Learn a dog's stress signals
In my last blog on Canine Body Language I go over some of the common postures and stress signals that dogs exhibit. Here are a few stress signals to be on the look out for: frequent yawning, licking lips, ears pulled back, pacing, panting. If your dog is stressed, do not force them to meet someone they are afraid of. In a similar vein, learn your dog's aggressive stances. This could include stiff body, very still body, ears forward, body leaning forward, hackles raised, tight/closed mouth, hard stare, curled lip, growling and snarling. Here is a video showing some common stress signals:
Respect these signals and remove your dog from the situation that is causing stress by increasing the distance. Don't worry about offending a stranger. Your dog's well-being is more important. If your dog is frequently afraid of strangers, work with a dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a behavior modification program to help your dog feel more at ease around strangers. It is important to choose a professional who focuses on positive reinforcement methods. If you meet someone else's dog exhibiting these signals when you approach them, stop and slowly back off to give the dog more space.
Appropriate Greetings and Interactions
Besides being able to read a dog's body language or stress signals, another factor that can reduce the incidence of dog bites is knowing how to greet a dog in a manner that will put the dog at ease. Here are a few tips:
1) Stop 5-6 feet in front of the dog. This is usually the distance that a dog is comfortable with and is also the length of most leashes if the dog is on a walk.
2) Ask the owner if you can pet the dog. If the owner hesitates or says the dog is not always friendly, move on. If you are the owner and you notice that your dog is fearful or showing stress signals, ask the person to stop moving forward and refrain from reaching towards your dog.
3) Turn your side to the dog - dogs are often more comfortable when your side is facing them rather than facing them head on. By turning your side to the dog, it makes them more comfortable to approach you.
4)Let the dog approach you - rather than going towards the dog and invading their space, let them approach you. If the dog does not want to approach you or shows you the stress signals mentioned above, then leave the dog be and do not try to pet the dog.
5) Pet the side of the body or neck - avoid blind spots like the top of the head. Fearful dogs do not like to be petted on top of the head and do not like people hovering over them. Here is a video showing the steps:
Sadly, small children under 9 years old are one of the most frequent recipients of dog bites. Children move faster than adults and toddlers move in a manner that seems erratic and odd to dogs. This video from Dr. Sophia Lin and illustrated by Lili Chin (the artist who did the doggie drawings on my website), really captures what a small child seems like from a dog's perspective:
This video highlights the importance of supervision and management when young children and dogs are in the same room or area. There is a tendency for young children to want to hug, kiss or grab dogs much like a stuffed animal and this runs the risk of a bite to the face. It is therefore important to teach children how to appropriately greet a dog. Most dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed on the face and make it practice not to do this with your own dog. Be vigilant of stress signals and teach your child the appropriate way to approach and handle a dog
|This dog is tolerating the hug but is shying away from close contact with the person's face. Notice the flattened ears and head tilting away from the person. Teach your children appropriate ways to interact with a dog that helps put the dog at ease.|
Runners and Bicycles
If you have a dog that reacts to fast moving objects, be vigilant and aware of oncoming runners and cyclists. Make a point of teaching your dog to sit and stay so that you can step out of the path and give enough space to allow the person to go by. If you have a dog, that lunges and goes after runners or cyclists, consult with a trainer to help your dog learn to handle people and bicycles moving quickly by them. When I run or jog behind a person with a dog, I try to give them a heads up several seconds before I approach them to give them a chance to move out of the way and not surprise them.
These are a few tips to help you understand canine body language and how to approach a dog safely.