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Reading Your Dog’s Subtle Body Language Signals – Nervousness To Aggression

Reading your dog’s subtle body language signals – nervousness to aggression

If you dog feels threatened it has an inbuilt defence response of

  • Flight – to run away
  • Freeze – to stay where they are or to investigate the situation
  • Fight – to attack

The behaviours are on a spectrum ranging from subtle to dramatic behaviour.

For example a dramatic version of flight is running away and a subtle version is turning their head and moving away.

There are 3 types of freeze; submissive, assertive and aggressive.

The submissive freeze is getting lower than the threat to appease the situation.

An assertive freeze is standing their ground – Here they may appear friendly to pacify the situation or they may use their body language to communicate to the threat they are not to be messed with by standing tall, making themselves bigger etc.

And an aggressive freeze is lunging and barking.

Then fighting is attacking.

The response the dog chooses depends on many factors including how stressful they perceive the situation to be, their options and your response.

It is very common for dog guardians to pick up on the dramatic behaviours of running away, barking & lunging and attacking. However subtle versions of flight (avoidance behaviours) and submissive and assertive freezes often go unnoticed. If we fail to pick up on our dog’s subtle signals demonstrating they feel threatened, it will likely turn into more dramatic behaviour that will get noticed.

It’s our job as our dog’s guardians to provide for their safety needs. If we don’t do it they will have no choice but to do it themselves.

If each time our dog’s appear concerned, we step up and communicate that we will provide for their safety needs using clear language, they will look us to for guidance and follow our lead.

See video underneath for visual examples of language


For help on how to deal with any nervous or aggressive behaviour look at my services or check out my online course at


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