It has been highlighted in recent years just how dangerous dogs can be and how quickly things can go wrong. Many of us confidently say our dogs would never bite, we’d trust them with anyone and they’re most certainly not dangerous. However, we must never get too complacent. All dogs have the potential to do harm, they all have teeth and an ability to bite if needed. Some dogs will truly never bite, but for others it only takes the wrong combination of factors and a bite can happen fast.
Did you know, over 250,000 people attend minor injury and emergency units in the UK every year from dog bites? In the USA, there are over 100 dog bites every hour... 50% of these are children.
It’s often more surprising to discover that people known to your dog are most at risk of being bitten. Is this because we’re more complacent around known people? Do we tend to believe our dog wouldn’t bite someone they know? Or are these people pushing your dog to bite?
Whether you are convinced your dog is safe or whether you know your dog is a bite risk, it’s important to be aware of how to keep everyone safe and ensure your dog is never put in a situation where they feel the need to bite.
1. Understand some basic body language
Know the warning signs which signal when a dog is uncomfortable, if you can read early warning signs you can take action sooner and avoid a situation escalating.
The best way to keep you, and other people, safe around your dog is to know when they are uncomfortable and what their limits are. If you know your dog is prone to resource guarding, make sure you manage their environment closely, especially if other people are in the house who may be less aware of the triggers.
If your dog struggles around new people or is worried by visitors, always give them a safe space to go to and use management to keep everyone safe. Your dog doesn’t have to interact with anyone if they don’t want to, so don’t allow people to pester your dog or force attention on them.
If your dog is uncomfortable being approached by people, teach a cue to quickly turn them away from any tricky situations, or use a visual sign like a ‘Do Not Touch’ jacket, or muzzle train your dog for added safety and an effective warning for people to keep away!
2. Know what to do if a dog turns aggressive
We don’t often think of this happening but it’s more common than most people think. If you are approached by an unknown dog, or even a known dog who is acting aggressive, try not to make sudden movements or move towards the dog because this could escalate their reaction.
Stand still and don’t make eye contact with the dog, try to slowly move away without turning your back until you can access a safe area, ideally behind a door or fence.
In an ideal world, try to spot the warning signs before a dog becomes aggressive, if it’s a dog known to you then this should be easier to do.
3. Don’t approach unknown dogs without permission from the owner. Even if a dog looks lost, be cautious about approaching
An unknown dog without an owner around may be lost or escaped from somewhere, if the dog is already frightened it will be more likely to warn you away if you approach. It’s far better to take a photo and alert someone of a lost dog, its owners or more familiar people can then approach the dog or decide the next steps.
Attempting to catch an unknown, loose dog is likely to either result in you getting injured or the dog being scared away and more difficult for the owner to locate again.
4. Use your own judgement with all dogs, even if you’re told ‘they’re friendly’, don’t just assume it’s right
People will likely tell you their dog is harmless, even dogs who are visibly fearful or defensive, so always use your own judgement. If a dog is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to move away or protect yourself by avoiding an interaction.
Going into friends homes where they have a dog is a prime-time to be told the dog is perfectly friendly, but if you’re seeing signs which suggest otherwise then it’s best to act on these and keep your distance.
If someone tells you their dog is worried or asks you not to interact with them then always follow their instructions. Assuming you ‘have a magic touch’ or saying ‘dogs always like me’, is only ever going to end badly. Too many people get bitten after being ignorant and ignoring warning signs.
5. Match dogs suitably and be sure you always have control
When walking dogs together, whether you’re walking dogs professionally, as favour to a friend, or meeting others with their dogs, always make sure the dogs are well-matched and suitable. If things turn nasty between the dogs, it’s often people who end up getting bitten too. Fights can escalate fast and trying to separate fighting dogs is a common cause of nasty bites.
Watch the communication between the dogs and if there are tensions then step in to keep the dogs separated. Remember there can be trigger points for conflict between dogs … anytime excitement or frustration is high (like at the start of a walk, competition for attention or if treats are being given out), or if the behaviour between dogs starts to become out of control.
Even exuberant play can tip into fall-outs if it’s not managed appropriately so always step in to calm things down before it escalates.
Being mindful of trigger points and being aware of anything which may cause conflict will help avoid fights happening and keep everyone safer.
6. Don’t let your dog run up to other dogs on leads
Keeping your dog under control during walks is important, not only for the respect of others you encounter, but also for your own safety. If your dog approaches other dogs on-leads they are more likely to get into trouble and it can put you or the other dog owner at risk of harm.
Always check before your dog approaches another dog and be aware of dogs who are showing inappropriate behaviour, for example, hassling other dogs or reacting negatively. It’s perfectly ok to walk a different way if you don’t like the look of a dog you’re approaching!
7. Be sensible about your equipment
Make sure your dog always has a well-fitted collar or harness on during a walk, this will give you a quick way to get them under control if needed and avoid them ending up in bad situations by slipping out of a loose collar.
Keep their leads, collars and harnesses in good condition because it only takes a worn-out lead to snap and your dog could be in the road or injured by another dog.
Watch out for hazards with the equipment you’re carrying, many people loop leads around their neck but there is a risk of a dog jumping up and getting caught in the lead or grabbing hold of it, if it’s looped badly this could choke or injure you. Likewise, use suitable equipment to ensure your dog can’t pull you over. Accidents do happen, but having good equipment and continued training in place will reduce the risk of these incidents.
8. Use fool-proof management if your dog is a bite risk
Management should never be under-estimated when it comes to our dogs. It can be the difference between keeping everyone safe and a severe dog attack. If you know your dog is a bite risk, make sure you have fool-proof management in place… that may be locked gates, secure fences, baby gates, a crate or a secure room. Whatever is needed, make sure this is always in place and anyone who is caring for your dog is also following procedures.
A gate left open can lead to a dangerous dog getting loose and doing some serious damage to people or dogs they encounter. Even typically friendly dogs can feel threatened by people coming to the front door or entering their house, so if you have any doubts about your dog’s behaviour, don’t allow them to have access to people near the door.
If your dog is a risk in public, train them to comfortably wear a muzzle and be sensible about where you take your dog.
You can’t rely solely on people keeping their dog’s under-control or not trying to touch your dog, you also need to have management in place for when things don’t go to plan.
9. Children need extra care
Children are more likely to be bitten by dogs and often more damage is done, their faces are closer to dog’s mouths which means they’re even more vulnerable to damaging attacks. While teaching children to respect dogs is absolutely essential, we also can’t rely on this to protect them.
Children forget sometimes, they get excited by things and they may not remember everything they need to about behaving around dogs. If your dog is a risk of resource guarding or if they show any signs of fear around children, you need to always have management in place to protect everyone.
Never get complacent around dogs and children, things can change fast and children are typically very unpredictable with their behaviour, and this can provoke a dog suddenly.
The responsibility should never be left to one person when dogs and children are involved, you cannot say the guardian of the children is looking out for them and the owner of the dog is watching the dog, it should be a combined effort to watch for inappropriate behaviours from the children and warning signs from the dog.
If you’re ever in doubt or you can’t be supervising properly then have a safe place where the dog can be away from the children, it’s not worth the risk of taking a chance.
10. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t be hesitant to put your safety first
Our gut feeling can often tell us a lot, especially with our own dogs, if you ever see something which you feel isn’t right then don’t hesitate to remove your dog, or yourself, from a situation.
Remember not to tell your dog off for trying to communicate their feelings, but instead calmly step in and take action to keep everyone safe.
Written by Naomi White