A strange dog who steps onto your property could be anything from a friendly neighbor's pet to a dangerous feral animal. Knowing what his behaviors mean and how to respond could keep you and your family safe and allow you to reunite a lost pet with his owner. Recognizing threatening or fearful body language, exhibiting the right body language yourself, and knowing when to get professional help will keep your interaction safe and positive.
The first step is to determine if the strange dog poses a threat. There are many reasons a strange dog might bite, including social aggression, fear, pain and illness. You can identify an aggressive dog by his raised fur, high ears and tail, direct stare, tense muscles, leaning forward and bared teeth. A fearful dog will have lowered ears, a tucked tail, hunched body, high-pitched barks, and may yawn or lick his lips. A dog who yelps, limps or has obvious signs of injury is likely in pain. If you see a dog who snaps at inanimate objects, staggers, foams at the mouth or has paralysis of the hind legs, he may be rabid and you should contact animal control immediately.
A friendly dog, on the other hand, will have a relaxed stance, a wagging tail, and possibly a slightly open mouth. If he seems to have high energy, but moves in bouncy or jerking motions, he is trying to play, not being aggressive. A play bow, forelegs on the ground and rear in the air, is a sure sign of a dog with playful intentions.
You have several options when a stray dog enters your property. If you recognize the dog and know how to contact the owners, you may just want to let them know their dog is on your property. If the dog seems friendly, consider catching him. A calm voice and a few treats might be enough to get a friendly dog to come to you. You can then check for dog tags and if there aren't any, contact your local animal shelter to see if anyone has reported a lost dog. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, call animal control and let the professionals handle the situation.
Dogs communicate largely by body language, so make sure yours is saying what you want it to. Don't look the dog directly in the eyes, make sudden movements or run away, especially if the dog is aggressive. The first two are acts of aggression to a dog, while running will encourage him to chase you and possibly attack. Instead, stand still, cross your hands over your chest and allow the dog to sniff you. If he is aggressive and focused on you, throw something small to the side to distract him, then slowly back away towards a safe area. A fearful dog may bite if he feels trapped or threatened, so try to lure a frightened dog instead of chasing or grabbing him.
Any interaction with a strange dog could potentially result in a bite or scratch, so it's important to be careful and read the signs. If the dog is aggressive or clearly ill, call the professionals. Be cautious with a fearful, injured or overly excited dog. If at any point you feel like you're in over your head, get to a safe place and call for assistance.
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