Most humans are not aware that some of their body postures when greeting an unfamiliar dog are perceived as a threat in the dog world.
For example: typical human behavior when greeting a dog is to say over and over again, “it’s ok, it’s ok,” as they extend their arm out to reach over the dog’s head to give them a pet. This is a threatening posture in the dog world. Always let the dog approach you in their own time, especially if it does not want to meet you.
When they are comfortable with you and are allowing you to touch them, then, rather than reaching to pet their head go for under their chin, and pet their chest or the shoulders. If a dog is running at you and you think it might be in attack mode, then stand sideways. If you pay attention next time you see two unfamiliar dogs approach each other, you’ll notice they keep their body in a neutral position by standing side by side.
Does a wagging tail mean “hey, I am friendly,” or can it also mean “Hey, come over here – I want bite you”? Yes, both. A dog can be wagging its tail to greet you or wagging its tail because it is weary of your presence. A dog with its tail way up in the air, stiff and moving rapidly back and forth, could be feeling a little dominant or feeling the need to defend itself. If you get mixed messages from a dog, to be on the safe side, do not approach it.
Dogs that are tethered or chained are more likely to be aggressive and are prone to more behavioral problems. The reason for this is usually lack of socialization with humans and other dogs. There is a frustration factor here that has been building up for some time. These dogs have a chase instinct that is constantly challenged by the boundaries of their restraint. The largest percentage of serious bites come from dogs that have broken free from a restraint, and children are usually their victims. I suggest never approaching a dog on a chain or one that is tied up unless you know the dog well.
There are more dog bites reported from family pets than from unfamiliar dogs. The reason more dogs are likely to bite a family member is that the family member more than likely has pulled their tail, stepped on their foot, or taken a bone or toy away and then ignored the warning growl. Children are the main culprits of this behavior. They sometimes unknowingly provoke a dog bite.
Children are at eye level with dogs, and so can be perceived as posturing back at them, which the dog sees as a challenge or a threat. Some kids constantly jerk things away from dogs, and this causes the dog to want to have possession over something. This behavior is called resource guarding, and dogs have many warning signals when they are guarding their resource. You must be aware of what the signals are and take warning from them to avoid a dog bite.
Children should always be supervised when playing with a dog and need to be taught to be respectful of them and their territory. Just like we teach children how to greet another human we also need to teach them how to greet an unfamiliar dog.