You may not think you need a course in canine body language, but it could keep you from becoming one of the five million people who get bitten by dogs every year. According to dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, most dog bites are the result of someone thinking a dog wants to be approached or petted when it doesn’t. 

  • For example: A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog’s happy. Because some dogs wag their tails when they’re upset or over-excited.

  • You should also be careful when: An unfamiliar dog rolls on its back. Veterinarian Debbye Turner Bell says that when dogs expose their bellies, it’s their way of saying, “You’re the boss. Please leave me alone.” And if you approach them anyway, they may think they’re being attacked and bite you in self-defense. 

  • Another misunderstood sign of canine aggression: Lifting a front paw. Animal behavior expert Lisa Radosta says that a lifted front paw isn’t an invitation to shake. It’s a signal the dog thinks something negative is about to happen and is preparing to react, whether they need to run away or fight. 

  • Finally: A yawn doesn’t mean a dog is bored. It’s a calming signal that means he’s anxious and fearful, and his patience is about to run out, which means he’s prone to snapping. 

  • And let’s end with this: If a dog bites someone you’re with, covering his head with a shirt or jacket will make him let go. That’s because dogs when dogs can’t see, they panic and open their mouths. If you’re bitten when you’re alone, try this old meter-reader trick: Don’t pull away from the bite, push into it. That makes dogs feel like they’re no longer in control. And the experts say that most dogs will let go.