5 Pet Safety Basics Everyone Should Learn
Time and time again there are stories in the news about dog bites. These unfortunate occurrences have absolutely nothing to do with the breed of dog. Dogs will never bite or attack without reason, and even the smallest or sweetest of dogs may react if provoked. Don’t be the next headline!
Did you know that 77% of dog bites come from pets owned by a family member or friend? By giving your children creative tools to learn how to safely interact with your pets or dogs in the neighborhood, you can reduce dog bites within your communities while protecting both your kids and fur-kids. Here are a few tips and pet safety basics to protect you, your family, and your pets from unnecessary conflict:
1. Know your dog’s triggers: Take note of what makes your dog uncomfortable, whether it’s strangers, new dogs, scary noises, or even an inanimate object. Never force your dog into stressful situations. For example, if your dog is scared of children, you can decrease the risk of a reaction by crossing the street. You can also redirect your pup's attention toward a tasty treat. With time and patience, they might learn that seeing the scary thing isn’t so scary because they have learned to expect food!
2. Body language: It’s how pups communicate! A dog will reveal a lot about their emotions with basic body language that indicates whether they are feeling anxious, scared, happy, threatened, or playful. It is important to remember that a fearful dog can respond by fight or flight. For example, a dog exhibiting a fight response might respond to fear by growling, making themselves look big, stiffening their tail up high, and raising the hair on their backs. During a flight response, a dog might cower, lick their lips nervously, or tuck their tail between their legs. Repetitive yawning is also a sign that a dog may be afraid, and is one of the ways dogs deal with nervousness. The key thing to remember is that every dog is different, and dogs will react differently to fear. It's also important to be mindful that a dog's behavior may change based on certain triggers. For example, if you know your dog has issues with food aggression, you should avoiding feeding them around kids, dogs, and unfamiliar people. Watch for any sign that a dog is feeling fearful or uneasy and remove them from the situation if needed.
3. Ask: It is imperative that you teach your children to always ask the owner before approaching a dog they are not familiar with. Your child may love dogs, but not every dog loves children. Give a dog space and ask the owner whether it’s okay to approach.
4. Approach with caution: If you have permission from the owner to greet the dog, it's important to do so safely. Approach slowly and crouch down their level. Present the back of your hand from a distance at snout-level for the dog to sniff.Let the dog make first contact and go at its own pace. Not all dogs are outgoing and excited to meet people.Once the dog seems comfortable, pet them under the chin or neck or side of its body. Never try to pet on top of the head or face as the dog perceives this as threatening and scary. Imagine you are deathly afraid of snakes and someone shoves a python in your face. They assure you he’s “super friendly,” but that doesn’t stop you from feeling terrified! This is exactly how dogs feel when a stranger's hand abruptly comes at them, even if the human has the best of intentions.
5. Avoid risk: Avoid potentially risky situations by knowing when to not interact with a dog. For example, you may want to avoid disturbing a dog who is:
Sleeping--a startled dog could react aggressively.
Guarding a home or the other side of a fence
Resting with her puppies-- a new mom is often very protective of her puppies and may be anxious about your presence.
Exhibiting fight or flight reactions such as growling, barking, or excessive yawning.
Now that you know some dog bite prevention basics, take some time to explore some fun resources! The American Veterinary Association has a printable coloring book that educates your kid on how, and if, they should approach a dog. Pet trainer Victoria Stillwell provides an in-depth look at recognizing dog body language worth reading up on as well. It is the responsibility of all parties involved--dog parents and human parents--to understand the risks for dog bites and know how to protect yourself, your family, and your pets.
Do you have any tips for pet owners and parents? Share them in the comments below!
About the Author: Anna Jacoby is a D.C. native, freelance writer, and dog momager to pittie rescue Jack @jackthepibblepotamus. She can attest to the amount of hard work and abundance of patience it takes to care for a fearful dog with trust issues. Jack has been learning ‘to dog’ since finding his forever home in 2015. You can follow his endearingly awkward journey as he derps it up on his Instagram page.