Dog Bite Prevention Week: How to Safely Interact with Humans
Dog Bite Prevention Week is a favorite of mine – every year there’s a ton of great advice floating through the interwebs.
Thanks to trainers, vets, and other dog pros, we know how to prevent dog bites: understand dog body language, manage dogs properly, socialize and train them, teach kids how to safely interact with dogs, don’t chain them in your backyard or let them roam unsupervised. Got it.
Here’s one more from me: Get fluent in human body language and communication.
Nothing for nothing, but is anyone else stunned at how often fellow humans completely ignore or miss huge, obvious cues from other humans who are trying to communicate on behalf of their dogs?
You know, the ones that are saying, “Please don’t come any closer!”
So, how come so many of us keep getting closer?
I feel like the dogs would benefit if we humans got better at communicating with each other. In that spirit, here’s my contribution to Dog Bite Prevention Week 2012.
How To Safely Interact with Humans and Their Dogs
Right there! Do you see it? It’s a human walking their dog.
In order to approach them safely, you must observe. Before you or your dog gets closer, let’s look at the human:
What can you tell from their body language and facial expressions?
Start with the eyes. Are they darting back and forth, looking for a way to escape? Are the human’s eyebrows furrowed and pinched? You’re witnessing signs of stress. Do not ignore them.
Scan their bodies and look at their hands. A human that is not comfortable being approached by a stranger will often raise one or both hands towards you. If you see body language such as an outstretched hand, palm towards you, this is a clear signal to stop! Do not continue approaching.
Next, focus on their mouth. Is it open? Are sounds coming out? It is not unusual for a human who is feeling trapped to say: “Call your dog” or “My dog needs space.”
Occasionally, humans caught by surprise might have a hard time using their words. In that case, screams, shrieks, and expletives might be used.
Do not ignore these verbal warnings. Do not argue with the human. Do not tell them they are wrong and that it is ok for you to approach them because “All dogs love me” or “It’s ok, my dog is friendly“.
Listen to the exact words the human uses. This is a clear warning.
If you’re still not sure if you should approach, look closely at their feet. Are their feet facing towards you or have they turned to sprint in the opposite direction? When a human is running away from you, they are clearly signalling that they do not want to hang out.
Do not follow them across the street. This is not a game of chase.
In some cases, it can be difficult to read a human’s body language because it is so subtle. But the signs are always there, even if we don’t recognize them right away.
For example: you spot a human standing off to the side of a walking path. They may look relaxed, but study them at a bit closer. Are they standing in front of their dog? Are they giving their dog treats as you pass? These are signs that the human is busy working with their dog.
Tip: When someone sees you and then turns away from you, they’re just not that into meeting you.
But what if the human is hiding, you ask? Should I approach them then?
If you spot a human hiding behind a tree, car, or telephone pole. Do not make eye contact. Continue walking. Pretend that you do not see them and their dog. This human is cornered and making one last attempt to escape. If you approach you will be forcing them into a situation where they might feel trapped and bite you. Keep moving.
Sometimes we can’t help but have an encounter with humans and their dogs. If that happens to you, please do the following:
Do not flail your arms or shout.
Control your dog, so that they cannot approach them.
In a calm voice, always ask: “Can we meet your dog?” or “Is it ok if I say hello?”
Wait for the human to respond.
If they say no, do not force the situation. The human has clearly expressed a desire to be left alone. Do not ignore these signals.
Give them enough space to pass and keep moving.
Phew. That was close.
Well, there you have it folks. The last piece of the Dog Bite Prevention puzzle: Human Body Language. If we just pay a little more attention to each other’s signals and respect each other’s space, we’ll be doing our dogs a real solid.