Dog bite prevention: be a tree
By Doris Dressler
More than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year; 800,000 require medical attention (www.avma.org). Children are the most common victims of dog bites, with senior citizens and home service providers (mailmen, etc.) following not far behind.
These sobering statistics resulted in the creation of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the third full week of May, giving dog training professionals the opportunity to educate the general public about dog bite prevention.
Any dog can bite
The reality is any dog can bite if stressed, startled, uncomfortable or in pain. Did you know that most people are bitten by dogs they know?
To avoid dog bites:
+ Don’t run in the presence of dogs; dogs love to play chase and can quickly get overly aroused. Waving your arms around, as children tend to do when they run, makes it worse by encouraging the dog to jump.
+ Don’t yell or scream; this excites some dogs and frightens others. Speak calmly and firmly, if you do speak; being still and quiet is best.
+ Never reach through or over a fence to pet a dog.
+ Never leave small children unsupervised around a dog.
+ Always ask permission to pet a dog you don’t know.
+ Don’t touch a dog that is sleeping, eating or sick/injured.
+ Don’t approach or touch a dog that is growling or barking.
+ Learn how to read dog body language.
A wagging tail doesn’t mean a dog is happy
One of the biggest misconceptions about dog body language is a wagging tail means a dog is happy. Au contraire! While a broad, sweeping tail wag (where even the back end of the dog moves) generally does mean the dog is happy, a tail that is held upright with a tight, stiff and regulated tail wag means the dog is trying to tell you to be wary.
Relaxed dogs tend to have open mouths; their ears are relaxed, not pulled forward or backwards. They have soft eyes, a happy (smiling) expression and a wide, swinging tail wag. These dogs are generally safe to approach.
Be careful with worried or nervous dogs; fearful dogs can and do bite. Signs that a dog is fearful include a closed or tight mouth, ears held down and back, wrinkles around the eyes or forehead and a tucked tail. They may be slouching or slinking and may attempt to hide.
Aroused dogs also wag their tails, but, as noted above, the tail is held upright and the tail wag is tight, stiff and slow. Their mouths tend to be closed and ears are pointed forward. Their bodies are stiff and a forward leaning stance often is exhibited. Use extra caution around highly stimulated dogs.
Search YouTube for “Zoom Room Guide to Dog Body Language” to view an excellent five-minute, silent presentation on dog body language.
Be a tree
If you are approached or charged by a dog, be a tree. Dogs don’t chase inanimate objects. This makes nonmoving items like trees rather uninteresting (unless the tree has been peed on!).
If a strange dog approaches that makes you uncomfortable:
+ Stop and stand perfectly still with your arms at your side.
+ Fold your hands together.
+ Don’t make eye contact; tilt your head down and look at your feet. You are now a tree.
+ Remain still and silent until the dog leaves or help arrives.
This method is also an excellent way to discourage dogs from jumping on you.
Every parent should teach and practice this protocol with their children. For more detailed information, go to www.be-a-tree.com.