Whenever I see a dog, I invariably smile. There is something about dogs that make so many of us happy. They are incredibly loyal, loving and let’s be honest, they are adorable. So, when it comes to seeing a dog on the street, tied up out the front of a shop or in the park, the first thing I want to do is go and give them a huge cuddle. But, I never ever do. Unless you know the dog you are approaching and there is a positive relationship between you both, it is never wise to approach a dog.
This topic is so incredibly important for all dog lovers to read, especially parents of young children. The reason for this is because children under five years of age are the most likely to get bitten by dogs. There are a few reasons for this, but the most obvious cause is low supervision by a guardian whilst a child inadvertently threatens a dog. Children of this age group are often unpredictable and can appear threatening to a dog, even if that is not their intention. This doesn’t mean that your young child is unable to be safe or behave around your dog, but there are many instances in which the crying, screaming, chasing, fur pulling and cornering of dogs by a toddler, can lead to a very anxious canine, whose last resort may be to bite.
So, how can any of us know if it is safe to approach a dog, especially if we have a child with us? The truth is that you can’t. This is especially true with dogs that you are not familiar with. For this reason, I always advise that people never ever approach a dog that they do not know. This might be a cute Chihuahua at the local café, a Doberman tied up at the supermarket, or a beagle being walked by his owner. The reason I advise against approaching an unfamiliar dog is because, it is unfair on the dog. This is especially true if the dog is under distress, such as being tethered to a pole as their owner enters a shop nearby. It sends shivers down my spine when I see people approach dogs tied up. I watch the dog’s body language, and most of the dogs I have seen begrudgingly tolerate it. But, they would much prefer to be left alone.
If you do know the dog, or if you are intending on getting to know the dog, then there is a very safe script on how to safely approach them.
How to greet a dog
1. Don't approach the dog - yes, I know this article is about how to safely approach an unfamiliar dog, but the truth is that you can’t. So never approach a dog you don't know.
2. When you're meeting a dog, remain standing with your head away and your hands beside you.
3. Allow the dog to safely approach you. In other words, allow the dog the choice to come to you. If they don't approach you, then respect that and give them more time.
4. Once they approach you, allow them to smell you and offer them a treat if you can. If they take it, you can gently scratch their chin and neck, if they are comfortable. To tell if the dog is comfortable, look for the following signs; relaxed body, gentle slow tail wag, ears relaxed, taking food from you, moving further towards you, sitting if you cue them to sit. If you do not see these signs, then the dog may feel uncomfortable interacting with you.
5. When touching a dog you have just met, give them long and gentle strokes on the side of their body closest to you. In other words, do not reach your arm over them and touch the other side of their body. Be mindful not to bend over, move into their space or invade the area they feel comfortable in.
6. Once you've engaged positively with the dog, be the first one to move away. Don't wait for the dog to move from you. It's important to ensure the dog has a positive interaction with you and looks forward to another interaction next time.
Life with dogs
Life with dogs involves empathy and respect. Dogs are intelligent and emotional animals, who can experience fear and anxiety when unsure of their environment. So it is important to appreciate that dogs deserve the same sort of respect that we expect from each other. Even if you see a dog tied up, wagging her tail at the local shops, control your impulse to goo and gah at her. Leave her alone and admire her from a short distance, as you walk by. Sometimes, in relationships, we have to be willing to give up our own desires out of respect for the other. The same applies to our dogs. No doubt if this approach do dogs was implemented across the board, the number of dog bites would plummet. As always, dog training is simple. Dogs are the easiest animals in the world to train. Humans on the other hand…
Note, there are some excellent educational programs in Australia, where children are taught how to safely interact with dogs. Please discuss this with your school Principal for more information.