According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, an estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and the most common victims are children. In honor of National Bite Prevention Week, April 10-16, 2022, our Woods University dog training team recently shared 5 Tips for Safe Dog-Handling.
Read their tips and watch the series of short, one-minute videos below for a few reminders on how to interract safely with newly adopted dogs or with dogs that you don’t know.
One little-known fact among new adopters is that dogs do not tend to appreciate being grabbed by the collar, and putting your hand so close to the dog’s head could lead to a preventable bite. For this reason, Woods Behavioral Training Coordinator Eric Stockam recommends leaving the dog’s leash on, even in the house, as you begin working on such behaviors as barking, jumping on the furniture, or getting into the trash or litter box. With this technique, dog owners can easily and safely make corrections and lead dogs gently away from distractions and mischief, without grabbing the dogs by the collar.
As new owners get to know their new dogs, Behavioral Training Manager Michelle Rizzi says they can begin working toward desensitizing their dogs to collar grabs. She demonstrates doing this by simultaneously offering the dog a cookie or other high-reward dog treat while gently and softly touching the dog near the neck or collar. Over time and with practice, the dog will begin to associate collar touching with positive interactions so that an owner can safely take hold of the collar when needed rather than leaving the dog leashed at all times.
For dogs that are new family members or completely unknown, Stockam says it’s wise to refrain from approaching them when they are lying down, sleeping, or even rolled over on their backs. While the dog could be showing its tummy in order to receive a belly rub, this position is also a sign of submission, which means the dog may be trying to signal that it does not want a confrontation with you. In order to be sure, he says to call the dog over to you and wait for the dog to stand up and walk over for a pat - on its own time.
Dogs do not like to be surprised—even if we mean well and are only trying to pet them. Rizzi says to keep in mind what the dog can and can’t see. Refrain from coming up to or reaching out to pet a dog from behind (which could startle the dog) or from petting or pulling on the dog’s tail. Petting the dog on the head also actually blocks dogs’ eyes and can feel annoying or even threatening to some dogs. To be safe and sensitive to your dog’s feelings, instead of patting on the top of the head, let the dog sniff your hand before petting under the chin.
As much as we love our pets as family members, it is important to remember that dogs and cats do not show affection the same way we humans do. Hugs, which are a sign of love and kindness between people, feel like restraints to dogs and can result in preventable bites. Similarly, kisses, which involve putting your face very close to a dog’s mouth and teeth, are uncomfortable and potentially threatening for the dog, and are therefore unwise and unsafe for the person. Rizzi instead recommends using rewards, verbal praise, and gentle pets under the chin to show a dog that you care.
If you have more questions about safe handling and dog bite prevention, get in touch with our training or humane education departments. You can also download this free coloring book filled with great information about dog safety, body language, and more, created by the California Department of Public Health, to help children understand how to stay safe around dogs.