According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “National Dog Bite Prevention Week® takes place during the second full week of April each year, and focuses on educating people about preventing dog bites. The dates in 2021 are April 11-17.” So, in preparation, TransPaw Gear has some insights to share about how pets and people can unleash adventures and harness fun together – while keeping everyone as safe as possible.
Humane Walking Gear
The social mission of TransPaw Gear® is to “educate our customers on the importance of using humane, force-free products (like dog harnesses), and techniques when interacting with their canine companions.” So, let’s begin by reviewing the very important connection between pet gear and dog bite prevention.
A comfortable, well-fitting, no-pull harness is a key component of setting you and your dog up for a walking experience that is not only more enjoyable, but also safer. Here’s how. If you have a dog who tends to react to some things on a walk by lunging, a leash attached to a neck collar is going to cause increased pressure on the delicate structures of your dog’s neck, causing pain and discomfort (certain “training” collars are actually designed to do just that). Then, each time this cycle of encountering an exciting “trigger,” such as another dog or a person and reacting to it and then feeling discomfort repeats, what may have started as a dog’s excitement and curiosity becomes more and more uncomfortable, frustrating, and negative for him. (Think “road rage.”) And there you have it. What may have started out as pure exuberance about life ends up becoming a tense situation that just gets worse – and less fun and safe.
Situations like this are one reason why experts, such as the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, are very clear on their call for Humane, Effective and Evidence Based Training techniques. Quite simply, they state, “Aversive training methods can be dangerous to people as well as animals…” So, here at TransPaw Gear, our advice is to always use humane methods and pet gear when training or adventuring with your best friend. Not only is that the kindest option, it’s also the safest one. Additionally, aversive methods can backfire; one day a dog might not tolerate it and turn around and retaliate, leading to a bite — and an unraveled bond.
Dog Body Language
It is highly unlikely that a dog will react in such a manner “out of nowhere” as people sometimes describe when recounting a dog bite incident. Dogs who are frightened, in pain, or even frustrated might be trying to tell us they need help the only way they know how, using body language. So, the next topic worth exploring when it comes to preventing dog bites is Getting Fluent in Dog-lish. Our dogs trust us to intervene on their behalf when they feel threatened or uneasy. Sometimes subtle changes in posture or facial expression are the initial ways they convey these emotions, even before a growl or grumble and well before a bite. Being able to interpret dog body language is critical to helping our furry friends feel safe, which in turn makes interactions safer for the humans your dog encounters.
Knowing and caring what a dog might be feeling can help prevent a situation from escalating to the point where it could result in a snap or a bite. A good example of this is resource guarding. Does your dog like to share food and toys? Maybe not. When it comes to resources, many animals, humans included, prefer to protect their stuff from being “stolen” – an innate behavior that is very handy for survival. Learning to share, on the other hand, is just that, a learned behavior. You can help set your pup up for success by contacting your force-free dog trainer or behavior consultant to work on this important life skill, while teaching the rest of the family management strategies aimed at keeping everyone safe.
Dogs have a lot to say, but at times no one is listening. For many dogs, biting is a last resort and rarely occurs out of the blue. When we go beyond the bark to become proficient in the verbal and non-verbal ways canines communicate, we can be their personal interpreters and their voice. Nowhere is that more evident than in the situation described below.
Human Body Language
In addition to dog body language, it helps to be mindful of human body language as well. Picture this situation. Perhaps you’ve witnessed – or experienced – something similar. An enthusiastic dog lover (might be a child or an adult) excitedly runs up to a dog, extending their hands right into the dog’s face, squealing something about, “Can I pet your dog?! I love, love, love dogs! Your dog is so cute!” And before the unsuspecting guardian on the other end of the leash even has a moment to respond, a stranger’s extended hands are hovering over a very startled dog, about to pat the dog on the top of the head. Yikes!! Hopefully, what happens next is that the quick-thinking guardian steps in, rapidly feeds a handful of fabulous treats while praising the poor, stunned dog, takes a deep breath…and then begins to patiently and kindly educate the greeter. Here are a few points the guardian might cover based on that interaction:
- If you’re going to ask someone if you can pet their dog, please wait for the response!
- Be mindful of your movements around animals. Humans are animals too and we get excited, but our excitement might startle a dog.
- When animals are scared, the natural response is usually “fight or flight” – and if they can’t flee, they might feel pressured to fight. So…
- Learn to read dog body language. Respect animals by responding appropriately if they are trying to communicate that they are feeling unsure or unsafe and need more space.
- If you’ve asked permission to pet a dog (thank you!) and the guardian and dog consent, give them control of the greeting, by allowing the dog to approach you.
- Avoid reaching up and over and scratching a dog on top of the head (most dogs don’t like that at first) unless the dog has physically proven to you that they like it, such as bumping your hand with the top of their head, basically asking to be pet.
It’s important to make sure dogs feels safe and secure both at home and out and about. Happily, helping to make the world kinder for dogs, also helps make it safer for humans! When we use ethical, science-based training methods, learn to speak dog-lish, and educate as many people as we can about safe interactions with pets, we are being compassionate and responsible to pets and people. Everybody benefits!
Here’s to unleashing adventures, harnessing fun, preventing dog bites and enhancing the human-dog bond!