You love dogs. Your kids love dogs.

But you must remember that dogs don’t necessarily love you – even one familiar with you, such as your next-door neighbor’s pooch.

To avoid being bitten, it is crucial that you learn a dog’s body language to figure out if you can approach the dog to pet, for instance. And once you’ve learned to recognize the signs, pass on that knowledge to your children.

A dog that is eager for human interaction generally will be wagging its tail and panting. Remember to ask the dog’s owner if you can touch the dog before you or your child do, even if it appears friendly.

Dogs send a lot more signals that they wouldn’t welcome your attention than they do ones that indicate they are friendly, according to the dog-friendly website Fidose of Reality. They include:

  • Yawning. That doesn’t mean the dog is tired but rather is anxious that you will approach and wants to be left alone.
  • A tucked-in tail, even if it is wagging a little. That dog is expressing worry that you will come near.
  • A stiff body, closed mouth and tail high in the air tells you to keep your distance.
  • A head turned away from you means the dog wants to avoid you.
  • A flick of a tongue and a stiffly wagging tail mean you should go away.
  • A dog that is stiff and staring at you definitely doesn’t want to play and likely will bite you if you approach.

Even if you don’t make a move toward the dog, the animal still might be scared and bite you. And under California law, if the bite occurs when you are legally on private property or in a public place, the dog’s owner is liable for medical bills to treat your injuries, at a minimum.

An attorney who handles dog-bite cases can review your case and inform you of your rights.