I spent a good deal of time chatting with some of my dog loving friends online today after posting a link to another “Top # Dangerous Breeds” article. One thing that came up in our discussion was the general public’s lack of fluency in canine language. People are just completely unaware that a dog is telling them, quite clearly, that they don’t appreciate what is going on. If ignored, that dog could consider biting as a last resort to get that person to leave them alone! Then the dog gets the blame and becomes another statistic.
Risa is still pretty afraid of people she doesn’t know. In general, she is more curious and willing to make friends but I’m very picky about who I let try and pet her. Why? Because most people don’t realize that they are making her uncomfortable. She’s pretty obvious, really. Risa will turn her head away or even turn completely away and leave. MOST people can recognize those behaviors even if they miss the tongue flicks, look aways, her ears pulled back tightly, and the whale eye. Yet, despite her signs of discomfort, people press on. “All dogs love me” they will say with confidence even though Risa has just told them that is NOT the case.
So what can we do to prevent dog bites? Education is key. Surely not everyone is as dog obsessed as myself and willing to spend hours reading books, watching videos, and studying dogs to learn their language. But we dog owners can enlighten the public when we’re out with our dogs. If someone tries to pet our dog with the common ‘over the head’ gesture, we can politely inform them that most dogs don’t appreciate being petted on the head. Instead, they could try petting our dog’s chest.
Even if you are unable/unwilling to help educate the public, you can still avoid problems but just not letting people pet your dog. Especially if you have a nervous, shy, or fearful dog. You are your dog’s protector. Don’t put him in a situation he cannot handle! Even if you must be rude, keep your dog safe. No one has the right to pet your dog if you don’t want them to (though some people seem to think they do). Like I stated above, I don’t let most people pet Risa. She’s had far too many negative experiences in the past with people who pressed on and tried to pet her despite her asking them to leave her alone. I want her to like people. 😉 So I only let people who can follow instructions pet her. Otherwise, we just walk on by. 🙂
If you’re interested in learning more about canine language, there are some great books out there. On Talking Terms with Dogs-Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, Canine Body Language-A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff, and Canine Behavior-A Photo Illustrated Handbook by Barbara Handelman are all great places to start. You can also learn a lot just by sitting back and watching dogs. Drop by your local dog park or catch some videos on TV (or YouTube). I know I learned a LOT about calming signals by watching Risa.
(I would like to thank my parents for their help with the photographs of Risa for this blog entry.)