How to Lessen Dog Bites: Pet the Owner Before You Pet the Dog

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If I could have my way, everyone would know follow the “Pet the Owner Before You Pet the Dog.” approach. Let me explain.

Although this topic may not be new to trainers and professionals, it is apparently new to so many “dog lovers” who have “had dogs all my life” and feel they know every dog in every way.

Most dog bites today can avoided if people just understood that dogs cannot use reason. They are incapable of the reasoning to translate when approached by a well-meaning individual wearing a warm friendly smile, looking them dead eye and talking in a high-pitched ‘baby’ voice or when a youngster bounces into the personal space of a dog with his or her owner. Dogs do not know these actions are nothing more than people wanting to make friends. The dog may see these actions as threatening. In the canine world, eye stares are considered a challenge. Smiles are teeth bearing meaning aggression. High-pitched sounds put the dog on alert. Bouncing, loud children can alarm the canine, putting the dog on defense. On top off all of these triggers, the individual who causes the alerted state tends to immediately reach for the dog, expecting the dog to react, accept, and interact without incident.

In the canine world, there is a hierarchy, an invisible understanding of position and roles of the pack. There is always an Alpha male and female that governs the rest of the pack, which, in turn, is the deciding factor of behavior. A pack consists of those that live, eat, sleep together, and interact with daily. This pack mentality creates a deeper bond much like we share with our families. When the Alpha decides it is ok to interact with someone or something, the rest of the pack is more apt to accept the ‘outsider’ or situation with no negative results of defensive behavior. That is why we teach and inform the general public, especially children, on Proper Approach of a Canine — any canine: “Pet the Owner Before You Pet the Dog.” Children are most likely to be the victims of serious bites due to their height and lack of proper supervision by an adult. Children are eye level to most dogs. A dangerous interaction can cause life-altering scars and post-traumatic stress disorder for future interactions with animals of any kind.

Okay, let’s put common sense aside and examine this idea legally. Dogs are considered ‘property’ by that definition alone no one should be reaching out to touch someone else’s ‘property’ without permission. So, let’s all do our part in making canine and public interaction safe and welcoming by teaching the “Pet the Owner Before You Pet the Dog” approach.

  • Walk calmly up to the owner, ignoring the beautiful beast.
  • Ask if it is alright to pet the dog.
  • When permission is granted, shake the owner’s hand, allowing the dog to see the acceptance from the ‘Alpha’ biped.
  • Allow the dog to become curious enough to come to you.
  • This approach will minimize the chances of the dog biting.
Gina D. is a guest writer for doggywoof.
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