Richard Cross, our guest blogger, is the founder of TheDogClinic.com, which was founded in 2008 to help dog owners learn more about dog behavior, training, health, and more.
His advice here about recognizing dogs’ body language and their warning signs will help Twin Tiers residents recognize the different signs of behavior so they can remain safe.
I have represented many dog-bite and dog-attack victims and I can tell you that dog attack cases are difficult for everyone involved– the victim of the attack, the family of the victim and the dog owner.
It is always the dog owner’s responsibility and legal obligation to prevent a dog attack but the advice below is good advice for everyone to keep in mind when in the presence of dogs.
Richard’s blog post:
Dog bites are more common in the United States than many people realize.
A CDC study found that from 2001 to 2003, there were an estimated 4.5 million bite victims each year. While many of these were minor bites, almost 20 percent of the victims required some medical attention.
For this reason, it’s important for both owners and members of the public to understand basic dog body language. This can reduce the chance of bites, which often have tragic consequences for both the animal and victim.
Common Canine Warning Signs
Most people know when a dog is showing signs of aggression. Raised hackles, bared teeth, and growling are easy to recognize as signals a dog doesn’t want to be approached. Common signs of submission, such as rolling over or crawling, are also easy to spot.
These are the most extreme examples of body language, though. Dogs have a variety of other ways to communicate discomfort or anxiety, such as:
- Giving “Whale Eye” by holding eye contact, turning the face away, and exposing the eye whites.
- Licking their lips when there is no food around.
- Turning away from the person or trying to walk away.
- Yawning while turning away.
- Shaking off without being wet.
Dogs showing these signals aren’t likely to attack unless provoked, but may bite if they feel trapped. Unfortunately, many people miss the signals and continue to approach.
It’s also vital to understand that a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a happy dog. Dogs can wag their tails when defensive, submissive or aggressive.
How to Approach a Dog
The most important rule is to never approach a strange dog without permission from the owner. Dogs of any size and breed can bite, so you can’t judge temperament based on appearance alone.
The owner will know how their dog usually reacts to strangers and whether it’s safe to interact.
Once given permission, many people get into the dog’s “space” and immediately start stroking the dog on the head. This is the wrong way to greet a dog and a common cause of bites.
When you first approach a dog, hold out your fist and allow the dog to sniff it. This protects the fingers from a bite, while giving the dog a chance to signal whether he’s happy to interact.
A dog that’s happy to be stroked will continue looking at the fist or give it a lick. At this stage, it’s probably safe to stroke the dog on the neck or shoulders, but avoid reaching over the head. If the dog looks away from the fist or tries to walk away, this means he doesn’t want to interact and you should leave the dog alone.
Also: Never try to stroke a dog that’s alone in a public place, such as tied up outside a store or in a park. Just because the owner has left the dog in an accessible place doesn’t mean it is safe to approach.
More information about preventing dog bites is available here.
Thanks for reading,
Best Lawyers’ “2015 & 2017 Lawyer of the Year”