, preferably yesterday. But think about this: if a dog really meant to attack, he would. The lunging, barking dog is spending precious energy on a display that, if heeded, will actually avoid conflict. But if a dog is very still, staring, body fairly humming with tension, he’s conserving his energy. That is a dog who should cause the hairs on your own neck to stand up, because he might very well attack.

I remember receiving an email from someone who had been bitten when he’d encountered a woman and her dog out in public. The dog had been standing very still and staring at him. Not realizing this was a cause for concern, he approached and reached to pet the dog. The dog bit him. He had no idea why. The answer was in the first line of his email, where he mentioned that the dog was staring. If more people learned to recognize that stillness for what it is—a precariously balanced moment that could result in violence—more conflict could be avoided. Of course, there is a difference between a dog simply standing still, and a dog who’s gone into that tense emotional state which can too easily boil over into decisively aggressive action. Unfortunately, many people really are unaware of the difference. See the photo above? That’s a stock photo. The photographer had as part of the description, “Large guard dog with expressive eyes staring in disbelief.” The only disbelief here is mine, that incredulity is the dog’s underlying emotional state.

Meeting this type of dangerous stillness with threats or aggression is never wise, and will almost certainly cause the dog to explode in violence. If you encounter a dog who is displaying this type of body language, don’t try to overpower or scare the dog. Instead, avert your own gaze, and back away verrry slowly. Notice I said back away, not turn and walk away; walking away offers the dog a chance to attack from the rear. If a dog has gone still when meeeting your dog, get your dog out of there as calmly and quickly as possible.
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119 Responses to The Threat of Stillness

  1. Janice says:

    I’ve noticed this behavior at dog parks as well. A very dominant posture, standing stiff and still, staring at the other dog, almost as if he’s insisting the other dog back away or look away, and then, boom, he attacks. All in a matter of a seconds.

  2. connie says:

    My beagle will go in a stalk position, like after a squirrel around other dogs.

    • Nervous behavior probably. The scent hounds revert to what they know best and also is a distraction. “Leave me alone… here is a reason, something has been through here.”

    • Brian says:

      My Caucasian does the same thing. She goes into a low crawl and waits for her moment. You don’t want to be in front of her when she goes off. I have to take active control of her and shift her full attention on to me as soon as she takes position or she’ll be looking for a slack leash moment to explode.

  3. Trish Scott says:

    ” No. In fact, he was standing stock still, head slightly lowered, body tensed, staring directly at her. ” Well, that IS overtly threatening!!

    • amy says:

      I agree, I feel though that the author is basing her decision to use the word “overtly” by what regular people might consider threatening. Lots of people would not consider the stillness/staring as overt even though it is very scary. They only consider the hackles, standing tall, forward orientation, head up, pursed lips, those behaviors that are contrastingly different to neutral. Nice article.

  4. Actually lip licking and averting the eyes are calming signals communicating to the other dog that they are not a threat. Read Turid Rugaas’ book on calming signals.

    • wildewmn says:

      Jody, it’s true that dogs use lip licking and averting the eyes to communicate that they are not a threat. They will also often display what Turid calls Calming Signals when they feel threatened.

      • Dee Green says:

        Thank you. I rarely see anyone mentioning that about dog behavior, or set of behaviors. A calming signal can be internal or extermal, meaning they can be calming themselves or another animal. Depends on how it’s being displayed, what’s transpired between the dogs up to that point, and the individual characters of the dogs. In roughly that order of importance, in my experience.

    • Liz says:

      Calming signals and Stress Signals are the same thing. From page 1 of Rugaas’ book, “the signals are used at an early stage to prevent things from happening, avoiding threats from people and dogs, calming down nervousness, fear, noise and unpleasant things. The signals are used for calming themselves when they feel stressed or uneasy…”

      • Jerry I says:

        The book was written a long time ago and we know more now than she did then. Not saying we don’t have a lot to learn from her book. I agree the result is the same, but the difference is that a calming signal is given with intent. A display of anxiety is not displayed with intent, but produced subconsciously. Its like a person tapping their nails or their foot. So, for all practical purposes there isn’t much difference; in my mind anyway.

      • wildewmn says:

        Hi Liz, I appreciate that you’ve studied Turid’s work so carefully. The information is invaluable. Part of what you have quoted, “The signals are used at an early stage to…avoiding threats from people and dogs” and “calming down…unpleasant things” is exactly what is being discussed. I’m not sure whether your objection is about semantics, or the words’ application to the observable behavior. But you would certainly be in the right to say the second dog was showing stress signals, or that he was displaying calming signals. Hope that helps.

      • Liz says:

        Nicole, I was not objecting to anything, I was just referring to Jody’s point about the lick licking and eye averting were calming signals, but they are also stress signals. To Jerry’s point, the same behavior could be done with intent or subconsciously. Either way, the dog is uncomfortable.

      • wildewmn says:

        Whoops, Liz, so sorry, I was reading too fast and thought you were Jody replying again. I understand what you’re saying.

      • Tanja says:

        It can mean that the dog is calming ITSELF. The whole context is important.

    • Canine body language is very complex. Since dogs are not verbal communicators that is their primary way to convey intent. Yawning, for example, can be a calming signal as well as a sign of stress. All body language needs to be observed within the context of the situation. My dogs lick their lips and turn their heads when I’m holding them and putting my face close to theirs. So, is this behavior exhibited to calm me down or calm themselves down? Since dogs don’t especially like to be held the answer isn’t clear, however, I know they are not comfortable with the situation.

  5. Liz says:

    I am so glad to have this article to share. I do a lot of pit bull advocacy and many times when I am talking to people about pit bulls they say “They are unpredictable.” My response is that they are not unpredictable, but that the person or people involved do not know how to read them. Stillness and staring are common behaviors an aggressive dog may display, particularly one who is not threatened by the other dog but still feels negatively about them.

    • vshaynes says:

      I agree completely about your response. I’ve got a bully girl (rescue) and have gotten very good about ‘listening’ to her body language. This is just one more thing for me to add to her ‘speech’ index. Too many people are careless about how they approach a dog and the results can be scary.

  6. bealsie2 says:

    Excellent post

  7. Terry Blaine says:

    excellent article Nic.

  8. Jerry I says:

    The other day I was asked to assess a two year old boxer from a boxer rescue in California. Rescue claimed good with cats, other dogs smaller and larger and children. Client had determined that he was extremely cat aggressive and aggressive towards very small dogs, not beagles, but shitzu etc.
    I liked the dog for the most part, took the clients word on the cat. Eventually, I was comfortable with him and I brought my 78 lb black lab into the picture and allowed them to greet. He was doing great and then he backed up, squared off at Andy’s neck and went stiff. Andy is 11 months old and posed no threat; he was being submissive to the older dog. I grabbed the boxers collar and backed away.
    Recommended this 5 month pregnant, having issues with pregnancy, take the dog back to the rescue and report her experience. Her husbands cat had been unable to be in the house for a whole week because of the boxer.

    • Mercy Loomis says:

      We’ve gotten burned twice by different rescues claiming the dogs we were adopting were fine with cats. In the first case, the dog was EXTREMELY prey-driven. The rescue’s response was, “well, we walked her past the cat house, and she didn’t bark at them.” That’s because she doesn’t bark at them, stupid. That would give them a head start. Sheesh.

      • KellyK says:

        Yikes, that is pretty clueless. My dog doesn’t bark at squirrels or rabbits either (except when a squirrel gets away or is treed)–doesn’t mean he wouldn’t kill one given the opportunity.

        I’ve had something similar, though not nearly as bad, with a foster. He was described by his previous owners as “good with cats,” while I’d call him “so-so” at best. I’m defining “so-so” as that middle ground where the dog bothers the cat, but it looks playful rather than predatory–lots of barking, bows, and wagging, rather than stillness and intent. Annoying for the cat, and could certainly turn into an ugly fight, but not the same kind of imminent danger as predatory behavior.

        Honestly, I personally would stay away from “good with cats” as a descriptor unless I’d seen the dog interact with half a dozen cats with never a problem, and stick to describing the behavior I’ve actually observed. Cats vary just like dogs, and a dog’s interaction with one cat isn’t any guarantee of anything.

    • Mary Murphy says:

      Oh my – Jerry, next time you might want to leave the dog you’re testing on leash; grabbing an aroused dog’s collar is an invitation to be bitten.

      • Jerry I says:

        I have to disagree Mary. I don’t believe introducing dogs on lead is a good idea at all. Leashes tend to increase aggression unless two handlers both know very well what they are doing. Even then it can be more awkward for the dogs than without leashes. Leashes start fights more than they prevent fights. If I am that afraid of the situation, then I will skip the introduction all together. I had already seen the dog near other dogs and had worked with him for 45 minutes. I had a decent idea at what I was looking at. Introducing dogs is something I do a lot of.

      • I can personally attest to that as my dog has bitten me several times while I intervened in fights/disagreements with the foster dog. In fact, the best thing to do is to grab a stick, a mop, anything, to put between them rather than your body… (again, from experience!). The WORST thing I’ve done is grab the collar!

      • threenorns says:

        this is going to fly in the face of convention, but in a dog fight, you do not discipline the aggressor – you discipline the dog that’s losing.

        the reasoning is thus: the dogs are trying to establish a hierarchy. the new dog is trying to fit in and the established dog is unwilling to give up territory (“my couch! my rug! my human!”). if one or both dogs are not socialized properly, it will get physical, much the same way toddlers start pushing and slapping each other over a toy that one of them probably only wants bec the other has it.

        if you punish the dog that’s winning, you have completely undermined his credibility and reinforced the lesser dog. you, as the lord of all, need to reinforce the top dog’s position otherwise he has to stomp the underdog down again, only next time it’s going to be harder until it ends in blood and tears.

        if your dog gets into it again with a foster dog, whichever dog is losing – yours or the foster dog, doesn’t matter – that’s the one you sternly correct for not accepting his place and requiring you to spend your valuable time dealing with an issue that should’ve been dealt with between the two of them.

  9. Evelyn says:

    The author doesn’t differentiate between breeds, which should also be factored in. Herding breeds, such as border collies, will crouch, get very still and stare when they are in the herding/watching mode – it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sign of aggression, but sometimes this stance will be misinterpreted.

    • Judith says:

      The author isn’t discussing stalking and crouching. When a dog is standing upright and still, tensed, head slightly lowered and staring, it’s a sign of aggression. People who understand dogs know what the author is referring to. Unfortunately, too many people don’t get it and wind up getting hurt.

    • HL says:

      Same for hunters–my pointer will tense up to the point of slightly quivering, conserving energy to be let out in one explosive burst, just like the story of the aggressive the post. The difference though, is that she is completely focused on whatever winged creature (bird, butterfly, wasp) happens to be in her sights. When confronted with a human or another dog, she will most often roll right over!

      • Kath says:

        You guys are missing the point. The author is not talking about behaviors that are situation appropriate, such as herding and pointing. The author is talking about dog-dog aggression and dog-people aggression. If a border collie or a pointer were still and staring at me, I’d be concerned. And with good reason.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Evelyn, as Judith and Kath pointed out, I wasn’t talking about herding behavior where the stare is part of the stalk sequence. While there is certainly a lot of tension at that moment, the outcome is much different than the type of freeze I’m talking about. The intention is different, the outcome in the case of my blog topic being aggression.

      • threenorns says:

        yeah, that’s something i really wish i’d known 4yrs ago. poor dandy is the first dog i’ve had from scratch (all others were palliative foster care from toronto humane society so they were basically “turn-key”; only things required were a peaceful home, a bed in a warm, sunny spot, regular walks, and a top-notch diet; no real dog knowledge needed since they generally only lived for a few months before i had to send them to the Bridge). i totally misread his border collie stance as a predatory behaviour and freaked out. now i know he was trying to herd in my hyperactive, out of control toddler but at the time, i thought it looked more like he wanted to eat her chubby, tasty-looking chicken-legs.

        4yrs later, i’m MUCH more on the ball but alas – damage done at a puppy stage can only be corrected so much and he’s never really displayed the border collie behaviours since.

  10. Jenn says:

    Border collies with very strong “eye” can indeed be aggressive, and any dog displaying the body language described here (not just the stare) should always be presumed to be ready to attack. Note: border collies should have their drive trained and be strongly discouraged from herding people or children, ever. I’ve met border collies that displayed zero “eye” around people and were well-trained and friendly. Secondly, dog-aggressive border collies most definitely DO exist, and a border collie staring at another dog tense like this is absolutely going to attack that dog. There is no possibility of misinterpretation there. Dogs do not herd other dogs like that.

    • Jerry I says:

      Sorry Jenn, but yes dogs do herd other dogs. I own a daycare/ park for dogs. I have seen numerous Corgis try to herd other dogs, also Border Collie and an Aussie who do it as well; not saying it is okay. Its because it is in their instincts to herd, if they do not get trained to herd and don’t get trained to not herd people or even other dogs, the behavior most definitely can express itself. I’m not disagreeing that they can be just as aggressive as any other dog.

      We have to remember that these blogs are not to correct our dogs, but to remind us to be familiar with behavior. We cannot expect clients or aquaintances to possess well trained dogs.

      • Vikki says:

        I took in a 10 year old spayed sheltie bitch (retired champion) when her owner passed away. She proceeded to become pack leader and herd every keeshond in the household (all 5 of them -3 rescues, 2 house dogs) and people. Everyone got along fine and didn’t challenge her position which she retained until shy of age 15 when she developed a liver disorder and passed away two weeks after being diagnosed. My 6 month old puppy keeshond bitch became alpha because no one else wanted it after the sheltie’s demise.

      • Can you tell me if you notice herding behaviors in setters? My dog is a pit/setter mix and she gets… bitey when dogs aren’t in the right place. WIGS OUT when dogs come into our yard, but we have a townhouse so it’s not technically OUR yard…

      • threenorns says:

        of course i cannot find it now, but i read a very interesting study. they found that herding, pointing, retrieving, etc, occurs in ALL breeds when they are very young pups at pretty much an equal rate. it’s only as they get older that some behaviours fall away and other develop further. this suggests the reason dogs do what they do is not because of the dog but because of the owner!

        Example, i have a border collie mix; i expect him to herd. wittingly or not, i encourage the behaviour i expect to see and discourage (or ignore – same thing: when you purposefully ignore an unwanted behaviour and give no reaction, it’s called “extinction”) behaviour i do not expect or want to see. at an early age, the puppy learns that if he assumes The Position or uses The Stare, it will generate a positive response. if he points or tracks a scent, it will generate either no response or a “stop that!”.

        my friend has a plott hound – she expects him to be single-minded and unshakeable when on a scent and does not expect him to herd. when he locks on to a scent, her body language and reaction maybe exasperated but there’s also a “oh well, what do you expect? he’s a hound!” undercurrent where if he tried to herd somebody, it would be a definite negative correction.

        in your pit (which breed, exactly? there’s a LOT of breed called “pit bull”) setter cross, it might not even be herding but controlling or dominance.

  11. Sometimes, when encountering a dog in the staring mode just a simple smile and “Hello, how are you.” will break the ice and result in a friendly response. I once owned a dog that seemed to think that greeting was required and you were downright rude if you didn’t speak to him.

    • Joy says:

      I used to have an Akita/Rottie/wolf cross. That dog taught me a huge amount, and because of him I became an advocate of positive reinforcement training. The first time I tried an “alpha roll” on him (he was 4 months old), it took 5 minutes for him to submit, and I knew I had to change tactics very quickly. I learned to read him completely. He was one of those dogs that would go very still, and I had to warn several people NOT to stare back. He would have died for me, but I couldn’t trust him around other people. Yet, when he showed that stillness, or was threatening in any way, a simple “Let’s play, Puppy!” in a happy voice, making a game of everything, would change his mood entirely.

  12. My one and only “failed adoption” was with a troubled doberman, who did this silent thing. He lasted 10 days in our house. I simply could NOT have a dog living with me who I did not trust. I feared for my elderly Dalmatian and myself. I couldn’t get an appointment with a behaviorist for weeks, so I called an experienced rescue friend, and she told me to “Get that dog out of your house before he hurts you.” We had to return him to the shelter, and they put him down. We had been his last chance. Poor boy. Even though I know so much more know about dog behavior now, I still don’t think I’d take on a true aggression case like this as a Dog Mom. Fearful / reactive dog, like my current BC, yes. But straight up scary dog? I don’t think so. Too much risk.

  13. razl00 says:

    Whatever breed the stare is meant to intimidate. People use this. Heck, I’ve used this on a bully. For dogs or humans the best response is to back away because this stare means the next step WILL be aggression. Well, maybe I wouldn’t have punched the bully out but he did walk away, using HIS body language as in showing his back to show he wasn’t afraid of me. Ha. Different for dogs where showing your back triggers the next step–aggression.

  14. Pat says:

    I’ve been training dogs for over 40 years and this article is spot on. Many of my students have thought that a wagging tail or stillness meant happiness or safety. The lack of experience or knowledge of body language that only comes with years of working with many different breeds and in many different environments, including veterinary medicine, makes you very aware of and instinctive. Great job, Nicole!

  15. Sam Tatters says:

    I love this! People in general are missing a lot of what should be basic “dog knowledge”, one in particular that really annoys me is when people gawk at a barking dog, when the dog is barking because they came too close, or looked too much (or both!). I want to smack them and tell them to look away, rather than gawk at the poor dog:(

    • KaD says:

      Seriously? How about teaching your dog what behaviors are acceptable? The whole world doesn’t revolve around your barely in control dog.

      • Sam Tatters says:

        Seriously? How about you stop being quite so rude and realise that a barking dog is not “barely in control”, but communicating?

        I am well aware that “the whole world doesn’t revolve around my dog” (neither of whom I was actually talking about BTW), but perhaps you need to spend a day or two with dogs who have been abused by people, and I mean really abused – beaten to the point of having broken bones, having no reason to trust strangers, dog who whom you can’t just wave a magic wand and “fix” immediately – and then you might realise that if the general public had even just a teeny, tiny, smidgen of real general knowledge about dogs, the world would be a happier, safer place because there would be fewer bites *because* the things the general public do that cause them to get bitten would not be happening

        As for your comment about having dogs on lead at all times, do you realise the majority of dogs would suffer greatly – physically and psychologically – if they didn’t have time and space to run off lead even just occasionally. How would you like it if you were constantly confined to your house? Eventually you’d go crazy. If you have an issue with dogs, don’t go to places where there likely to be off lead, and you won’t have to deal with them. And learn a little about them – it’s good for everyone!

      • threenorns says:

        seriously? how about the idea that humans have responsibility in interactions too? where do you get the idea that the whole world revolves around you?

        if you want a dog that is in perfect control at all times, then may i suggest the Aibo breed, or if that’s too much action for you, perhaps the Gund.

  16. Kate says:

    Years of dog training myself? Yes indeed this is very true. Gotta watch that body language, tells you everything you need to know in seconds. Regardless of an owners, ‘Oh, he/she is friendly’…trust what you see, NOT what anyone says. Importantly, we must pay attention to own dogs body language same time. Distract, confuse, & break that eye contact ASAP- do whatever it takes to defuse a potentially volatile situation.

  17. karen cangelosi says:

    We happen to own a Great Dane who does the “stare down” seconds before he attacks another animal. Fortunately he never displays any of this behavior towards people so we keep him isolated from other animals. Yes, we have tried behavior specialist and he is a very obedient dog. He will sit when told for an hour if needed but he cannot be trusted with other animals without an “alpha” person commanding him to behave. Having owned numerous breeds for 50 years, this is the first dog to have this behavior. He was raised with numerous dogs and cats , neutered at one year, yet grew into an “alpha male” times 10.

  18. Great post, Nicole! I think that we trainers have an obligation to impart this type of knowledge in puppy classes, so that their clients who will eventually be taking their dogs out walking, or to dog parks, will not be victimized by lack of awareness that a still dog is not necessarily a friendly dog. When those pups are playing, talk about canine language!

  19. Caesura says:

    The only exception I’ve notice to this behavior is sight hounds. They were bred to watch/stare. When I have my borzois out with me, they spend most of their time with their butts glued to my leg and serenely gazing off into the distance. If something is moving, they staring at that.

    This REALLY unnerves a lot of dogs, except for other sight hounds. Many dogs do that calming/anxious behavior, and many of them will avert their head for a few seconds, then explode in a furious display of defensive barking, lunging, and snarling at the end of the leash.

    The borzois react to those displays with surprise and their own calming signals to the upset dog.

    If it’s another sight hound they’re staring at, that dog will either ignore them or they’ll lock eyes, both get statue still for a moment, then swoop into playbows and start bouncing around down on their elbows with their bums in the air.

    We don’t go to dog parks. It doesn’t end well. They only play with other sight hounds or individual dogs that know them and understand that they play weird and aren’t going to hurt them.

  20. jody says:

    I just have always known never to look straight into a strange dogs eyes. Also, dogs can sense fear. And they can read what their owners are projecting. When I feel anxiety so does my dog.I had a Great Dane /Mastiff her size alone scared people with my anxiety things didn’t always workout. But when I left her at the vet(she had got bit by a black widow spider) for two days the attendents all loved her and said how sweet she was.So sometimes its the owner that gives the dog things to worry about. Just my little story.

  21. Maggi Burtt says:

    I was at a dog event once, a public market sort of thing. It was indoors. There was a relatively small man made “potty area” for the dogs to use. I was there with my dog and was about to leave when I noticed two dogs “meeting” in the middle of the area…a very large GSD and a rather large bully mix. Sniffing was fine..for a few seconds and then both dogs got stiff…just as I was saying “you ladies should really move away from each other” the dogs exploded. No injuries as the people were quick to separate. A guy standing next to me was astonished that I saw it coming…it’s the epitome of the calm before the storm.

    • It really explains why, when my dog has attacked the foster dog we are getting rid of today, it comes out of NOWHERE. If you’re not paying attention, everything seems quiet and chill, and then it’s so sudden. The best thing, I’ve learned, is if they completely ignore each other. Then, things are okay.

  22. Diana says:

    Nicely written description of something I see all too often. I don’t know if it’s more common now because people are more urban and have less experience with animals (outside of anthropomorphised TV) or if I just notice it more now. People in general seen less able to correctly interpret any kind of species’ body language (cat, horse, sheep, dog, etc). There is a completely different intensity to a dog looking at something or a sighthound scanning the horizon (or even the initial stiffness of two friendly dogs meeting after a long break) than there is to a the hard eye and tense body language of a threat. If you watch closely you can see the moment where a BC’s prey drive crosses from control of stock to full predation (& good herding trainers can anticipate it early enough to completely avoid the dog getting close to crossing over). Herding is essentially interrupted predatory aggression and sometimes it doesn’t get interrupted properly. The poster who said it is the calm before the storm captured the menacing quality of this kind of stillness perfectly. To me it has always seemed that the stillness had a very active marshalling of forces feel. Not at all like the pointer on point or the rat catcher watching for squirrels (though it is similar to what the dog looks like right before an attack on the rodent is launched). Nice job!

    • Sharon Normandin says:

      Excellent, Diana! The behaviour of working dogs, herding and sporting, is just an interruption predatory behaviour. The artificial selection process that resulted in breeds with specific traits for specific jobs arose from selecting those early canines with a “weak spot” in their predatory motor chain; the predation can be interrupted readily at their weak spot, i.e. the “chase” portion of the chain was more readily controlled in dogs who became herding breeds, while the sight hounds totally eliminate the “stalk” portion. Ray Coppinger describes this in more detail in his book.

      And as you said, the good trainers, those knowledgeable in this behaviour, recognize when a crossover is about to take place.

    • wildewmn says:

      Exactly, Diana, and thank you for helping to clarify!

    • Matthew says:

      I am going to disagree with you on one point. Hunting behavior and aggression do not come from the same place. To call hunting behaviors “predatory aggression” is misleading. as is trying to link aggression to hunting behavior.

      The act of noticing prey, stalking, chasing, killing and consuming prey comes from a completely different emotional state than aggression. one is not aggressive to one’s food.

      while both aggression and hunting can result in another dead animal, they are not the same behaviors. do not involve the same emotional states.

      having observed both, I can assure you a dog that is hunting and killing and consuming it’s prey is not in an aggressive state. in fact after the “act” the dog is MUCH more calm and relaxed than a dog who just had an “episode” of aggressive behavior. Be it bluff or otherwise.

      • wildewmn says:

        Hi Matthew, I’m not sure if you’re disagreeing with me or Diana, but to clarify, the behavior discussed in this blog is not about hunting behavior or stalking behavior. The type of freeze I’m discussing is a prelude to aggression, which neither of the preceding are.

      • Matthew says:

        I was disagreeing with Diana’s linking hunting and aggression.

        hunting is not aggression. While there may be stalking and freezing in hunting, it isn’t the same as the freezing you are describing. we are on the same page there.

        I hear/see a lot of people confusing hunting behaviors with aggression, hence my comments.

        Sorry, should have been more clear who I was disagreeing with. But to clarify even more…i don’t disagree with everything Diana said. Just the “predatory aggression” statement.

  23. Cheryl Kienast says:

    That explains what happened to me once as a young person–encountered a dog described as above–eyes intently on me–very tense–I instinctively backed slowly away from the dog down the street until I was, evidently, no longer a threat. Had I run, there is no doubt the dog would have attacked.

  24. Max says:

    Great post, thank you! The only thing the article doesn’t address is what you ought to do when YOUR dog is behaving in this way. I have an elderly(ish) GSD who freezes and quivers with anticipation of an explosion with EVERY dog she sees. Having said that, with most dogs she switches into reactive mode and shows fear aggression whenever get closer. I’m sure if the right (wrong?) dog was encountered she’d have a real go at them.
    So, is there a way to nip it in the bud? You know what they’re like – you could try to distract them til you’re blue in the face. They will stare THROUGH you.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Max, perhaps this would make a good subject for a future blog…but the bottom line is that if your GSD is going into this mode, you’re already too close to the other dog. As you said, at that point you could try to distract them ’til you’re blue in the face. The only way to get a foot in the door is to practice exercises at home first such as attention, follow me, targeting, or whatever you’d like your dog to do in the actual situation. Then gradually get around other dogs at enough of a distance at first that your dog is able to pay attention to you. Gradually work closer to other dogs as long as your dog is not pushed over threshold. This all takes time of course, but it’s very effective. In the meantime, avoid as much as possible putting your dog in any situation that is going to be overwhelming enough to cause the unwanted behavior.

      • One way you can tell if your dog is getting close to threshold is if you are using a clicker and clicking and treating for looking at a dog and as you get closer there bite will become stronger on your fingers as you treat them. That’s when I always back up a few feet, click and treat and then end the session.

      • LorranLG says:

        As a guardian of a fearful aggressive Mastiff, you are stressing your dog a bit by putting him in fearful situations. From time to time, we encounter situations that frighten my dog. He begins to fixate… A roofer, a motorcycle rider, a bike rider, a non-fixed pit bull, you name it. I continue to make him heel, and leave it. We do not investigate. We tell the party that is making my dog uncomfortable that he is not friendly, and we briskly walk on. With lots of time, you likely do much more to socialize your pup, but I would recognize he has issues and remove him from stressful contact. If you have more time, address the situation with a trainer.

  25. Christine B says:

    I love reading your posts every week, they just get better and better. I volunteer at a shelter and I’ve always been super wary of those dogs who go still and stare, like you mentioned, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight with us in the internet world. We are wiser for it!

  26. Karen French says:

    This reminds me of every description I’ve ever read of the Wolf, before it attacks it’s prey. Same look, same stance. I’ve encountered this situation, but I held my ground lowered my eyes, and looked away, the dog relaxed enough to let me back up. Luckily he was behind a fence!

  27. Patti says:

    Great article…………Thanks!

  28. Great article. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
    I was a meter reader for five almost six years in California. I entered on avg 600 yards a day. I was attacked frequently. The loud chasers always ran when you turned around. “Toungers” as old hunters call them.
    The silent ones that made your hair stand up. Those ones knew what they were capable of. Many times so did their owners. We saw junk yard dogs. Mountain dogs, city dogs, and I’m not speaking about breeds I’m speaking about the environments they were shaped by.chained dogs… You name it.
    Now I work with dogs as a trainer and I draw on my many years of not only growing up with dogs but being chased or attacked by them.
    Rely on your prey instincts. They will tell you what a predator is thinking.

  29. LorranLG says:

    Very good article. I have a bonded pair of dogs, that I rescued, a Basset and a Mastiff. I learned quickly that my Mastiff has fearful-aggressive-behavior. He is also protective. This is very serious in a large dog, especially. My Mastiff is especially fearful of men, people in “work” clothing, men on motorcycles with helmets, people in wheelchairs or on bikes. He was very unsocialized and/or mistreated as a young dog. While he has calmed quite a bit over the years, we still consider aggression a real possibility in his temperament. We pay close attention to his body language at all times in when around new situations. At home, he is fine with us and people he knows. We display dominance, make him heel, sit, wait, and we take the “responsibility” to protect or decide what to do away from him. We mainly expose him to a calm, safe, environment in the mountains with lots of room and his best buddy. We only introduce him to people and other animals when he is in a calm, relaxed state… After a long walk is a good time.

  30. LorranLG says:

    I should add, the stare, the tension, it is a fixation… Something that focus must be broken to stop it. When dogs fixate, and attack, they can kill you.

    • Kath says:

      Dominance is not the correct way to deal with pre-aggressive behavior.

      • LorranLG says:

        If it is a strange dog, and it is displaying pre-agressive behavior towards me or my dog, I agree, avert gaze and back away.

        If my dog is outwardly fixating aggressively on another animal or person, it works for me to be dominant and correct the behavior. What works for you in this situation? I would NOT display dominance if the aggressive behavior is directed at me… That would become a fight…

  31. sean says:

    Hi, iv noticed my dog circles people when im at the park.she only does it if the person is sitting or lying down. as for the stillnes.she does this almost every time she is out. Only once she attacked another dog. But the dog ran for her and barking to. Wasn’t bad as i was able to get my dog of and under control. She is a bull mastiff. Is this normal. she does play with most dogs.seems to be German shepards she behaves like this.

  32. boxer says:

    I think people should refrain from touching any strange dog or invade its space. If we do not do that to people, why do it to dogs?

    • KaD says:

      I agree. I don’t go near other people’s dogs. I wish other people would control and leash their animals at ALL times and not expect others who aren’t familiar with their dog to ‘interpret’ it’s body language.

  33. threenorns says:

    i tell ppl this all the time when they ask what the difference is betw my dog – who is hyperactive but not aggressive (he bounces and boings all over the place but he’s 65lb black border collie mix so ppl can get a bit freaked) – and a “dangerous” dog.

    to answer, i physically demonstrate – a relaxed dog is loose and when he wags his tail, it’s floppy all over the place or going so fast you can’t see it (“look! i’m a peacock!”). i demonstrate by doing a “Harlem Shake” kind of thing.

    then i say a dog to be wary of is staring at you (at which point i slightly widen my eyes and stop blinking), his tail is up like a shark’s and may wag like a metronome (demonstrated with my arm bent up at 90degr and “ticking” back and forth), and he’s very very still (i pulled myself slightly up onto my toes, lean slightly forward toward them, pull in a long slow breath and hold it) as if he’s “powering up”.

    it looks a bit goofy but is so much easier than just trying to “explain” it.

  34. Virginia Pudelko says:

    It’s nice to have the information to recognize trouble before it starts, but what do you do to prevent the animal from starting in the first place? We have a two dog household and one dog has decided to start trouble with the other after almost a year of being introduced into the home. The original dog gets “jumped” simply for trying to get a drink of water or trying to lay down in his favorite spot on the floor. The newer dog doesn’t even want the thing the older dog is near! The poor older dog doesn’t even care if he’s alpha or not, he just wants his friend back….you can see he’s confused about the new relationship….and has actually gone out of his way to avoid the other dog.

    • threenorns says:

      after a year? was the new dog a puppy when you got him?

      if not, then something fundamental has changed in the home. if absolutely nothing has changed (new dog reaching physical maturity, no divorce, no job loss, no new job, kids leaving for college, new baby, new furniture, home renovation, etc) then you might want to have your older dog taken to the vet for a physical exam.

      another thought is that the humans in the house are not exerting leadership – does the dog behave properly? sits when told to, stays out of the garbage, respects boundaries, walks nicely on leash, etc? if not, then this is a dog that’s basically taking over the house starting with the older dog. you’ll need to get on top of him and assert the humans as the leaders and put him down on a level with the other dog. do not allow him to take over the other dog’s sleeping area, toys, etc, because this is going to be a seriously nasty situation if it perpetuates and the older dog gets fed up with it all.

  35. Pam Carlson says:

    I am a sem-dog trainer…I use that word loosely, because although I’ve had some formal education and training experience, I gave it up, because I’m just not that good at it…however, that being said, my favorite thing is watching dog behavior anywhere I go. It amazes me how little people understand communicating with their dogs. I will watch a dog lunging and barking at another dog coming towards him, and neither owner with think to move away! That doesn’t take rocket science..I’ve see this so many times. It’s an everyday occurence at least once!! My own dog is reactive to other dogs, so I have to turn and walk away before he shows signs, and yet people just keep on coming!

  36. I always tell people it’s not so bad when a dog growls. It’s at least warning the person (child, other pet) to go away. I have a border collie/chow/retriever mix (at least that’s our best guess) who attacked our Cairn terrier during a storm. The Cairn is afraid of storms and had settled herself into the laundry room. Apparently the mix didn’t know she was there, smelled or sensed fear and attacked the Cairn, ripping the Cairn’s lower eyelid. The Cairn is doing fine, and now, whenever a storm is evident, we sequester the mix in another room from the other dogs.

  37. philospher77 says:

    I ran into this situation out on a walk recently. I had my rat terrier, and two people were on a connecting path, a man with a boxer and a woman with a pit bull. Because of how the paths met, and the fact that my rattie HAS to stop and sniff things, they got ahead of me, which made me happy because the pit was showing signs of very focussed behavior, and my rattie can get very explosive if she feels threatened. Not too far down the path I came across this scene: the boxer is off the path, in a sit, being focussed by his owner. The pit is across the path, stock still, having a stare off with, of all things, a bull terrier, who is also very still. The lady is explaining that she had only had the pit for a week, when the guy with the bull terrier (on a flexi!) lets the dog rush the pit, while telling the owner she should take the dog to the dog park to let him socialize more. Thankfully, the pit was not aggressive, and the owner managed to keep him under control, but it wasn’t something I would have done with two bully breeds and an owner saying that she hadn’t had the dog long and was still learning his behavior! (I was, during all this, stopped a way back, trying to figure out how to get my dog, who snarks back at other dogs who snark first, through this mess. Didn’t want to pick her up, because that could turn her into a toy to the other dogs. Decided to walk her in a focussed heel past the boxer, then did a VERY wide circle around the bull terrier, because that’s where the space was. Would have much preferred to go around the pit, because that owner struck me as much more responsible and in control.)

  38. Pete, MI says:

    Just curious if anyone has had any experience similar to this– my chocolate lab has a tendency to make aggressive growling noises while SIMULTANEOUSLY wagging his tail and acting non-aggressively. He has never bitten anybody and gets along well with other dogs. This growl is rather intimidating. Don’t want to be missing something here.

    • threenorns says:

      it’s a serious mistake to think that dogs must be silent at all times. some dogs are vocal – they grumble, growl, yip, yipe, moan, yowl, and even caterwaul. this is especically seen in dogs that are highly socialized to humans – it only makes sense, when humans are all about the blah-blah-blah.

    • Evelyn Haskins says:

      Golly Gee!

      Yes! If you EVER hear German Shepherds growling it means they are having a wonderful game. If you want to entice a German Shepherd to play (roughly 🙂 go up and growl at it.

      Aggression in much quieter. Also watch for ear position and facial expressions 🙂

      I don’t know much about Labs, but don’t go growling at a Kelpie, as it will likely wet itself in fright 🙂

    • Pat F. says:

      The Labrador my family and I had many years ago would grumble and growl at some visitors, circle them, and then sit down with a ‘huff’ sound and expect to be petted. He liked most people and was not an aggressive dog; he just vocalized a lot.

  39. threenorns says:

    “aggressive” means “i’m going to eat your face”; it doesn’t mean “i’m scared of that noise your dog just made”. it could be that the growling/grumbling sounds impressive bec chocolate labs are big dogs with deep chests – in other words, you have the doggie equivalent of Michael Clarke Duncan

  40. […] Threat of Stillness… an awesome article, and her other blogs are straight on as well!! The Threat of Stillness | Wilde About Dogs __________________ […]

  41. Dee says:

    Thank you so much! I know what the still, staring dog body means and know to avert my gaze. What I learned is to back away – not turn my back.

  42. I was bitten several times by a terrier who was standing still as a rock. Lesson learned.

  43. Rose says:

    What does it mean when a dog flattens down to the ground and begins a sort of belly crawl at the sight of another dog approaching from a distance?

  44. Kathleen says:

    Very good, helpful article. My dog has bitten someone who was leaning down to pet him. I didn’t realize he was aggressive as he was very still and had shown no signs of being upset, that I knew of. I’m much more cautious with him now and glad to know these signs. I’ve owned dogs all my life but had never seen this kind of behavior before.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks, Kathleen. On the topic of leaning down to pet dogs, check out the blog post right before this one, Overhead Dread. 😉

  45. As a dog trainer for over 35 years I consider this information….EXCELLENT!!! That rigid body language should never be ignored….Great educational information…thank you.

  46. Crystal says:

    My dog uses this body language at the dog park, in what we call a “Mexican Standoff” before one dog darts at the other, and a chase happens. She is never violent when this happens, she just tries to goad other dogs into chasing her. She also gets her hackles way up when playing the chase-me game, and they subside the instant she stops running. She has never bitten another dog doing this. So, the body language is definitely contextual.

    That being said, I would not approach an unfamiliar dog displaying this behavior toward me. I may crouch from a distance, to see if his body language would change, but that’s it.

  47. Evelyn Haskins says:

    Excellent post.

    I learned when to get my reactive bitch “out-of-there” quick-smart by just watching her eyes. I sudden stillness, meant a violent eruption within a millisecond.

    This was NOT a predatory ‘eye’ — but totally different. It was almost a complete blankness of expression.
    Dogs that crouch, and ‘eye’ at going into prey mode — not aggression.

    Then body stillness is not necessarily a sign of incipient aggression — it ALL depends on the gaze direction. I had a dog save himself from utter annihilation by freezing like a statue and looking away from the would-be attacker. He didn’t move a muscle until the attacker was out-of-sight. I learned then to freeze if approached by an aggressive dog.

  48. Does anyone have any thoughts about what to do with a friendly dog who is reactive to this sort of stare-down? My Rottie occasionally will tell this sort of dog to “piss-off” with rapid approach, vocalizations and air-snaps, then moving off. After the initial encounter, if the owner allows it, the two dogs normally accept each other, and sometimes will even move into play. (Most often the other owner won’t allow it and will freak out at me because my dog “attacked” theirs. Oh the joys of owning a Rottie.)

    I am 100% confident in my dog’s friendliness, lack of aggression and bite inhibition. My sense is that its “corrective” behaviour coming from my dog. (Knock it off!).

    • threenorns says:

      sounds right to me: the other dog is exhibiting bad manners – the equivalent of a teenaged wannabe-gangbanger strolling up with pants hanging betw his knees, 8 layers of clothing including a parka in 81degr heat, baseball hat on sideways, and unlaced shoes about to flip off his feet coming up to you with that bent-kneed chicken-walk saunter they do and saying “yo, bitch – what up?”

      your dog did the canine equivalent of Chuck Norris.

      once street cred has been established, all’s good.

  49. JessaBell says:

    Very true… However, it’s important to remember that some dogs also “stalk” playfully. My dog will crouch low, raise her hackles a little bit, and stare intently at her “target”, all in play. It can be a little scary for the recipient when she finally makes the lunge though, if they don’t know her. And if she’s on a leash at the time she will usually end up barking in frustration when she gets to the end of it, which people again can take the wrong way. So, although you should always exercise caution around a dog you don’t know that has gone still, please DON’T think that the dog is vicious.

  50. Katie says:

    This is not actually a reply. I have a question, hoping that someone will have some insight into what I might do. I have a small female Maltese, two years old. She is very fearful until she gets to know someone very well. She loves people, but is submissive, rolling on her back exposing her tummy. Will fight to get out of most anyone else’s arms to get back to me. She does the lip licking, and yawning to show her fear. With the exception of my son’s dog, she growls, barks and goes absolutely nuts when other dogs are within close quarters. When people walk by our sliding glass door, ( we live in a condo, facing the parking lot) she races back and fourth barking, growling and racing around until they are out of sight. She was frightened by a large dog the very day I got her. The dog was friendly, but jumped at her and barked. She was only 3 months old. I have tried holistic drops and pills, the thunder shirt, and pheromones, nothing seems to work. I worked with a trainer to no avail. She seems to be getting worse. The doggie day care centers in our small area are pitiful. I thought maybe it might be good for her to socialize with dogs of her size. We walk everyday, and I am embarrassed when we come upon another dog, as I know she is going to go nuts. Any suggestions?

    • threenorns says:

      yes – stop expecting her to go nuts.

      if you’re typical, you have a pushme/pullyou attitude toward your dog: you are consciously aware that she’s a dog but you are also afraid she will get hurt from the slightest gust just bec she’s so tiny and delicate. so you have an overprotective aura coming out.

      dogs read body language – she isn’t reading “my mommy loves me and wants to keep me safe from big dogs and ppl who might not know to handle me gentle because of my fragile bones”; she’s reading “my mommy is afraid of everything”. that sends her into a protective/defensive stance but then you get angry, upset, and embarrassed – and now she’s hopelessly confused “wait…what?!? but you JUST said…!”

      if you want your dog to calm down, you need to calm down first. you need to remain calm – don’t get upset or embarrassed, she’s not doing it to spite you and it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible dog owner. so you stay calm and then you tell her – “calm down”. use a gentle correction (whichever works best for her) when she behaves this way and that doesn’t mean pick her up (which rewards the behaviour and reinforces it). if she’s afraid of other ppl, do not allow them to pick her up. you wouldn’t let random ppl pick up your baby, right? same thing.

      scout around for owners of other bitty-wee type dogs and start socializing her that way. also, you might want to find someone who has a well-behaved st bernard or newf – they’re way giant but they’re so passive and gentle that they’re a good way to introduce bitty pups to the idea that big dogs are not necessarily “bad” or “scary”.

      about the glass door, you can take the time – lots of time! – to work on correcting her every time she explodes or you could put up that film that mirrors her own image back to her and blocks her from seeing anything outside.

      be aware – and i’m speaking from experience! – that this is not a “oh, good – the dog’s fixed now” thing. you’ll be working on this her entire life.

      • Katie says:


        Thank you, for the very sound advice. I had a feeling she was reading my vibes. I am going to put the film up, probably can get it at Home Depot. I have noticed that she isn’t threatened by other small dogs, and will scout out some larger dogs to slowly introduce her to. I know that I need to work on my calming down. Calm dog owner, calm dog. It’s weird though, my last Maltese was so calm people would ask me if she was a stuffed animal. Thank you again. I am going to print this and reread it until it all sinks in.


  51. Katie says:


    I am also going to work with her diligently when she explodes in front of the sliding glass door. I will do that faithfully to try and avoid the film. Thanks again.

  52. julie says:

    Thank you for this post. I teach young children about dog safety. This is one area I was going to add to my lesson. It is easy for children to understand a barking or growling dog, but a still dog takes training to understand.

  53. mimirosen says:

    Great article. Thank you. I have a fear reactive dog, by have seen that stillness before too.

  54. Karen D. says:

    Not only are your posts/articles excellent, the discussion they generate are so informative as well. Thanks for doing the work to make this happen.

  55. Rebecca Anastasio says:

    You often see the stillness more in a dog that has been punished excessively for growling — another problem generated with dominance-based training methods. The dogs has learned not to growl, so you don’t get the early warning signal, it proceeds right into prepare to fight mode.

  56. I don’t know if it was mentioned already, but tail wagging is NOT necessarily a sign of happiness or welcome…it depends on HOW the tail is being wagged….if the entire dog is stiff, tail held high-this is a sign of aggression or agitation…a low wagging tail or one that’s tucked between their rear legs is nervousness or fear…whereas a dog whose whole back-end is wagging WITH his tail….that usually signifies true happiness!!

  57. Susan says:

    I have a 4 year old German Shepard Irish wolfhound mix. If anyone has ever seen an Irish Wolfhound they have seen the quiet stillness, they are very peaceful dogs. I can tell when my dog is upset or concerned, he doesn’t change his posture much, and he rarely growls, but he focuses his eyes. He started having seizures about a year ago now and they have diagnosed him with epilepsy. Before he has a seizure he gets the same focused eyes as when he is upset at the dog park. We didn’t know his warning signals, and that he was scared after his first seizure so we turned on the lights, and made loud noises which just made the whole problem worse. When he gets the look now, we almost automatically go into calming mode. He has only once attempted to attack another dog, and even then he didn’t even bite the dog, just did warning barks and lunges. This happened after the other dog tried to mount my girl dog. Anyway! This article is great, and I kind of want to give it to all the other dog owners I know because people to often think their dog is just playing or that the dogs will settle it themselves.

    • threenorns says:

      you’re correct in that too many ppl are delusional about their dogs’ behaviour – in my experience, it’s usually the owners of the lil yappers: chihuahuas, yorkies, poms, etc, who are delusional the wrong way because who can take those little guys seriously? after all, what damage can they do?

      we’ll ask my bff, who nearly lost her hand when an “insignificant” nip on the web betw her thumb and forefinger from a yorkie/jack russell mix nearly cost her her hand and necessitated emergency surgery without anaesthesia – just four big guys holding her down in the emergency dept. this was in ontario, too: by the time she listened to my threats and shouting and pleading, she was nearly critical sepsis but she had already eaten and had a few coffees so it wasn’t possible to put her under and she literally had *zero* time left – she would’ve had to have the entire arm amputated had they waited to the next day to anaesthetise her safely.

      but ppl who have big dogs tend to go the other way – i kept correcting my dog’s natural border collie “stalking mode” bec i ignorantly interpreted it as “predatory” behaviour (which it is but not THAT way).

      so then we end up with the situation where ppl thought my big, black, and hairy dog was “aggressive” bec he goes from 0 to “PLAY!!!!” mode in 0.2 seconds but then a miniature schnauzer coming up out of nowhere from underneath a lawn chair at a public event and attacking my dog’s face – literally hanging off dandy’s bottom lip and dandy’s looking cross-eyed down his nose at this little freak who’s hanging in mid-air and shaking dandy’s face like he’s trying to rip it off (no growling, either – no noise – this dog meant business!) is a “silly pup”!

      not kidding: the owner laughs, pulls the dog off, gives him a gentle tap on the nose followed by a caress, then puts him on her lap saying “oh, he’s not actually mean – are you, silly puppy?”!

      herpa derp.

      [fwiw, that event cemented to the town that my dog is “amazingly good-natured” and he’s been given carte blanche to eat that schnauzer if it happens again, lol]

      • I could not agree with you more about little dogs and the ignorance of many of their owners. They’re so little and cute, they can’t possibly be EVIL like f-ers.

      • Susan says:

        I don’t quite understand why people with little dogs let them bite people or misbehave. I wouldn’t let my cat go up and bite someone and she would probably do less damage then the little dog. With that reasoning it is like saying it is okay for a toddler to hit someone because she is so little. What if the little dog bites a kids finger off?
        I also don’t understand why people with little dogs think it is okay to let them run up to people, or have them off leash. Some people are afraid of dogs! They don’t want them running around them! And I for one am always terrified of stepping on the dog.

      • Susan says:

        I do find it is the yappy dog owners as well. I try not to be to prejudice because I do know some small dog owners who are responsible about training their dog, but not many. My puppy has a tendancy to bark at smaller dogs, because she likes running with them, and people take it as being aggressive, then the little dogs will bite her and me and every dog and every other person and the owner just laughs it off. The only difference between your dog biting me and my dog biting you is mine will most likely do more damage, that doesn’t mean mine is more aggresive. Its even harder with a Rottweiler because there is such a negative stigma to them, much like pittbulls. However the only dogs that don’t play rough at the dog park I go to is the pit, the great dane, and the greyhound.
        I have had people get mad that my Rottweiler is barking, in a playful come play with me way, while their dog is biting at peoples ankles and growling.
        The worst part is she doesn’t understand why people will pet the other dogs and not her when she is behaving so nicely. I’m always afraid she will see the little dogs get attention after biting and she will try.

      • threenorns says:

        that’s a very good point – ppl don’t realize that their dogs don’t live in bubbles and will generally learn off other dogs FAR quicker than from their owner, much in the same way that children pick up far more quickly from other children (this is why day care is so strongly recommended for children with developmental delays).

        it’s a good thing i live in a small town – after two years, ppl around here (the regulars, anyway) know full well if they don’t keep their dog under control, i’ll do it for them!

  58. Shirley Reitebach says:

    I have a male nutured Portugese Water Dog that shows agression on the bike path towards other dogs. He will see another dog approaching and will start with the “stocking” walk … head low and walking low to the ground. I will take him off of the path make him sit and look at me while the other dog passes and this works fine most of the time. My husband refuses to walk him anymore and it’s become “not fun” for me to walk with him. His eight years old and lives with another dog. I’m running out of options with him. I have made an appointment for him to see a dog behavior specialist and I’m hoping he can help him.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Shirley, it’s great that you’re going to consult a behavior specialist. Just be sure the person uses positive, gentle methods instead of “correcting” your dog for the behavior, which often makes it worse. If you find that you don’t like the person’s methods, you can check out behavior specialists via the APDT ( as there is a “trainer search” area by zip code.
      Take care and I’m sure you’ll find the help you need. 🙂

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