by Dave McKague
My Dog Teaches … Safety
Whether with tools in the workplace, with appliances at home, or with vehicles on the road, knowledge, awareness and practice are the keys to safety. The same applies to living with dogs, with the added complication that they are living entities that can have their own independent responses.
Getting bitten by a dog is a rare occurrence. But let’s face it; with countless millions of dogs interacting with countless millions of people every day, it is inevitable that it is going to happen.
Almost all occur because of human error, whether caused by a lack of knowledge, incompetence or negligence. By learning and practicing, we can dramatically reduce the chances that we or our children will ever be bitten.
Some Basics: Learn to think like a dog …
Dogs can be quite protective about things they "own" (and yes, that can apparently include their owners as well as their owner’s house and yard and car). Therefore, never put your hand through a fence or an open car window; the dog may become very assertive that this is its space. Be especially wary of any chained or unsupervised dog. Likewise, don’t try to take food or a toy from a dog. Do not bother an animal when it is with its young, eating, sleeping or obviously wanting to be left alone. A scared, injured or sick dog can also be a dangerous dog.
Never run towards a dog; it may interpret this as an attack and respond aggressively. Ask the owner if the dog is friendly and get an OK before approaching any unknown dog. While still a safe distance away, stop and extend your hand palm down, with your fingers curled into a loose fist and out of harm’s way. Keep your hand level with the dog’s mouth (bringing your hand over its head may be seen as a threat that you are going to strike) and let it make the final approach to sniff you, the dog’s way of saying "Hello".
With Children …
Despite the impressions you may get from the media, the vast majority of bites occur within the home by a dog known to the person. Young children under the age of ten, especially boys, are more vulnerable than any other group. Even if you don’t have pets, it certainly would be wise to "dog-proof" your child to give him or her the confidence to deal with dogs that he or she may meet in the park or at a neighbor’s house.
If you have a dog with children in the home, make a conscious effort to really get to know your dog and to know your kids. Recognize the actions that may irritate your pet and make sure you or your kids do not do them, in effect teasing the dog. Watch carefully how your kids interact with the dog; children can be rambunctious and overly rough at times leading to accidents. Teach your children that animals do not like to be restrained (and that includes hugs around the neck). Never leave young children unattended with a dog; their lack of experience may lead to a regrettable mistake.
Be very alert to any sign of a "mean streak" with a child towards the family pet. Do not let any child pull the dog’s ears or tail, hit or pinch it, or otherwise tease the dog. Even if your pet does not react, you are not doing your child any favors by letting him or her do things that another animal may not tolerate. Above all, treat your pet well – they do reciprocate. (And, as kids tend to copy the actions of others, it would be wise to treat your children well too; they may feel powerless to get back at you and decide instead to take out their frustrations on the family pet, with potentially disastrous consequences.)
Teach your child not to run away from any dog. (This may trigger a "prey" instinct in the animal, especially if the child is yelling and screaming.) The best approach is to move away slowly, keeping the dog in sight. If an aggressive dog approaches, the child should remain motionless staring at his or her feet until the dog loses interest and moves away. (Do not look directly in the animal’s eyes; the dog can interpret this as a challenge.) The same applies in a worse case scenario if the child is knocked over; cover the head and neck with the arms and remain motionless, not looking in the dog’s eyes.
With Other Dogs …
If your dog gets into a fight with another dog, the first thing to remember is … relax. All dogs naturally display aggression to other dogs; almost always, it is mere posturing to establish boundaries of behaviors and neither dog will get hurt. Trying to break it up will only tend to make the situation worse and may get you bitten. If a dogfight appears to be developing into something more serious and you have the items on hand, try spraying water, throwing a jacket over them or otherwise distracting them with a whistle or other loud noise.
Dogs bring a lot of companionship and joy into our lives and, for the most part, are extremely tolerant of our human failings. With some of the mistakes we humans make, it’s almost a wonder that more people aren’t bitten. If we can appreciate and understand a bit better how dogs react to the world around them, we can dramatically reduce this number even further.
A very useful website for more information on dog safety: www.doggonesafe.com
Previous "Petitorial" articles by David McKague:
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