It can never be taken for granted that any dog will be 100% safe with everyone all of the time. Dogs bite for a number of different reasons. Lots of dogs bite out of fear if they feel threatened or trapped. Dogs also sometimes bite when they are in pain or discomfort, protecting their puppies or when they are surprised by a humans actions. Surprisingly, 70% of all dog bites happen at home. That means you need to learn how to be safe around your own dog as well as dogs you meet when you are out in public. Here are some general dog safety rules.
- Don’t touch a dog without asking the owner
Never ever touch a dog you don’t know without asking the owner first. It can be so tempting to go and stroke a dog that looks cute but it’s just not safe. Always ask the owner first.
- Stay away from injured, tired or sick dogs
Dogs that are in pain or suffering may act out of character. Don’t approach a dog that is injured or clearly unwell as they may lash out.
- Don’t tease dogs
Don’t tease dogs in any way, you may think it’s funny but the dog will not. Dogs can only tolerate so much before they try and protect themselves. Don’t let your children do things that may irritate your dog such as pulling their ears or fussing over them too much.
- Keep your face away from dogs, even your own
If there is one part of your body you should keep away from dogs it’s your face. Don’t do anything silly like putting your face really close to a dog. Don’t even put your face too near your own dog just in case.
- If a dog is sleeping do not touch them
Dogs can fall into a deep sleep and if you go to touch them or wake them up you can startle them. If a dog is sleeping don’t go near them, allow them a little rest and relaxation time.
- Don’t go onto a dog’s territory
Never go into a garden or house where there is a dog roaming free. Some dogs are trained guard dogs and are fiercely protective of their territory. This is an extremely dangerous situation that can easily be avoided.
- Avoid direct eye contact
It’s best to avoid direct eye contact with any dog, however, this is especially important if a dog is behaving in an aggressive manner. If you stare straight at a dog they sometimes see it as a challenge or a threat.
- Don’t go near a dog with puppies
All animals are protective of their young including dogs. Be wary of a mother who is with her puppies as she will be fiercely protective of them.
- Don’t run away from a dog
The worst thing you can do if a dog comes up to you is run away. You then turn the situation into a game and it may ignite some dog’s prey instincts. If you run away screaming most dogs will begin to chase you, and you won’t be able to outrun them anyway. Stay where you are and act like you are bored. Fold your arms and turn away from the dog. When they lose interest, slowly and calmly walk away and get help. If a dog knocks you over try not to make any noise and curl your body into a ball. Cover your face with your hands and use your arms and legs to protect your vital organs.
- Never touch a dog that is tied up
Lots of people leave their dogs tied up outside shops, in public areas and even in their homes. Do not approach a dog that is tied up. They are without their owner so you have no way of knowing if they are friendly. Some dogs can also get quite defensive when they are tied up and separated from their owners.
- Leave a dog alone when they are eating
Food is something that dogs value extremely highly. When your dog is eating do not go near them, just leave them to finish their meal or treat. Definitely do not touch a dog you do not know when they are eating. Some dogs are perfectly happy to be approached when eating but it’s just not worth the risk.
Recognising threatening body language
A great way to stay safe around dogs is to learn to recognise their body language in order to determine how they are feeling. However, learning how to interpret a dog’s body language takes time, if you are ever unsure about a dog stay away from them.
Owners can usually read their own dog’s body language really well and can tell when they are uncomfortable. Dogs that are in a calm state will have a relaxed body, their mouth may be open slightly but not tense and they may have a relaxed tail or it could be wagging gently. Their ears will not be up, down or pinned back but in a natural position for the breed of dog.
There are a two main types of aggression in dogs, fearful and dominant. Fearful aggressive dogs can be very dangerous and should be taken as seriously as overly dominant dogs. When they are really scared they may be prepared to fight for their life, and this makes them very unpredictable. Fearful dogs may not always give an obvious warning, so understanding their body language is crucial. They may display any of the following body language – ears pinned back, hackles raised, pupils dilated, noise wrinkled or even showing their teeth a little. Their body may also be crouching low to the ground with their head bowed down.
Dominant aggressive dogs can be very intimidating. They feel that they have to show that they are dominant over other dogs and sometimes even people. Their body language is completely different. Their body will appear stiff, their legs firm and planted in the ground. They may be leaning forward and displaying their teeth with their hackles raised. They may also have a wrinkled nose, have their ears forward and be looking right at whatever they see as the threat.
How to safely stroke a dog
If an owner says it is OK to stroke their dog then you should do the following:
- Offer a closed fist
- Allow them to sniff it, this passes information about you
- If they are still calm and relaxed stroke them under the chin or on the chest.
- Do not stroke the top of their head as this can make them feel intimidated.
Teach your kids to be safe around dogs
If you have children, regardless of whether you have a family dog they should know how to behave around dogs. It’s really important to teach them the things they should and shouldn’t do around dogs. The Kennel Club promotes safe interaction between children and dogs, click here for more information. You can also test your kids to complete the SAS safety factor challenge which should help improve their understanding. Try the safety challenge here http://www.safetyarounddogs.org.uk/safeandsound.html
Never, under any circumstances leave your child alone with a dog, even for just a moment.
Disclaimer – please note GJW Titmuss does not accept any responsibility for the information provided in the article. It is for guidance only, please see the RSPCA, Kennel Club and Blue Cross websites for information about staying safe around dogs.