Good dogs resolve conflict — all by themselves!
Below, I outline an incident that occurred at a local park in detail and include what each dog’s body language indicated. There are good lessons here on how dogs resolve conflict and set the rules for the playground!
As a dog trainer, I often work with dogs who have bitten people, yet I am able to hand feed and often begin body handling them without getting bitten myself. Since dog bite prevention is a critical focus of my reward-based dog training, I will share some simple techniques to reduce your chances of being bit by a dog.
Learn to read dog body language:
If the dog is facing you, look for signs he is calm and relaxed. These would include a loose body (free of tension), open mouth, relaxed ears, soft blinking eyes, relaxed neutral tail and ears. These are communications signs from the dog that he is feeling okay about you near him. This handsome boy is offering me friendly relaxed body language as he stands at an angle showing he is feeling comfortable about my presence.
Based on their maturity and tolerance, dogs respond to other dogs behaviors in different ways. Let’s be honest, many of you reading this have disagreed with another person, lost your temper, and became angry in response to someones actions.
Consider: Una, a beautiful long haired German Shepherd, loves to play with dogs and has shown friendly behaviors to all the dogs she has ever met. Until last week. As she was running on the beach with a Sheltie she just met, and all was well until she saw a tennis ball go flying over head. Already on the run, Una bolted after the ball, but was immediately body slammed by a Retriever mix who was in hot pursuit of his beloved tennis ball. Upon crashing into each other, Una snarled at the Retriever mix as a reprimand for causing her a bit of pain, Una is six years old. He did not respond to her reprimand, yet remained running at her hip, Una beat him to the ball and snatched it up.
In this Blog I will teach you how to prevent your dog from biting a person by helping you understand when your dog is feeling stressed and needs more space from an unfamiliar person. Dogs will offer requests for distance, called distance cues until they learn that their requests go ignored by the human. If they are still afraid, they will simply bite as their fear overrides their ability to think.
Socializing puppies can be confusing. However, science tells us that puppies who are exposed to many different environments in a positive way, grow up to be social, relaxed adult dogs. Puppies who grow up in an outside pen, and do not experience indoor environments until 8 or 9 weeks of age, will be more fearful and skittish as they mature in a home. While these puppies can often overcome their fears, it takes time and patience.
If humans better understood dogs body language then we would have less dogs resorting to a bite when they feel stressed or threatened. We see several cues that this scared boy does not want to be touched. Signals that are asking for distance are often very subtle.
Level 1 distance Cues:
1. Dogs body is leaning away from the approaching hand.
2. Dogs paw is raised in a submissive manner.
3. Head is moving away asking for increased distance.
4. Eyes are avoiding the stranger
5. Mouth is closed, rather than open and relaxed.
On a recent trip, I found myself in a nice hotel lobby visiting friends. I decided it was time for “goodbyes” so I headed for the elevator. When the door opened, there were three rather imposing-looking men standing along the back wall. I froze for a second! Do I get in and turn my back …