It is National Bite Prevention Week so I thought I should write about my experiences and how I think people should approach dogs.
I have been bitten a few times, though never severely. Usually it has been more a case of being in the way of something the dog is trying to bite, either a treat or another dog. One of the things I learned from Custom Canine’s Working with Dogs course, www.customcanine.com, is to wave a stick or leash, whatever is available, back and forth in front of you, from side to side. You could even use your hand if there is nothing else, but this does put your hand at-risk! It distracts the dog approaching and forces some distance between you, which will usually result in them backing off. This has been a life saver for me dealing with off-leash dogs charging at me and the dog I am walking. This could work with unwanted people too, because they might think you are too weird to approach – just an idea, though I may test it some day!
Another important aspect to bite prevention is to pay attention to your surroundings and the dog you are with. I can definitely ‘zone out’ when I am walking, especially if I am busy and have a lot on my mind. But, I do try to keep an eye and ear out for people or other dogs. I also need to figure out if the dog I am walking needs more space so I can adjust our course to avoid the stranger or just pull the leash in to avoid lunging. This may involve crossing the street, turning down a side road, or even hiding behind a parked car (one of my favourites). I am very thankful for dog owners who are aware of their surroundings and call in their dog when they see me walking. It is really frustrating when you see someone standing around talking or texting on their phone while their dog is obviously considering or even starting to charge at you.
I also greatly appreciate when people ask before they approach us, especially children. Except for a couple of dogs that I am 110% sure of, I say ‘no’ just to be safe, and also because the dogs get annoyed if we have to stop for humans, or anything in some cases (at least that is how I interpret their look). There has been a few times when someone has reached out to pet a dog and I had to pull them away to avoid a bite and/or say ‘Please don’t do that…’ so it is definitely better if people ask first and respect a ‘no’.
One dog, Daisy, absolutely loves all people especially little kids, but does not really like other dogs. Some dogs are the opposite. Some dogs are scared of anything new and will try to run away and others will lunge and bark. By the way, this is hard if you are walking 2 or 3 dogs and they all have different reactions! A wagging tail does not necessarily mean ‘friendly’, it depends on the dog and how they are wagging it. It is also important not to stare a dog down, this puts the situation at a higher risk. Dogs will turn away, lick their lips, and avoid direct eye contact with other dogs to avoid confrontation so it is important to be aware of these ‘calming signals’ and not treat meeting dogs like meeting new people who expect a firm hand shake and direct eye contact. Often a reactive dog is just very fearful of unknown people, animals, and especially weirdly shaped piles of garbage. It is my job to make our walk as fun as possible, but safety is even more important. It can take time to learn the dog’s signals, sometimes it’s obvious and there are definite commonalities, but some dogs are very subtle or can change their mind quickly!
Keep you and your dogs safe!