Most of us have heard, at one time or another, that the safest way to approach a dog is with our hand out in front. With this method, the dog can sniff our hand, and we can all be friends. This well-meaning bit of advice is likely responsible for more dog bites than we will ever know.
Dog bite prevention is a cooperative effort between the dog owner and the individual approaching the dog. A good dog owner should be aware of their pet’s thresholds. If they know their dog is overwhelmed by lots of people, an out-of-the-way hiking trail may be a better option for walking than the over-crowded park in the city center. If you do encounter someone on your walk, be sure to communicate to them that your dog “doesn’t like strangers” or the more neutral “he’s just really protective of me.”
If you are walking your dog and she does reach a threshold, try to redirect your dog’s attention with treats. If this does not work, leave the area. Jerking on your dog’s leash or holding it tight against your side “for better control” can result in your dog biting you. Instead, slowly turn and walk in the opposite direction, all the while speaking in a happy, excited voice to regain your dog’s attention.
Most people see dogs at some point during their day. Walking down the street, at the beach, at the park; with approximately 40% of American households owning dogs, canines are everywhere. This is why it is important to know how to act around a dog that you are meeting for the first time. Sticking your hand out and walking towards the dog might work in some cases, but a much better tactic is to ask the owner “Can I pet your dog?” A responsible owner should be able to gauge their dog’s reaction to meeting a new person, and advise you appropriately. If the owner says “Actually, he doesn’t really like strangers,” your best bet is to keep your distance. Remember to encourage the honesty of responsible dog owners by replying “thanks for letting me know” and complimenting the dog from a distance.>
You can prevent yourself from being bitten:
If you think a dog might attack, both adults and children should follow these steps:
Dogs meeting dogs is another opportunity for things to get out of hand and well-meaning owners can quickly become dog-bite victims when intervening inappropriately. If you see another dog owner approaching with a dog, look to see that their dog is properly leashed (as yours should be!). As you approach, feel free to call out “is your dog friendly?” or “my dog likes dogs.” Please be honest in your assessment though. If your dog is aggressive with other animals, step out of the way and call out “head’s up, my dog isn’t great with other dogs.” A responsible pet owner will appreciate your honesty and give you the room you need. If you both determine that it could be a good thing to have the dogs meet, continue to be honest about behaviors. “My dog really loves other dogs, but she gets mouthy” or, “he’s fine unless there are toys around.” Both are appropriate and informative statements that you and the other dog owner should know as you chaperone the play-date. Gender, age, sexual maturity, and health can all play a part in shaping the direction of any dog’s interaction. Don’t feel like a bad owner if your dog doesn’t get along with every dog you meet on every walk. In the rare and unfortunate event of a dog fight, never get between the two dogs; that’s the worst place to be. Instead, steadily (and without jerking) walk the dogs in opposite directions and preferably out of sight of the other dog. Loud noises and cold water can also distract dogs, but avoid using treats to distract, as your hand can accidently get in the way of angry mouths.>
Most importantly, don’t cover up or ignore your dog’s behavior. If your pet is exhibiting signs of stress in a situation, take your dog home. If your dog is uncomfortable when people come over to your house, talk to a professional early on before having that 80 guest dinner party. Dogs can’t turn to us and say, “Excuse me Mom, but I’d prefer not to have these children pulling my ears,” they communicate in other ways: with vocalizations and sometimes, with their teeth. It is our job as pet owners to communicate their discomfort for them. If the children won’t stop pushing your dog, allow the dog to spend time in another portion of the house away from energetic kids.>
It is also our job as pet owners to nip inappropriate behaviors in the bud before they escalate into a potential bite. Many people believe that these subtle quirks are just “dogs being dogs.” If Fluffy growls at people when she is on your lap, she is not “being cute and protective.” Instead, Fluffy is guarding you from other people. This is an inappropriate behavior that, if left unchecked, can result in a bite. A responsible dog owner recognizes when they can control their dog’s behavior and when they need professional assistance. It is appropriate and encouraged to seek out advice from a Certified Pet Dog Trainer or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in your area. The Connecticut Humane Society offers obedience and advanced training through Pet Education and Therapy, LLC. Please log on to www.cthumane.org/caretraining for more information regarding your pet’s behavior or training opportunities at the shelter.>
If a bite occurs despite engaging in solid prevention practices…>
By knowing the facts and practicing solid safety techniques, you will significantly decrease your risks (and your dog’s) of becoming a statistic.>