Having a dog bite you is not a pleasant experience at all, but often warning signs leading up to the bite have been overlooked and a bite is all a dog has left to use to cope with an uncomfortable situation. Because dogs and humans do not speak the same language the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) has compiled the below 9 tips to better understand dog language and boundaries to avoid being bitten.
Be aware of the environment:
Dogs behind fences, on leads or in confined spaces are likely to feel more vulnerable or are more inclined to be protective and are therefore more likely to escalate to apparent aggressive behaviour patterns more quickly than those in a comfortable, familiar environment where they can move (and escape) freely. Rather don’t approach dogs when they’re in these situations.
Remain a stranger:
Dogs make such great guardians because they view unfamiliar people as potential threats. Keep this in mind before trying to make friends with an unfamiliar dog and rather give them space.
Dogs value their personal space, especially from people they are unfamiliar with. Respect this and rather let dogs approach you to make friends than force yourself on them. Always ensure dogs are aware of your presence before you make contact with them and respect that their toys, food bowls, treats etc. are just that – theirs.
“No go” times:
Moments of interaction with high value resources are important to dogs and they’ll often retaliate in a more severe manner if disturbed during these time. Leave them in peace while they are eating, sleeping, chewing a toy or when a nursing mother is tending to her puppies.
Be aware of body language signals. The below is a list of signs that a dog may be feeling anxious and may feel the need to bite:
wide eyes revealing the whites of the eyes
tense body and stiff tail
pulled back head and/or ears
Heed warning signals:
Realise that if a dog has felt uncomfortable enough to growl or show his teeth, he is offering you a warning prior to resorting to the only behaviour he has left available to him – that of biting. If you do not heed this warning, you leave the dog with little other option but to bite. Also be aware that punishing a dog for warning you of his uncomfortableness is not advised – he will merely learn that growling etc. is not allowed, so may simply skip these steps and go straight to biting, because the root cause of his feeling of anxiety is not being resolved.
Be a tree:
Our natural instinct, when faced with something threatening, is to get as far away from it as possible. But, the worst thing you can do if a dog is about to lunge forward, is to turn and run away – this will only encourage a chase. Rather divert your eyes (do not stare down the dog), turn to the side and make yourself less threatening with hands at your side. Be still like a tree. When the dog has lost interest back away step by step, without losing sight of the dog in your peripheral vision.
In the event of an attack:
If you’re caught in a situation where a dog is attacking you try not to scream and run. Rather give him whatever you can, as a barrier between you 2 – like your jacket or backpack. If you’ve been knocked over curl into a ball with legs tucked under you and hands interlocked behind your neck, protecting your neck and ears. Remain as motionless as possible, and in most cases the dog will lose interest and move away.
Children are most often the unfortunate victims of dog bites. Teach them all of the above rules from a very young age, and no matter what sort of temperament your dog seems to have, don’t let children test his boundaries by hurting him, pulling on ears and tail, riding him like a horse etc.
As a dog owner, it is imperative that you practice responsible pet ownership. You know your dog’s personality better than anyone and should therefore ensure your pet is not put into a situation that may make them feel anxious or behave in an unpredictable manner. Always play it safe and even if you feel you’re being overly cautious, rather that than having to deal with an injury caused by your dog.