Defensive Dog Handling
I got a very disturbing reply to one of my articles today.
Let me explain, it wasn’t “really disturbing” but it is disturbing to me!
I see the horrors of the dog world.
Most people see pictures and videos of fluffy Golden Retriever and Lab puppies playing in a field of flowers, but as a dog trainer and one who specializes and works with aggressive dogs, I see the horrors.
I see the dogs that bite children in the face.
I once worked with another dog trainer whose nose had literally been ripped off of her face by a 15# terrier mix. She endured several surgeries but will never look the same nor be able to cover the scars.
And, it is not a surprise that she has post-traumatic stress disorder and can no longer train or have much of anything to do with dogs anymore.
I see the stories of the dogs that kill people.
And, I hear the stories from my peers of dogs that have tried to kill them.
I also recently went to a Sue Sternberg seminar where she reiterated a lot of points that I think need to be shared.
We don’t make the top 25 most dangerous job list, but we certainly have to keep our wits about us.
The trainer who’s nose was ripped off, was leaning in to kiss the cute little dog.
I very, very, very rarely kiss a dog.
Actually I have gotten to the point that I don’t even pet many anymore.
I have learned through experience that it is better safe than sorry, and I am lucky that I have never incurred a bite that needed stitches!
And, I have spent time in a dog bite suit, which significantly increases my risk of a bad or deadly bite.
So What Was the Comment
It is going to seem very innocuous and even kind to you.
It came from a handy man who regularly enters the homes of people he doesn’t know and has encounters with dogs who may aggress or be fearful of him.
He mentioned that he sits on the ground and offers his hand to them as a means of diffusing the situation.
In fact, isn’t that what a lot of us were taught early in life?
If a dog acts aggressively or fearful, get down on their level (kneel, sit, or bend) and extend your hand as a means of friendship and a way to allow the dog to sniff?
Most people, and especially children have heard this, and it works in some instances.
But I see the horrors of the dog world.
My mind pictures this lovely, kind man, sitting on someone’s floor, when a dog becomes more scared or more aggressive. And, when you are sitting on the floor, you are much more defenseless than when you are standing or even kneeling.
I what happens with the dogs who may be sniffing the outstretched hand, when a siren goes off and startles the dog even more, pushing him past his bite threshold for more on understanding bite threshold click here
You see one stress, (the knocking of the door) added to another stress (the addition of a person the dog doesn’t know or like) added to another stress the siren or (a noise or some other stress that can’t be avoided) dramatically increases the likelihood of a bite.
And, let’s all agree that a 200 pound mastiff is much more dangerous than a 3 pound Chihuahua but both can give a hospitalizing bite if given the opportunity.
And, perhaps he was talking more about the Chihuahua, but my mind pictures the nervous and protective Mastiff.
What Do You Do?
So what do you do, when you are constantly faced with dogs you don’t know?
Assume All Dogs Bite
Hardly anyone, seriously almost NO ONE will admit to having an aggressive or biting dog.
People who come to me for behavior consults often start out by saying he has only one problem, he poops in the house. Oh yeah, and I can’t get near his food bowl because he growls and threatens to kill me.
Even when they come to me for biting they will rationalize that “their dog doesn’t bite or isn’t aggressive”.
So don’t ever assume someone you meet on the street or in their home will admit that their dog has an aggression issue.
Most Owners Don’t Notice
Also, it is critical to note, that most dog owners don’t notice or read dog behavior for a living.
They don’t realize fluffy is closer to his bite threshold.
Most dog owners and regular people have no idea what a bite threshold is or what it means.
It doesn’t matter how much their dog is barking, growling, or snarling they will tell you he really isn’t aggressive. Because they aren’t used to listening to what their dogs is trying to tell them.
My parents taught me to drive defensively.
Never take for granted what you “think” another driver should or might do.
Don’t assume that car will yield or even stop.
Assume that everyone is drunk or under the influence, and give yourself space. This tip has helped to keep me from having car accidents.
The same is true with interaction with dogs.
Assume all dogs can and will bite you.
Know that your entrance into anyone’s house (of whom you don’t know) is a stressful event for the dog.
Even excitement (or a dog that seems excited to see you) can cause stress and excited dogs are also closer to their bite threshold as well for more on that click here.
Listen to The Dog
If the dog is scared and trying to run away, don’t force yourself on him.
The closer you get, the more stress he feels.
Don’t hold your hand out, this looks aggressive and hesitant to a dog. After all, we don’t do this to our own dogs, it only happens when the dog is scared and overly stressed which likely then increases the stress the next time he sees the same picture. Plus your hand is a very delicate piece of machinery that is not easily surgically fixed to the the prior state after a bad bite. I NEVER want to be bitten in the hand.
I have had friends who have had fingers bitten off, and structural hand damage. And, it is hard if not impossible to work without your hands.
Allow a scared dog to have space and allow him to get away from you.
If he is acting aggressively, again don’t present your hand and don’t take his space.
Ask his owners to put him on a leash or put him somewhere else where he can be more comfortable.
Don’t worry that the owner will take offense to your request or will think that you aren’t brave. Instead think of it as the kind thing to do for the dog and the safest thing to do for yourself.
You don’t want to be bent over on the floor (working on something) and have the dog run up and attack you in the face.
Don’t Get Down on the Dog’s Level
Don’t get your face any closer to the dog than you have to. I would much rather take a surprise bite to the leg or arm than to the face or belly.
If there is a dog that worries you, again ask for the owner to take charge, or shut yourself into the room if you must get on the ground.
If The Dog Rushes You
If a dog rushes at you, stand still and don’t give the dog eye contact.
Carefully avert your eyes while still trying to glimpse in that direction.
Pretend the dog is a bear and make yourself small and non-aggressive.
Don’t Make Quick Movements
Cover your belly area if you can, but don’t make quick movements. Quick movements might incite a dog bite.
I have seen people disemboweled, so keeping your belly safe is important if you can.
You can also offer a better area if you think the dog is for sure coming in for a bite.
For example, I would much rather feed a dog my forearm than be bitten in the face, belly, or hand. Remember that your hand is a very delicate piece of machinery that can’t be easily fixed if bitten or crushed.
Don’t yell, if you can help it.
Dogs are much less likely to deal with a human being aggressive in their own home. So you might be able to scare the dog away in the street, but you will be much less successful in his own home where he feels most comfortable.
Calmly ask the owner to take charge but don’t scream or yell.
If the Dog Bites
If the dog bites you, do your best not to rip yourself away.
Puncture bites are bad, but ripping your body part out of the dog’s mouth creates a much bigger and deeper wound.
If you can, give the dog a moment and wait.
Most dogs bite and release if you remain calm and quiet.
If you fight, the dog will feel like he has to fight for his life and a much worse bite is liable to happen.
And, most will retreat after, however I always make it habit to look around and find an object that will allow me to protect or shield myself if need be and the dog comes back.
I would only fight if I felt like I needed to fight for my life.
Even If You Love Dogs
Even if you love dogs, not all dogs love all people.
When I know I will be facing a nervous or aggressive dog, I often carry a little bit of food (like string cheese) but I also realize that food can make some dogs more aggressive, so you must be careful. The more food you carry, the more of a resource it is for the dog to possibly guard.
And, dogs can show serious life changing and life threatening aggression.
I have learned to only pet dogs that are soft and squishy (for more on what I mean by that click here) and those that actively show social, submissive signs and solicit my attention and affection.
And, I am very careful, how and where I pet them until I know them well. I have to know a dog very well, before I allow myself to let my guard down.
After all, it is better to be safe; than to be in the hospital and be sorry.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.