Most of the time, dogs are our loveable, tail wagging friends – but sometimes even the most placid of dogs can snap.
Part of being a responsible pet owner is to pay attention to your dog’s body language. By recognising the early stress signals which generally precede a bite, you’ll be able to protect your dog from being in a position where it feels the only way out is to use its teeth.
Similarly, if you live or work around dogs, or know someone who is fearful of them, then learning how to behave in their presence will give everyone the confidence to get along.
Here are a few basic rules when interacting with a dog:
- Always ask if it’s ok to pet a dog before reaching out to them.
- Don’t pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first and avoid a typical ‘pat on the head,’ which some dogs find daunting.
- When approached by a dog – remain motionless ‘like a tree’.
- Avoid eye contact with an unfamiliar dog and stand sideways on. Facing a dog directly can appear aggressive to a dog.
- Don’t rush towards or run away from a dog.
- Don’t panic or make loud noises.
- Don’t disturb a dog who is sleeping, eating or nursing puppies.
- Don’t encourage your dog to play aggressively.
- NEVER let small or young children play with dogs unsupervised.
- ALWAYS respect a dog’s space.
This is an important lesson for children, who are statistically much more likely to be bitten than adults. Children love to hug, play with fluffy tails, tug ears and play dress up – all big no-no’s in the canine world. A child might also misinterpret a dog that is baring its teeth as a smile and not as a warning to back off.
If your dog has a loose, low wagging tail and leans into you for a pat, or bows down and barks to say, ‘Let’s play!’ Then, congratulations! You have a happy, playful dog. If its eyes are soft and it has a relaxed open mouth, then bravo! It is content with the current situation. And if they hold your gaze to stare longingly, directly at you and into your eyes – then BOOM! That’s a sign it is truly in love.
If you see a dog exhibiting any of the behaviours below, then it’s trying to tell you it feels threatened…
- Yawning – could be a sign that your dog is tired, but it also signals distress.
- Lip licking or tongue flicking. Dogs lick their lips when nervous.
- Brief body freezing – the dog is still for a few seconds before reacting.
- Body freezing – the dog freezes until the threat goes away or he decides to use fight or flight.
- ‘Whale eye’ – the dog turns his head away but keeps looking at the perceived threat, showing the whites of his eyes.
- Pulling his ears back.
- Baring teeth.
- Low-throated growling.
If you want more information, then click on the links below for some top family friendly tips (and a cool song to learn) to help every member understand a little more about how to behave around your pet.
If you are bitten by a dog, then here’s what to do:
- Press on the wound gently to cause bleeding and to flush out bacteria.
- Wash the wound with mild soap and water.
- Slow the bleeding with a cloth.
- Apply antibiotic cream.
- Wrap the wound and see a doctor.
- Watch for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, increased pain and fever.
Unvaccinated and feral dogs can carry rabies, so your doctor will want to know details about the dog that bit you. You may also be asked if your tetanus vaccine is up to date.
It’s important to remember that most dogs only bite as a last resort and because all their earlier stress signals were ignored. Make sure the whole family understands those signs, so everyone can get along safely.