Sunday, November 4, 2012

How To Pet A Pup Or Meet A Mutt


An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year and out of the 800,000 who seek medical attention for bites; half of these are children.  Many of these bites can be easily avoided by learning some simple things.

Dog behavior IS NOT the same as humans.  They can interpret many of the actions we view as friendly as being hostile.  Remember, when an animal is in a situation not familiar to them they will often be fearful and quite self-protective.  When they feel threatened they will do what is instinctual and normal for them.  Therefore, whether you are approaching a strange dog to help it, or are meeting your friend’s new pooch, the following tips and signals can help you correctly introduce yourself to any dog you do not know.

One of the signals that people often find misleading is a wagging tail.  A happy dog usually wags his tail and gets his whole playful body involved.  A dog who is about to bite usually has his tail pointed high,  moving it quickly back and forth and his body is rigid.

When dogs are afraid, you may see the hair (hackles) on their backs stand up.  For some, it may be just the hair on the back of the neck between the shoulders.  On others, the hair stands up for the entire length of their backs.  If you see hackles raised, back off.

Body language is a sure give away about a dog,s attitude.  A dog that is comfortable usually has a relaxed body with his ears low and a happy, wagging tail.  An aggressive dog is just the opposite.  His entire body goes stiff, and his ears and tail are raised high.  If you reach out to pet a dog, and his entire body immediately freezes rather than trying to get closer to you, he is definitely not pleased and it is time to move away SLOWLY.

If you notice a dog is licking his lips (when food is not involved), yawning, or turning his head to avoid meeting your gaze, he is again talking to you.  These signs let you know that the dog is not comfy with what is going on around them.  Keep remembering, a dog who distressed is often more likely to bite.

Scared dogs do not always bite, but it the likelihood is increased.  If you encounter a dog who cowers away from you, has his tail tucked between his legs and the ears flattened against his head, back off and let him approach you.

So, how do we approach a new animal without causing trauma to the animal or injury to ourselves?  ALWAYS ASK IF IT IS OKAY TO TOUCH SOMEONE’S DOG.  If an owner is not present, do not approach, touch, or attempt to move a dog.  Instead, get assistance from those who have experience handling animals (e.g.  Animal control officers, veterinary professionals, etc.).

When meeting an unknown dog for the first time, allow the dog to come to you.  Crouch down and turn to the side, avoiding direct eye contact.  Let him sniff your hand before you begin to pet him.  After the dog has thoroughly sniffed your hand, pet his chest, first.  Our first instinct is to pet the dog on the top of his head and shoulders.  Putting yourself over his head and shoulders, in dog language, states that you are trying to establish dominance.  Therefore, first pet the dog's chest, before moving up to shoulders and sides.  As you are petting, speak softly and soothingly to the dog and if you know his name, use it.  DO NOT ever put your face close to an unknown dog. 

If you are carrying anything in your hands, slowly set it down on the ground an arm’s length away from you and to the side, and allow the dog to sniff it.  This will help reassure him it is not something that you might use to hurt him.

Never approach a dog that is eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies.  Dog in these situations can become startled easily and are likely to be extremely protective of their food and youngsters.  In addition, NEVER leave young children or babies alone with a dog for any reason.  They like to give "hugs and kisses” which often makes dogs quite uncomfortable.

Remember, the observance of a few simple actions and signs can make a large difference in how the initial meet and greet between you and Fido goes.


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