At some point in your life, you will probably feel threatened by a dog. This threat could be an aggressive display directed towards you, your dog or your family, or could be non-aggressive through fear of being accidentally hurt by your dog pulling you over or knocking you off your feet. If you or your family spend time around dogs there are a few things you should be aware of to reduce the likelihood of injury, after all, dogs are powerful, have minds of their own, and have very strong jaws and big teeth.
I’ve seen and heard of many cases where dogs have caused injury through pulling suddenly on the lead or knocking people over. Most often it is because of poor breed choice, people who do not have the physical ability to handle the strength of their own dog. Think about the kind of dog you want to bring in to your life and be honest about your physical strength.
I love big dogs and have often wondered what I am going to do when I become too old to manage such boisterous dogs as Irish Setters and Labradors, the answer, an adopted ex-racing Greyhound. This breed is not my favourite but it would be best suited to my physical limitations when I am old. If you make an educated breed choice you will greatly reduce the risk of being accidentally injured by your dog.
Another way to reduce the risk of injury is to become familiar with canine body language. If you are able to observe and ‘read’ a dog you have a good chance of staying safe. Quite often a dogs bite looks like it comes out of nowhere but dogs usually display many subtle signs of anxiety before they bite. This can include lip licking, yawning, lowering of their head, turning their head away, whole-body stiffness and lip-smacking. Become familiar with these signals and if you notice any of these in the dog you are interacting with increase distance immediately.
A common error people make when interacting with dogs is being unaware of how to physically handle or touch a dog. Contrary to popular belief dogs do not like being ‘patted’ repeatedly on the top of their head. If you think about it, it is likely the dog you are patting in this way will drop their head or move backwards, they do not like it.
Instead, pat dogs under the chin or on their chest for a less threatening gesture. They might even reward you by laying on their backs for a good belly rub. Similarly, if you need to physically guide or restrain your dog with their collar, hook your finger through their collar under their chin, not behind their neck.
The best way to approach a strange dog is to crouch down low and allow the dog to approach you, then proceed with appropriate touching as described above. Never force a dog to be patted. However, if the dog is well known to you they will generally tolerate and enjoy being patted by you in most ways.
If you are approached by a dog that is behaving aggressively the best thing to do is to disengage eye contact and slowly move backwards. If you can turn to the side and make yourself appear as small as possible it will work in your favour. Under no circumstances should you run away screaming as this may excite the dog further. This is also vital for young children to learn.
If you find yourself in a situation where your own dog is being threatened, instinct will probably kick in and you will try to intervene. Understand that if you choose to do this you will probably be on the receiving end of a bite, either from your dog or the other dog.
Once a dog fight is in progress there are no hard and fast rules about how best to break it up. Some people advise using water, loud noises or a large blanket to separate the two dogs. In all likelihood, the fight will be over within several seconds and you will behave instinctively regardless of any advice you receive.
On a final point, trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy about a particular dog then remove yourself from the situation, humans ignore the ‘little voice’ inside their heads too much, listen to that voice, it is a gift, it will keep you safe.