May 18th-May 24th is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. It is a good time to remind us that dogs enrich the lives of so many, yet there are 4.5 million dog bites every year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
For some people, no dog is scary. For others, every dog is their worst nightmare. Our level of comfort with dogs largely depends on whether we grew up around dogs and whether we had mostly pleasant or unpleasant encounters with dogs in our lives.
You cannot be too cautious when meeting a dog for the first time. You are strangers to each other and some dogs truly are ill-behaved, poorly-trained or what their owners often call “nervous”. The majority of dogs are kind in familiar settings and with people they know well.
Here are some tips on balancing the line between being overly friendly or overly afraid:
- Look at the dog before you approach it. Is he facing you? Is he growling? Is he wagging his tail?
- Never approach a dog from behind. You don’t like to be surprised and neither do they.
- Notice the dog’s body language: if they are in “freeze—frame”, totally rigid and frozen, then they are likely guarding something and at the peak of tension. Do not approach!!!
- Don’t use bad dog language. Dogs send messages to others when they’re hostile through their doggie body language. Dogs will stare when their guard is up and as listed above, they will freeze. When you stare or freeze, they assume you are hostile, too. So, avoid these behaviors.
- Respect the personal space of the dog. We all have our own personal “bubble”. So do dogs. Don’t pet a dog until it has approached you in a friendly way, sniffing and looking at your face.
- Never approach a dog who is restrained on a leash or behind a fence.
- Ask the owner about their dog before you pet it. Teach your children to do the same. Just asking, “May I pet your dog?” is sufficient. If the owner says, “No”, respect their decision. They know their pooch.
- Keep your hands and face away from a dog’s mouth. Unless you know a dog’s temperament well, you just can’t predict how they will react to you. Their teeth are sharp and dog bites are painful and can cause permanent injury.