I’ve handled thousands of dogs in the last 25+ years and I’ve been bitten only once and not badly. The story of that bite is for another time; this dog safety cheat sheet teaches you how I have avoided problems while handling unknown dogs in both homes and shelters.
Follow these 5 rules and you will be much safer around dogs. No guarantees, of course, but these sure have worked for me.
1) Stop at a polite distance.
Apply the same rules of greeting strange adult people to dogs and you’ll be pretty darn safe. Stop at a polite distance. Make a friendly gesture. See what happens. If the dog offers no friendly gesture in return, leave him alone. And PS: Ignoring you is not a friendly gesture.
2) Invite, don’t impose.
After stopping at a polite distance, I invite a dog to me, rather than going to them. If the dog comes over then I know they have agreed to interact. If they don’t come to me then I leave them alone.
3) Skip the hugs.
Would you run up to a strange adult, throwing your arms around them in a big hug? Would you allow your child to? Doing that to a stranger is rude.
Same with the dogs. Most will tolerate it, a few might enjoy it but others could correct you – toothily – for your trespass.
Your enthusiasm is not an excuse. If you truly love dogs, then you are always polite to them. You respect their wishes, even when those wishes differ from your own.
4) No nose to nose.
We only get this close to people we know and trust a great deal and who are in the mood for that sort of intimacy. Same with dogs. I do not usually go nose-to-nose with dogs and I wish others would pick up that habit. Here is an example of this too common dangerous behavior.
5) Respect retreat – large and small.
Retreat is when we move away from something that we feel uncomfortable about. At the most subtle level it can be a slight lean or turn away; in a more dramatic and obvious action it can be walking away. In all cases, respect the retreat by moving away from the dog. If you are wrong and he’s not retreating, he will follow. If he did retreat, he will appreciate your move.
If you practice these 5 things, dogs will be more relaxed around you and trusting of you and you will be safer around them. That’s what I call a big win/win.