Safety First when Approaching Unfamiliar Dogs

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Dog walking in the park

People signal their moods throughout the day by talking, using body language and facial expressions. But dogs, especially dogs you don’t know, are harder to read. Understanding a dog’s warning signals is critical. According to WebMD, 4.7 million people in America are bitten per year and 5 out of 9 children are attacked by the family dog or their neighbor’s pet.

Avoid Dog bites. Look for warning signs  

Always assume that a dog you don’t know is not friendly. For dog lovers, it’s natural to want to rescue or help a stray dog found wandering our neighborhoods. Keep in mind, even if the dog is wearing a collar,  approach with caution. Dogs can mask pre-warning signals like growling and barking before biting. If his growling behavior was corrected with conditioning and training from his previous owner he will strike without warning. Look for these canine body language signals for protection:

  • Direct eye contact is a challenge and threat from a dog
  • Tail up and wagging does not always indicate that the dog is inviting you to play, at times it only implies high energy before he bites
  • Legs apart and chest high is an attempt to appear big and intimidating
  • Ears perked upwards and a low growl are warnings
  • Intentions to bite are also demonstrated by showing his front teeth  

View more information about “Warning Signs that a Dog Might Bite.

If you find yourself facing any of the aforementioned dog warning signals, back away slowly. Do not approach the dog. If the dog is not willing to withdraw,  then use any object you can grab to put in the dog’s mouth before he bites you.  For example, use a bookbag or purse in place of your arm, leg, or face. The dog will try to bite you multiple times, so continue to force the object into the dog’s mouth each time he strikes, as he will strike more than once.

Teaching your child to greet a strange dog

Your child can inadvertently spook a strange dog. Although the dog’s owner knows him, it’s difficult to determine how the dog will react when an unexpected child approaches with excitement.  Always proceed with caution when approaching a pet you don’t know.  If the owner of the dog is present, then:

  • Ask the owner before touching his dog.
  • If the owner agrees, extend your arm slowly in front of you in a fist with your palm down.  This way,   if the dog decides to bite you save your fingers.
  • Hold your fist low and allow the dog to smell it. If the dog turns away, he’s not interested and should be left alone.
  • If the dog leans in to lick your hand then you’ve made a new friend, but proceed slowly.
  • Pet gently, while monitoring how the dog is responding to you or your child, but for precaution keep the dog away from your child’s face.

Always say thank you when your child is done petting the dog. If you can avoid approaching a dog you don’t know, then do it. It’s the safest choice. If you’re concerned about strange dogs in your area, please visit our about us section for contact numbers and locations of our affiliates at the Humane Society and Animal Control.

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