The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports there are 4.5 million dog bites in the United States every year. About half of these dog bites happen in the home with dogs that are familiar to the victim. That leaves well over 2 million dog bites which occur from dogs which are not known to the victim. While many people report the bite “came from no where” or “for no reason”, the truth is that the vast majority of dog bites or aggression originate when the dog becomes scared or defensive.
Compounding the problem is that many people simply don’t recognize the signs of fear or impending aggression about to happen. After all, dog social cues are based on wolf pack social hierarchy and are not the same as human social cues. Not only can this result in miscommunication in both directions, but also result in missing warning cues altogether.
The best way to deal with dogs which may potentially bite you is to be calm, deliberate and non-confrontational. As nearly all aggressive dog behavior towards people is a result of fear, remaining calm gives the dog a chance to become calm as well. Still, most people will automatically react to an aggressive dog rather than stopping and being deliberately calm. Simply reacting will always increase your chance of being bitten.
The best way to prepare for meeting a strange dog is to get practice meeting new dogs. You should especially practice meeting dogs if you don’t already have a dog of your own or if you are normally scared of dogs. Practicing meeting dogs is not to force you to become a dog lover but rather to successfully avoid being bitten.
To get practice, you can start by asking a friend who has a dog to help. Practice is best done on a quiet, residential street. You don’t want to practice in the dog’s home as wolf pack social cues are different in their den versus out of the den.
The dog must be on a short lead and not loose. The owner should be calm and have a firm grip on the lead. Slowly approach to no closer than 5~6 feet. Ask the owner for permission to approach. When approved, crouch and step to 2~3 feet. Squat to the dog’s level and reach underhand towards the dog and let them sniff you. If the dog gives any appearance of being nervous, slowly back away and rise facing a bit away from the dog. Talk a bit to your friend and then walk away. Repeat this until you and the dog are comfortable with your approach and underhand petting of their chest.
Once you’re gotten comfortable with your friend’s dog, you can gain more practice by visiting your local dog park. Many owners will happily cooperate in letting you practice meeting their dogs. Most dog parks have double gate entrances and will approach the park with their dogs on a lead. If you stand 15~20 feet away from the gate, this makes it easier for the owners, their dogs and you to ask about practicing your doggy greetings.
The more you practice your doggy greetings, the more you’ll be able to remain calm in the face of an aggressive dog. Remember, the goal is to avoid getting bitten “from out of no where” or “for no reason”.
Finally, never forget dogs are wolves. Genetically, the differences between wolves and dogs are truly minor and all dog behavior is rooted in the wolf behavior. You don’t need to become a wolf yourself. You just need to understand there’s a difference between a dog’s social cues regarding fear and aggression and human social cues.
Preventing Dog Bites – Center for Disease Control