Some final thoughts on Dog Bite Prevention Week….
Be Your Dog’s Advocate
You are your dog’s best advocate. If you will not stick up for them, who else will? If you feel your dog is uncomfortable stand up for him/her and tell people, “Thanks for asking, but he’s really not comfortable being pet.” In the long run it is much better to tell people “no: than to put your dog in a position where he may feel the necessity to bite someone. If your dog bites, not only are you open for a lawsuit, but your dog awaits a much worse fate. Depending on the breed, severity of bite, and history, your dog could end up quarantined, labeled a “dangerous dog,” ordered to always wear a muzzle when out of the house, or he could be euthanized alone in a shelter by people who don’t even know him, let alone love him. This can be prevented if we keep our dog’s welfare first and foremost in our mind when out in public.
Be appropriate with canines
When you are greeting dogs, be very mindful of their body language and your body language. What are you communicating to that dog when you walk directly up to her, are squared up on her body (forward facing), are staring into her eyes, and smiling (think about what a smile is… you are displaying your teeth… is that friendly in dog language?). Many bites happen because of human error–either a handler wasn’t advocating for their dog OR someone was not appropriate in their approach/handling. It’s also incredibly important for you to value what the dog is saying to you through his body. Do not disregard the look-away, lip-lick, yawn, and pinned back ears–these are all important communication tools that we as dog folk need to be aware of and take into account before we interact with a dog.
Be a responsible dog owner
This may seem simple, but it is so important. If your dog is not under your verbal control do not let him off-leash (I’m not going to say all dogs who are off leash in an on-leash area are awful. I’m guilty of this, but my dogs don’t leave my side if we are walking and don’t get distracted if we are playing fetch). If your dog is out of control, he could encounter someone who will react to him out of fear (either yelling at or waving a stick or maybe an air horn or pepper spray) and your dog could react to this threat out of fear and attack. This type of encounter is all too common in some communities–dogs and their humans can get into quite a lot of trouble in these instances.
Spread the word! Hopefully you all now have a pretty good understanding of canine body language, rules to have with dogs, how to approach dogs, and how to prevent a bite.. share that information with people who come to your home and interact with your dog. Share it with your groomer, your vet, your dog walker–you’d be surprised how many of these professionals lack this type of information. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN and your children’s friends–look, while I’m not sure there are really reliable statistics out there on dog bites, all the stats seem to agree that children are more likely to be bitten than adults and that isn’t going to change until kids are better educated. Take what you now know and share it with a local 4-H group, the girl/boy scouts, or get involved with Doggone Safe. Print out and post Dr. Sophin Yin’s posters (you can download the poster from this blog post and another poster from the following post) in your local pet store or community board or dog-park board.
What if you sense a dog has become uncomfortable to the point of biting?
If a dog is rushing towards you, turn sideways to them (keep them in your peripheral vision), clasp your hands quietly in front of you and look toward your feet–you can also pretend like you are chewing gum or yawn as an additional calming signal. Stay as still as possible, if the dog jumps up, resist the urge to push him off or to raise your arms… try to calm, relaxed and still until the dog loses interest. For most dogs, this stillness and non-reaction is enough to get them to leave you alone–though of course this hasn’t been really tested since we don’t want to put anyone in harms way but I see it with dogs who are at the peak of their drive and are becoming bitey/snappy/pushy… that becoming still gets them to stop biting.
If the dog you are petting suddenly changes from comfortable with the interaction to uncomfortable, slowly take your hand away from the dog and stand up while turning sideways to the dog (again keep them in your peripheral) while making your hand quiet in front of you and look down toward your feet. If the dog is on leash and you are confident their handler can hold back a potential lunge, take a small step sideways (which would increase your distance from the dog) then slowly work your way to a distance where the dog is comfortable again. You don’t want to turn your back on the dog entirely but pivoting so you are more perpendicular to them can reduce their discomfort.
What to do in the event of a bite…
Well, I’d love to give you advice but each state has different requirements for reporting dog bites. Some states require that a report be filed if there is medical treatment… some states it’s even if there isn’t medical treatment. Familiarize yourself with the law and what exactly constitutes a bite under the law so you know your requirements in the event of a bite.