May 15-21 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and in its honor, I’m giving away free tidbits of information to help you and your family interact safely with dogs.
Don’t approach a strange dog unless you’re willing to get bitten. When you see a loose dog on the street, you may feel the need to round the dog up and try to find its owner. Good for you! Just realize there are RISKS involved in doing so. The dog may be disoriented, frightened, and much more likely to bite in defense than it would had you encountered it at the park playing happily with its owner.
Obviously, not all strange dogs are going to bite. Many are perfectly happy to meet new people. Some will even happily jump into your car in glee at the prospect of going somewhere fun and exciting. But if you do try to play the hero to some lost canine soul, be careful about it. Try to entice the dog to come up to you rather than cornering it (though I did once corner a little dog running in traffic and snatched her up; I did so knowing full well that if I got bit, it would be my own darn fault).
Be mindful of the dog’s body language. A fearful dog is much more likely to bite, and fear can manifest in different ways. Ears back, unusual panting, head bowed, shying away, cowering, hackles raised–these are potential signs a dog is anxious or fearful. Use caution!
Don’t tolerate rude or challenging behavior from your dog. Your dog growls if you or your child goes near his bowl, so you learn to leave him alone. Well, guess what. Some day, your dog will have a snack, a toy, or something of value and you won’t have your eyes on your child and the dog at all times. Child strays near dog. Child gets bitten. It might be your child or the neighbors or even an adult such as an unwary pet sitter.
Yielding to bad behavior encourages it. The dog growls. You back away. The dog’s guarding behavior is reinforced so when someone doesn’t properly heed the warning, the dog’s only recourse is to yield or bite.
Please don’t take this to mean you should storm right up to a dog that’s growling to defend its food or toy. If you start with a puppy, make a habit of playing the “trade” game so the dog gets used to you and members of your family trading awesome goodies for whatever he or she has and then giving the original item right back. So, if the dog’s eating, stroll casually up and drop in some fresh, warm chicken. If the dog has a toy, show him some steak and let him take it as you take the toy, then give the toy right back.
You can do this same technique with an older dog, and it works nine out of ten times. For that one time, you will need to seek professional help to work on the problem, but in no case should you ignore the behavior or yield to the dog’s bad manners.
Supervise all children around dogs, both for the sake of the children and the dog. Kids often hurt dogs, and dogs can easily hurt children. Do both a favor and make sure each is safe from the other. If you can’t supervise, contain one is a secure, safe area away from the other (be aware most child protective agencies will likely frown on you crating a child, though most children seem to think they make the best play pens).