Well-adjusted dogs add so much to our lives and to our families. They provide companionship, fun times and exercise, and help us teach our children about responsibility and caring for others.
However even the nicest, well socialised dog can use aggression to distance themselves from a threat and keep themselves safe. There are also dogs who suffer anxieties that make them more reactive to normal situations because they perceive these as threatening.
You, your family and your community can take simple steps to reduce the number of dog bites that occur. As well as the physical and emotional trauma caused to victims of dog bites, many dogs lose their homes or their lives after a bite that should never have occurred. Let’s set them up to win!
Here are some ways to keep the families and family pets in your community safe.
Safety around dogs
Dog are more likely to bite in situations that frighten them. They want to escape the threat and aggression works for them to keep them safe. Physical discomfort or previous scary events may make them less tolerant. Try to put yourself in their paws and understand how we can prevent many incidents that result in dog bites.
Here are some tips to help dogs feel safe around people.
- Always ask permission before petting or touching someone else’s dog. Let the dog come to you. If they don’t want to, that’s their prerogative. Leave them alone.
- Never hug a dog. They may feel vulnerable or trapped.
- Notice their body language. Most of the time, we encounter friendly, wiggly dogs in public but be cautious if a dog stiffens or is not wagging in a loose and friendly way.
- Never approach a dog you don’t know. If you are approached by a strange dog, stand quietly, hands at your sides and avoid eye contact. A dog’s natural instinct is to chase, so if you turn and run, a dog may chase you.
- Never corner a dog. All dogs have a sense of personal space, so watch their body language as you approach.
- Do not approach dogs in cars, kennels or on a tether. They may feel vulnerable when they can’t run away so their only defence might be to lunge or bite in an effort to increase their distance from the perceived threat.
- Don’t reach over or through fences or barriers to pet or touch a dog.
- Never approach or startle a dog while they’re sleeping, focussed on something, or with their puppies.
- Never yell or make loud noises around dogs. Their hearing is very sensitive. Speak to them calmly.
- Never get between dogs who are fighting or reach towards their heads as you may get bitten.
- Leave dogs alone when they are eating, whether the dog is eating from a bowl or chewing a treat, toy or any other high-value item. Like people, dogs don’t like it when people get between them and their food.
- Never tease, chase or harass a dog.
- Don’t enter a property containing a dog unless the dog’s person is with you. Dogs can be defensive of their family’s attention or their home territory.
The dog-safe family
- Children should always be closely supervised around dogs, even the family dog.
- Supervising children around dogs not only protects the children from accidents but also protects the dog from harm by children who don’t always know that touching animals in a certain way can hurt them.
- Never leave babies unattended around dogs. Dogs may not understand about being gentle with babies or even know what a baby is.
- If you’re expecting a baby, start early to get your dog used to the changes a baby will make to their lives.
- Don’t attempt or allow your children to attempt to remove anything (toys, food or other objects) from your dog’s mouth. Instead, find something of equal or greater value to offer your dog as a trade.
- Teach your children about dog safety early and promote dog-safe practices (see kids and dog safety videos below).
Good dog habits
- Socialise your dog and make them a part of your family activities early on. Even after their first vaccinations, take them out to safe places so they can become comfortable through gentle exposure to the many situations of their world.
- Take your puppy to preschool and adolescent classes that use only positive reinforcement training techniques. Learn to teach your dog appropriate behaviours in a humane, effective, and ethical way. Get the whole family involved.
- Don’t allow children to play rough with your dog, as they can accidentally hurt the dog or encourage him to become mouthy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play games like fetch and tug. Teaching your dog to play games using healthy rules will help them to learn self-control.
- Avoid reprimanding or any form of physical punishment because it will make your dog fearful and increases the risk of aggression. Make your motto “Don’t do that, do this instead” and make a habit of moulding good behaviour through rewarding a desirable alternative.
- Provide lots of exercise for your dog through play and frequent walks. Walks provide great exercise for you and your dog as well as social opportunities to meet other dog lovers. Regular activity not only enriches their lives but also reduces frustration or boredom. Interactive play increases the bond between you and your pet.
- Make sure that your dog has lots of human interaction every day. As social animals, dogs thrive on social interaction and love to be a part of the family.
- Avoid tethering your dog. Tethering removes a dog’s ability to flee and may make them feel vulnerable. If they can’t escape a perceived threat, the only option is to use aggression.
- Never let your dog roam free. Letting your dog roam freely greatly increases their chance of injury from cars or other animals. A roaming dog may become confused or frightened, leading to aggressive behaviour.
- Use caution when introducing your dog to new people, new dogs or new situations. Your goal is to provide the dog with a succession of happy experiences so their social skills will continually improve. Listen to their body language.
- If your dog’s behaviour changes (e.g., he becomes irritable), bring him/her in for a check-up. Behaviour changes can be a symptom of a medical problem.
Here are some useful resources for families with fur kids.