ONCE BITTEN, TWICE WISE

Dear Davi,

I am not an aggressive dog — I’m actually a friendly dog, but when someone messes with me, I get agitated and feel the urge to snap. Could you please talk to humans about some obvious — and not so obvious — warning signs we give before biting?

Charlie the Chihuahua

Charlie, 

Even the cutest, fuzziest, sweetest dog can bite, if provoked. A dog can only
stand so much taunting. Most dog bites are preventable, however, if humans know the signs.

I shared your concern with canine aggression expert Jim Crosby for some insight. He shared this with me.

Davi:

My sympathies to your buddy Charlie. When you’re a little dog, the world is a big, scary place. Even to humans, things can be frightening when you don’t understand what’s going on.

That’s the problem. Humans don’t always understand the behaviors that make their canine friends uncomfortable. Charlie is uncomfortable when people mess with him then, to top it off, they don’t listen when he tries to tell them how he feels.

Like people, dogs don’t like strangers in their faces. Bottom line: Respect a dog’s space. If Charlie decides he wants to get to know someone better, he will approach at his own speed. It’s best to stay calm and let him see you’re not a threat. Always remember, a dog might be scared, not feeling well, or just plain grumpy. It’s not personal; each dog has his own temperament. Try extending a closed hand — like a fist, but no punching — for the dog to sniff. This will allow the pup to get familiar with you.

Dogs who are aggressive give more distinct warnings. They may yawn or get wide-eyed, freeze with their ears pulled back, or show their teeth and raise their hackles to look bigger and fiercer. It’s their way of saying, “Stay away from me. I’m not interested in you right now.” Pay attention to that.

If the human still doesn’t get it, a dog might growl or snarl to let everyone know he’s unhappy or uncomfortable. These are the most obvious signs that a dog could snap. That’s probably what’s happening to Charlie. No one’s listening to his warning signs: He wants to be left alone.

The upshot is, humans can learn how to interact appropriately with dogs and read the warning signs. Learning the language of dogs is key to avoid
being bitten.

Jim

• Approximately 4.5 million dog bites  occur each year in the United States. Almost 1 in 5 requires medical attention, and most victims are children. Don’t be a victim. Use these safety tips to stop bites before they happen:

• Ask permission: Not every dog reacts the  same way to strangers; find out if the  dog is friendly before petting.

• Don’t hug dogs: Dogs don’t hug each other, and they don’t understand hugs mean love, so wrapping your arms around a dog can stress them out and lead to a bite.

• Keep your chin up: Never put your face down in front of a dog; this can be threatening and cause a dog to react.

Jim Crosby is a canine aggression expert. Email him at [email protected]

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october, 2021

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