This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week and here are a few tips on greeting dogs.
Be on the Lookout for Stress Signals
In my last blog on Canine Body Language I went over some of the common postures and stress signals that dogs exhibit. Here are a few signals to be on the look out for:
- frequent yawning
- licking lips
- ears pulled back
- stiff body or very still body
- ears forward
- body leaning forward
- hackles raised
- tight/closed mouth
- hard stare
- Whites of eyes showing (also sign of stress)
- curled lip
- growling and snarling.
For Dog Owners: If you have a dog that is shy, fearful or aggressive, here are a few tips to keep in mind if you see these signs in your dog:
- Recognize and respect these signals and remove your dog from the situation that is causing stress by increasing the distance from the person or walking away.
- Response to pushy strangers - Often you run into the person who tells you that they "know all about dogs," and try to approach your dog. If your dog is known to be scared of stangers, tell the stranger that "my dog is in training and cannot be petted right now." These are the type of people that will invade your dog's space and not respect the dog's signals. If they will not listen, walk away. Don't worry about offending a stranger. Your dog's well-being is more important.
- Give your dog a safe zone - if your dog is fearful in the home, it is important to tell guests to give your dog space, not to hover over the dog or stare at your dog. If having guests over is too much, it is often better allow the dog to go his/her safe place, crate or behind a baby gate to minimize stress and the risk that a guest may disregard your instructions.
- Guests in the home should not grab, hug, or forcibly try to move your dog off furniture. Rubbing the belly can also trigger defensive behavior in a fearful dog who does not know or trust your visitor. This is especially true for children who often like to try to hug unfamiliar dogs. If guests cannot follow these instructions, put your dog in another room or area.
- Find a certified trainer - 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.
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 and owner. 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. For parents, stress this step to your children. They should never pet a dog without asking permission.
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 his/her space, let the dog choose to approach you and sniff the top of your closed hand. 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.
Here is a video showing the steps:
It is also important for new puppy owners to make an effort to enroll their dogs in a puppy socialization class and socialize their dogs to as many different people as possible (gender, age, height etc). Through education of dog owners and dog greeters alike, hopefully we can help reduce the incidents of dog bites, interact with unfamiliar dogs appropriately and learn to recognize the signs of fear and discomfort in our dogs.