Recently, a video of a silverback gorilla at the Omaha Zoo went viral, and it spurred a lot of discussion about animal instincts and body language.  The video documents one family’s terrifying moment when a male gorilla charges the glass window of his enclosure after being inadvertently taunted by one of the family’s children.

In case you missed it, the video can be seen below:

Of course, the child could not have known that the male gorilla would react this way.  She was simply imitating what she has seen in movies and in the media.  We’ve all seen that chest-beating behavior, and we rarely give it a second thought.  However, this incident brings to light an important point: the way we use our body language has a profound effect on animals, regardless of whether we are talking about wild creatures or our household companions.

In fact, animals are so aware of your body language that they can (and do) detect even the subtlest changes in your posture, gait, facial expressions, and even how fast you’re walking.  They pick up on these cues and respond accordingly.  Unfortunately, sometimes that response is not so pleasant, as seen in the case of the silverback gorilla at the Omaha Zoo.

We should work to be equally aware of the body language of animals.  In most cases, if an animal is about to have a negative reaction to your presence or something that you are doing, they will offer plenty of warning signs before an actual attack.  Knowing the warning signs of fear or aggression is a great way to protect your family from unfamiliar dogs or cats, and even some wildlife.

Here are some behaviors to look out for in dogs who are exhibiting “warning” signs that they may soon bite or attack:

  • Hiding, quivering, or other obvious displays of fear
  • He or she becomes suddenly very still. The pet’s eyes may follow you, but he or she is otherwise very rigid.
  • A bark that is different from his typical bark. This sound will be more guttural and intentionally threatening.
  • Lunging (or other quick movements) toward a person without contact. Again, this is an attempt at threatening the human.

In cats, signs of oncoming aggression are a bit different and may include:

  • Crouching, tucking of tail, curling the tail around his/her body, “bottle brush” tail, “hackles” up, hiding, and other obvious displays of fear
  • Hissing or spitting at the reason for his/her fear
  • Wide eyes with partially or fully dilated pupils; the cat will often stare directly into the eyes of the person who is threatening him/her, as well.
  • Swatting with his or her front paws

If you see any of these behaviors in your own pets or others, it’s best to walk away and give the animal his or her space.  Whether or not you did anything to cause it, the pet is obviously feeling very nervous about your presence.  By giving the animal adequate space, you are doing your part to soothe the animal, as well as saving yourself from a potential animal attack.

Featured Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc