Most people are aware that allowing a dog to run loose in the streets is a recipe for disaster.
Aside from the obvious risks (such as traffic), animals that get lost can become disoriented, frightened and defensive. Even the friendliest dog can be problematic if he gets overwhelmed.
During a recent discussion with a few little people, I realized that there are many children and adults who are unsure of how to react if an unfamiliar dog approaches them. So, here are a few safety tips:
• DO stand still and let the dog approach you.
While many dogs out there are friendly, not every dog is comfortable with strangers. Some dogs are reactive to things such as hats, deep voices, quick movements, etc. — and if there is no owner near by, getting an advanced warning isn’t always possible. When an unfamiliar dog approaches you, the best thing you can do is to stand still, and keep your hands by your sides.
• DON’T raise your hands in the air.
This is one of the most common mistakes made by people who are uncomfortable with dogs. Suddenly raising your hands up high is a very bad idea. The reason this behaviour can be a problem is really simple to explain: If you were an animal with a person standing over you, and they raise their hands up quickly over your head, what do you think they are going to do? This is a threatening action and some dogs will bite when your hands move quickly into the air, as they are afraid you are going to hurt them.
• DON’T run away.
While you might not be comfortable with a dog that has approached you, remember that running away can make matters worse. Some dogs are naturally inclined to chase if you run. Some dogs will chase because of a natural drive to herd, some in an attempt to play, and some dogs want to catch things that are moving quickly. Running away can only lead to more problems.
• DO avoid eye contact, and back away slowly.
After giving the dog a chance to smell you, leave the situation by avoiding eye contact and backing away. Never turn your back on a dog that you don’t know.
• DON’T assume wagging tail means a friendly dog.
There is a common misconception that a wagging tail equals a friendly dog. One of the best ways to read a dog is to look at his overall posture. A dog that seems to be holding his body in a stiff or rigid position is not being friendly — even if his tail is wagging. If you are not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
• DO let the dog be.
It is very important that you do not attempt to grab, pick up or restrian a dog unless you are sure the dog seems comfortable and OK with you. The most common reason animals bite is because they are afraid, and pushing an animal past the point where he is comfortable is sure to create stress and fear. If you are unable to safely contain a found animal, report the sighting. It may help reconnect a pet with a very worried owner!
Dana Grove is an animal lover who works with several pet organizations in Brandon.