“There’s been a heart breaking rise in the number of children and babies being bitten and in some cases killed by dogs, often the family pet. The National Dog Survey revealed that UK dog ownership increased by 3.2 million during the pandemic. With so many new dogs and new owners, it is sad but inevitable that mistakes are made.” (School Of Canine Science, April 2022) We want to help change this by giving out good information that is practical and realistic. Here are 8 tips for safer dog/human interactions:
Do You Speak Dog?
Most of us expect our dog to understand our (human) gestures and language, we want our dogs to learn English! Is it realistic to expect your dog to be bilingual? A more practical approach is to invest a little time teaching the humans in your household how to Speak Dog. The ‘Canine Ladder Of Communication’ below, by Kendall Sheppard, shows some basic dog body language gestures your dog may use to say “whooah, I’m uncomfortable with that, please could you stop?”
The Canine Ladder Of Communication
Look how far up the ladder a growl or bite is. Think how stressed out your dog is, if he’s escalated to that point?
To avoid growls or worse, try to get savvy at spotting the green arrow gestures. Communication is a 2-way process! Noticing your dog’s ‘polite whispers’ can quite literally save lives – yours, your children’s and your dog’s.
Consensual contact is about asking first; asking your dog if he wants the interaction you’re offering … rather than just foisting yourself upon your dog! For example before you actually put your hands on your dog to pet him, try offering an open hand and see how your dog responds. Does Fido accept the invitation and come into your arms? If so, great, play the “3 Second Game” – see below. But if Fido turns his head or walks off (or offers any of the other green arrow gestures from the Ladder of Communication), your dog is likely saying: “not just now, thank you”. And that’s AOK. Just like you, dogs have times when they want to interact and times when they don’t. Being able to say ‘no thank you’ is a vital part of any respectful, loving relationship. As Patricia McConnell wrote
I love Patricia’s phrase, it’s so true. Read her full article here. There’s also a wonderful video of a very lovely Labrador trying ever so politely to get a human (baby) to ‘stop please’. This video is a MUST SEE! Can you spot all the ways the dogs tries to get the baby to stop? (Video courtesy of Jennifer Shyrock at Family Paws).
The “3 Second Game”
The 3 Sec Game is a great way to stop your dog getting ‘over excited’, ‘jumpy’ or ‘nippy’. It’s all about giving your dog a choice about being touched; and it helps to keep things calm.
Offer your hand to invite your dog to come towards you. If your dog accepts your invitation then you can start the game. (If your dog declines, that’s fine too, you can always try later).
- Stroke your dog along their neck and back gently for a maximum of 3 seconds – then take your hands off, completely.
- Watch your dog carefully while you stroke him.
- How many gestures from the Canine Ladder of Communication does your dog do?
- Video it – I bet you’ll spot even more if you re-watch the footage! For example:
- Did your dog’s eyes widen or stare (as in the pic above)?
- Did she get more wriggly?
- Did he turn his head away?
- Does your dog move away when you stop?
If so, your dog may be saying “I love you … but that’s enough thank you”. So, honour your dog’s communication and take your hands away. And by the way, its AOK to simply enjoy ‘being’ in your dog’s company – no need to put our hands on their fur to share a moment together.
Are You Over Playing?
Usually – while best intentioned – humans play too vigorously and for too long with their dog. Remember, your dog doesn’t have hands! So, all that tension goes through his/her mouth – do you really want to frustrate your dog’s jaws?!
Instead, try playing a game more gently: For example with tug, use very gentle pressure on the toy, hold the toy low so that all 4 paws can stay easily on the floor and ensure that you’re on a surface where your dog can get traction eg grass (avoid wooden floors or smooth, shiny floors – its like an ice rink for your dog and harms their joints).
Also, keep the games short – let your dog ‘win’ after a few seconds (5 seconds is plenty!) Then wait to give your dog the chance to choose what happens next. Does your dog come towards you to re-play? Or does he take the toy off somewhere to chew … or to fling about … or to ‘parade’ around with?! All of these options are great – it’s lovely to give Rover the chance to choose the game and also to allow Rover to choose when to stop playing. These simple choices ease frustration and keep things safe.
10 Things ‘Rover’ Wishes You Knew!
Animal Behaviourist & Trainer, Chirag Patel gave an excellent talk at the BCSPCA called “10 Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew”. Click here for the video – scroll to 20 mins for the start of his talk and to 51 mins for the bit on puppy mouthing/biting. It’s well worth a listen – you’ll understand your pup/dog’s behaviour far better.
‘But It happened out of the blue’
Did it? In our experience its unusual for a dog to snap ‘out of the blue’. Kendall Sheppard, a veterinary behaviourist says that ‘dogs rarely (if ever) bite for no reason’. Usually, dogs give plenty of signals that they feel anxious or uncomfortable with the situation before a snap, unfortunately most (humans) miss those subtle signals. But help is at hand: This video by Kristin Crestejo is brilliant – it shows you exactly how dogs use their body to communicate how they feel. Clever eh! Dogs do indeed ‘speak’ …. when we know how to listen.
Growls & Whispers
Whilst we hope your dog doesn’t ever need to growl at those in your household, be wary of punishing a growl; it’s like saying “Rover – don’t give me a warning that you’re at breaking point.” And, next time, Rover might not – and go straight to bite. Instead, invest a little time in learning to Speak Dog. Get better at noticing (and responding to) your dog’s green arrow signals – the polite whispers – so growls are avoided and canine and human can enjoy a happy, respectful and safe relationship together.
If you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour, we can help! Visit www.JoyfulDogs.co.uk or call 07717 89 44 14