Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog ETA: 3 Quick Ways to Assess Friendliness


Dog ETA pictureWalking in a local park yesterday with a client and her sweet pup, a dog came toward us.The two dogs met and had a happy, mutual exchange. Another dog headed our way; I instantly nixed any contact  using my simple Dog ETA assessment.

ETA = Estimated Time to Aggression. 😉  Actually, it stands for Eyes, Tail and Alignment. There are lots of subtleties and exceptions but this how I make real-life decisions.

  1. Eyes
    Staring ain’t caring. The longer a dog stares at your dog—close-mouthed and deadpan—the less friendly that dog probably is. Not sure? Imagine another human staring at you the way your dog is being stared at and you’ll be on the right track.
  2. Tail
    The higher the tail, especially the base of the tail (where it meets the dog’s body), the more excited the dog is. Excited is not the same as friendly. At all. A friendly tail is wagging big wags and the base of it is about even with the dog’s spine. A wide, low wag or a happy circular wag are both excellent signs of good social intent. A stiff tail held straight up nearly vibrating is a pretty reliable sign of scary intent. So if you see a raised stiff motionless/vibrating tail. Steer clear!
  3. Alignment
    What is “alignment”? Think “arrow”. The straighter the dog’s path of travel toward you, the stiffer they are, the more arrow-like they appear – the more risk there is. A friendly dog is “soft” and wiggles when they wag. They often arc or curve slightly as they approach. An intense, assertive dog is not “soft” and does not wiggle, they do not generally arc or curve in their approach. An arrow-like dog may lie down as you approach. That is not friendly. Think “lion hunting” and you’ll be closer to the truth most times.

Dog ETA imageThe dog pictured here is showing ETA posture I avoid.*

  • See how intently this dog is staring? Ears forward. Mouth closed.
  • See how the base of that tail is sticking up and the tail is stiff?
  • See how arrow-like this dog’s head-to-tail alignment is?

This is not a dog I would allow Pip to greet. And I might be wrong. I’d rather be wrong than have her frightened or harmed.

I hope the Dog ETA allows you to enjoy your dog walks more and feel more confident about your choices.

Pat your dog for me.

*This is NOT a breed thing. Boxers are usually friendly, social dogs. This is just a pic I found that illustrates dog ETA well. There are friendly dogs in every breed/mix and unfriendly dogs in every breed/mix. 

Related: Protection from Loose Dogs: What I Carry


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