Dogs communicate with us through body language, facial expressions, and barks, whines, and growls. These signals can be challenging to interpret accurately.
These tips will help prevent biting and other antisocial behavior in dogs you know, and show you how to greet strange dogs in a nonthreatening manner.
- When you meet a strange dog, always ask the owner's permission before you touch the dog. Some dogs are working, like guide dogs, and must stay focused on their job. Other dogs should not be petted because they are sick, injured, shy, protective, or afraid of children.
- If you do have the owner's permission, approach the dog slowly and quietly, and offer the back of your hand, with your fingers slightly curled, for the dog to sniff. Ask the owner where the dog likes to be petted, and gently pet her there.
- Never approach a stray dog. Walk away slowly -- do not run. If the dog approaches you, stand still, with your arms at your sides, until the dog leaves -- a dog will chase you if you run away. Do not yell, wave your hands, or look directly into the dog's eyes.
- The American Kennel Club, in its publication The Complete Dog Book for Kids (Hungry Minds, 1996), offers this advice for how to greet a dog: "Approach a dog from the front or side. Hold your hands low and speak softly. Surprising a dog from behind, forcing him into a corner, waving hands in the air, or screaming may overexcite him, causing him to snap in fear or even in play."
- Respect the dog's body. Do not pull her tail, paws, fur, or ears, and do not touch her eyes. Learn to pet your dog gently in her "favorite spots" such as under the chin or on her chest.
- Pay attention to a dog's body language. Dogs try to let us know that they feel threatened with their posture and sounds. Do not confront a dog that is barking, growling, or showing its teeth. Stiff legs, ears back, tail up, and hair standing on end are all signs that a dog is feeling defensive. If you do not heed a dog's warning and you continue to approach, the dog is very likely to bite.
- Never try to take food, bones or toys from a dog's mouth. If the toy belongs to a child and the dog will not relinquish it willingly or on command, the child should call an adult for help.
- Discourage tugging and roughhousing games. In all the excitement, it is easy for a dog to miss the toy and latch onto you. Try fetch, Frisbee, and hide-and-seek for some safe fun.
- Let dogs eat and sleep in peace. Dogs take eating very seriously and can become very defensive around their food bowl. Like people, dogs need their sleep and can be grouchy when awakened.
- Keep your face away from a dog's face, particularly an unfamiliar dog. If you accidentally hurt or frighten the dog, her first instinct will be to snap and the closest piece of you to snap at will be your face.
- Young children should never approach a dog without adult supervision. A small child who has a dog at home may assume all dogs are as friendly and tolerant. Do not let a young child run up to an unfamiliar dog. Hold your child's hand and ask the owner's permission to pet the dog.
- When friends come to your home, teach them how to treat your dog. It's safer for everyone -- dogs and people -- when everyone knows the rules.
- Never hit your dog. The best way to discipline your dog is to train it properly. Once your dog knows what is expected of him, he will do his best to please you. A firm "No!" should take care of any momentary slipups.
- Do not try to separate two fighting dogs. Walk away slowly; children should notify an adult. (An adult can try to stop the fight with water from a garden hose or lemon juice in a squirt bottle. Trying to pull apart fighting dogs can cause them to turn on you.)
- A child should immediately tell an adult if he has been bitten by a dog, even lightly. Also instruct your child to tell you right away if your family dog growls at him.
- If an unfamiliar or unfriendly dog chases you, perhaps while you are walking or on a bicycle, stop moving and stand still with your arms at your sides until the dog leaves. Do not yell, wave your hands, or look directly into the dog's eyes.