With the glorious days of summer, the weather is perfect for both man and beast. It is a common sight to see pet owners and their dogs sharing the trails together, whether it be for a walk, a jog or just a little exploration (if you do this, be sure to know how to keep you and your dog safe from ticks during your adventures).
There are so many beautiful breeds of dogs today, and the inner child in all of us is drawn to our four-legged friends. But admiration can quickly turn to aggravation if we do not approach dogs in a non-threatening, friendly manner. Dog bites are a frequent complaint at any emergency department, and the most common areas for bites are the face, hands, arms and legs. They can be painful and, at times, even disfiguring.
Pay attention to these tips and apply them next time you can’t resist the canine that is crossing your path.
1. Ask for permission.
Always ask permission from the owner to pet their dog. No one knows their dog like their owner, and they have the insight to understand if their dog is social, shy, or fearful. Only they will be able to tell you if their dog is friendly enough to interact with strangers. Needless to say, if you come upon a dog with no owner, do not approach it. No one is around to tell you their history, how they respond to people, and what their personality is like. Safety beats sorry every time.
2. Avoid eye contact.
Do not make direct eye contact with the dog. In a dog’s world, a ‘stare down’ can be interpreted as a challenge, and may generate an aggressive response. Direct your gaze to the dog’s back or chest, but do not make eye contact
3. Be careful of your position.
Do not ever approach the dog head on. This again can elicit a confrontational response. Instead, think side to side. Keep your body turned sideways, and approach the side of the dog instead of face to face. Though it may be our instinct, never lean over or loom over a dog’s head. The dog may become fearful and feel threatened, potentially biting out of self-defense.
Once we make our approach to the side of the dog, now is a good time to pause. Let them make the next move. Stand perfectly still and allow the dog to come to you and smell you.
5. Watch your presentation.
Many people want to push their hands towards the dog’s face to allow them to smell them. A risky venture and totally unnecessary. The sense of smell in a dog is 1000-10,000 times that of a human, depending on the breed. There is no need to allow the dog to smell you because they already have. By pushing your hand towards their face, the dog may again feel threatened, and in their perception, may feel you are going to strike them.
6. Know the best way to pet.
Pet the dog gently and avoid getting the dog excited. This is a courtesy to the dog and its owner. Many times our good intention of just wanting to interact with the dog leaves the owner with an overstimulated pup to deal with when we are gone. Never pet the top of the head or reach over the head of the dog to pet the body.
7. Watch your pitch.
Keep your voice calm and your words few. Many times, we talk to pets the same way we talk to infants, and both species probably wonder what we are doing! Avoid speaking in an excited, high pitched, whiny tone. Speak to them in your normal voice, using normal words.
8. Have perception.
Lastly, if the dog appears nervous or tense, or attempts to retreat towards its master, the best decision is to admire the dog from a distance. Petting the dog at this stage can take them from fearful to fighting in seconds.
Using these ideas will make your next canine encounter an enjoyable one for all parties.
Diane Simon, RN, CEN, is the Trauma Coordinator/Registrar for ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital.