Preventing Dog Bites
Dog's don't bite without good reason, and the key to preventing dog bites is proper education and a thorough understanding of what causes them in the first place. Here are some tips to help keep you and your family safe.
As we know, dogs cannot communicate with us through words. Instead, they communicate through body language, vocalizations and if necessary, with their mouth. Whenever a dog bite occurs, you can bet that the dog gave fair warning first with his body language and vocalizations, but unfortunately those warning signals were most likely unnoticed. It is extrememly rare that a dog is truly vicious, and in those rare cases, you can bet that the dog has suffered abuse, neglect and trauma by the hands of irresponsible humans. As the guardians of these animals, it is our responsibility to understand how they communicate, and respect their boundaries.
A dog bite occurs when the dog's bite threshold is crossed. Typically, a confident, balanced and well-adjusted dog will have a high bite threshold - meaning it takes a lot of stressors to lead the dog to a bite. Conversely, dogs that are fearful, poorly socialized or anxious are more likely to have a lower bite threshold.
Signs that indicate that a dog is stressed and could be likely to bite:
1. Tense, rigid body
2. Raised hackles (hair standing up)
3. Tongue flicking/yawning - both are signs that a dog is uncomfortable and/or stressed
4. Freezing when touched - a clear sign of discomfort
5. Ears pinned back
7. Intense, direct eye contact or staring intently at a body part such as your hand.
8. Crouched body or if standing, body leaning back
9. The dog is in a highly energized environment that contains many stressors for the dog. For example, if your dog is fearful of thunder, anxious around large groups of people and startled by loud noises, a bite is much more likely to occur if all of these factors are present at one time. A family party during a storm could easily stress the dog out to point of biting if he is approached incorrectly.
If you notice a dog displaying any of these signs when you are attempting interaction, it is wise to back off immediately and rethink the way you are approaching the dog. Just like humans, some dogs are more outgoing and some are shyer, and it is up to us to recognize what their communication signals indicate about their temperament. Many dogs need to take their time to feel comfortable and trusting around a new human before they feel comfortable with physical contact. By respecting the dog's boundaries, we take the ultimate precaution in preventing dog bites.
How to appropriately approach a dog:
1. Never attempt to pet a strange dog without first asking the owner if it is ok to do so.
2. Let the dog get used to your presence before you initiate contact. Allow the dog to sniff around you, and avoid making direct eye contact at first. Simply be confident and happy and let the dog pick up on your positive, relaxed vibes.
3. Rather than approach the dog head on, approach the dog from the side, avoiding intense or prolonged eye contact. This mimicks the way polite and well-socialized dogs approach each other, and is less intimidating than a direct approach.
4. It is far safer to pet the dog UNDERNEATH the muzzle than on top of the head. Pet the dog's chest and underneath the chin until the dog is very comfortable with you. When you pet underneath, the dog can see where your hands are going - it is a less threathening form of contact for shy, fearful or reactive dogs.
5. Educate children on the proper ways to interact with dogs. No pulling, tugging or forceful contact with the dog. No screaming, shouting or yelling. A gentle approach is the safest. Always supervise your children when they are interacting with a dog.
Christine Fasan is the head trainer and canine behaviorist for K9 Holistics. She specializes in German Shepherd Dogs and healing reactivity in dogs of all breeds. K9 Holistics offers dog training and behavior modification in St. Petersburg and throughout Pinellas County. We also offer pet care services including dog walking and pet sitting. Please contact Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org