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  • JK

Dogs Bites & Body Language

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)

How can we help practical and realistic ways? Here are 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?”

Canine Ladder of Aggression
© Kendal Shepherd 2004

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”

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:

“Invites Decrease Dog Bites”

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.

  1. 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).

  2. Stroke your dog along their neck and back gently for a maximum of 3 seconds

  3. Watch your dog carefully while you stroke him.

How many gestures from the Canine Ladder of Communication does your dog exhibit?

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?

  • 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.

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