For thousands of years, dogs and humans have been inseparable companions. In fact, the earliest skeletal remains of humans and dogs found together date back to 14,000 years ago. The bond people and dogs share is nothing short of remarkable, which is why it can be a devastating blow when a dog bites you out of nowhere.

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but in the U.S. alone, 4.5 million dog bites occur each year. Findings from the Insurance Information Institute revealed homeowners’ insurers paid out $675 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2018.

When a dog does become aggressive or attack, it usually seems unprovoked or out of the blue. But many bites are the result of a dog being provoked by something. What are some signs you may be at risk?

The dog is licking their lips, yawning or avoiding your eyes

These behaviors may seem normal on the surface, but actions like this are usually the first warning signs a dog is stressed or uncomfortable with their situation.

While these signs don’t always lead to a bite, if the dog continues to feel uncomfortable or cornered, their aggression can escalate quickly.

The dog has rigid posture or raised fur

Most people know what a happy dog’s body language looks like – tail wagging and relaxed or friendly posture. Scared or anxious body language is the exact opposite.

Dogs who stiffen and freeze, or who have fur standing up on their backs, are sending the signal that they do not want to be approached or touched.

The dog is showing teeth or growling

Some signs of aggression are more obvious than others. Growling or showing teeth is perhaps the most direct way a dog can tell you it feels uncomfortable, scared or threatened.

If a dog is displaying these behaviors towards you, stay calm and try to determine what may be causing this reaction. Are they trying to protect something they value, such as their food, a toy or their owner? Try to neutralize the threat and give them space by walking – never running – away.

The dog is wagging their tail

It may surprise you to learn that a wagging tail isn’t always a good sign with dogs. A happy, comfortable dog will wag their tail with their entire body and will come close to you if they feel safe.

Conversely, if a dog’s tail upright and wagging quickly but their body is completely stiff, you’ll want to be sure not to engage with them.

When it comes to dogs, actions speak much louder than words. By learning to understand their body language, you can help yourself to avoid a potentially dangerous encounter with a dog.