DBPM–Who’s Responsible For Preventing Dog Bites?
This may seem like a silly question or one with an obvious answer but after reading some ridiculous comments on a self proclaimed dog-bite resource, I felt it was necessary to post.
We are all responsible for preventing dog bites. Dog guardians, the general public, friends, relatives, and parents are all pieces of the puzzle to preventing dog bites.
Dog guardians have the bulk of responsibility in preventing dog bites–which makes sense since the dog is in their care. It is our responsibility to make sure we make good decisions for our dogs. We are responsible for socializing, training, protecting and advocating for our dogs.
So, how can dog guardians help prevent dog bites?
*Properly socializing puppies. If a guardian has a young puppy, I think one of the most important pieces of prevention is proper socialization. Making sure your puppy has positive experiences with many many different types of people (gender, age, color, shape, size, wearing costumes and hats, etc), in many different places, with many pieces of novel stimuli, with many sound dogs (adults dogs and other puppies), and hearing plenty of strange noises.
*Proper training (whether it’s training to modify concerning behavior OR just basic training). Positive training can build and improve your relationship with your dog which can help your dog learn to cope in stressful or scary situations. Dogs often learn to look to their handler for guidance or protection instead of feeling the need to step in for themselves. Training can also address a known behavior issue and make the dog safer by teaching the guardian how to handle the dog and handle the issues. Training gives guardians tools to help navigate the world with their dog: leave it, watch me, emergency u-turns, and recall are all important tools.
*Be able to read your dog’s body language and do something about it. If you know your dog is a stress yawner and you start seeing a lot of yawns while at a busy outdoor market, perhaps your dog needs a break. If every time your dog is around kids they are lip licking, panting, and giving a whale eye….perhaps your dog does not like kids and shouldn’t be in situations where he is in close contact with them for an extended amount of time.
*Advocate for your dog. Do not be afraid to offend people if it means protecting your dog. If your dog does not like people–do not force him to be pet by people. It’s okay to tell people “no” who ask to pet your pup. It’s also okay to yell “STOP!!!” to someone who is about to pet your dog without asking. Don’t be afraid to get out of a situation where your dog is getting uncomfortable or to use defensive measures to keep your dog away from something that seriously concerns them.
*Make responsible decisions with dogs who have known issues with dogs or people. If your dog has a history of bites or a history of aggression toward people or dogs, they should never be permitted off-leash in unfenced or public areas. I do not care what breed the dog is, if it has a history of bites or aggression, they need to be kept on leash when in public or in a solidly fenced in private yard for off-leash fun. There is absolutely no excuse for a dog with a history of aggression being loose in public. If your dog has a history of aggression towards friends in your home, your dog should be kept away from the situation. Do you know that your dog does not like children, you need to make sure they are never just casually around children (doing controlled training exposures is different).
*Utilize safety tools when a dog has a history of aggression. DO NOT be embarrassed to use a muzzle on your dog if he has a history of biting, DO be embarrassed if you fail to use the muzzle and your dog bites someone. Muzzles, short traffic leads, head collars, double leashes, or back-up collars, and evasive maneuvers are important pieces of living with a dog who has behavior problems–if you know your dog has a history of injuries to others, it’s your responsibility to use tools that will ensure people’s safety.
These are all things that dog guardians can do to prevent dog bites, but they are not the only piece of the puzzle (and this list is not complete, just some big parts of dog bite prevetion). The general public and friends/family of the guardian all need to do their parts as well to prevent dog bites.
*ASK before approaching an unknown dog. Not all dogs want to be pet, not all dogs want to say hello to unknown people–they may be fearful, they may be anxious, they may be elderly, they may be in pain, they may be sick, or they may be in training. ASKING before approaching and petting an unknown dog is really important.
*LISTEN to the response of the dog handler. The handler is doing their job to advocate for their dog and it’s important to listen to their response and respect their instruction. The handler may tell you not to pet the dog or they may tell you how the dog likes to be pet, or they may say that their dog doesn’t want to greet your dog–either way, it’s your responsibility to listen to them. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised the number of people who insist on petting dogs even after being told no or who let their dog get in the face of the other dog even after being told not to.
*Do not try to pet or interact with dogs tethered in their yards or behind fences in their yards. Tethered dogs have no escape and are more likely to aggress if they are scared or get frustrated–they cannot flee so their other option is to fight. Dogs behind fences often become protective of their territory and may act aggressively to defend it–even if you know the dogs outside of the fence, it’s a totally different story when they are inside the fence.
*Learning a little bit about canine body language can only help you keep yourself safe. Some dog handlers are not responsible and they will let people pet their dog even if the dog would rather not be pet. Being able to tell the dog doesn’t want to be pet can only help you and help keep you safe.
* Use good body language and petting techniques when allowed to interact with a dog. Avoid staring at dogs or giving lots of eye contact, in the doggie world, eye contact is an aggressive signal and some dogs don’t appreciate that coming from a stranger. Avoid looming over dogs when you are petting them–this is another intimidating body posture that may cause a dog to get scared and react. Let the dog come to you and start scratching under their chin, on their chest, or on the sides of their neck. Avoid going over their heads.
*DO NOT HUG! Most dogs do not like hugs or kisses, especially from strangers.
Parents have a special role in preventing dog bites. The most common victim of dog bites are children and I firmly believe this could be changed by educating parents. But that is enough information for a totally independent post. So, keep an eye out for that post in the near future