Although Dog Bite Prevention Week doesn’t take place until May (15th – 21st), I feel it’s never too soon to talk about ways to prevent dog bites from occurring. The sad thing about when dogs bite people is that most could easily be avoided. All you need is a little knowledge, and the time to get informed is right now.

Too many times I see people reach out to pet a dog, paying no attention to how the dog feels about their approach. Think about it? How would you feel if someone you didn’t know just walked up to you and shook your hand or gave you a big hug? Assuming it’s not Megan Fox, I would be pretty uncomfortable with this strange person invading my personal space uninvited.

Most people expect every dog to be a happy-go-lucky, super friendly, just waiting for you to come over and pet me pooch. And yes, there are plenty of those kinds of dogs out there but there are also some that have been under socialized, neglected or just plain grumpy.

Here are some tips when interacting with a new dog:

1. Taking a few moments to observe the dog you’re about to interact with and gage his temperament and mood.
2. Don’t approach the – let the dog come to you.
3. Try not to directly face the dog – keep your body at a slight angle(direct body orientation and eye contact can be a bit confrontational to some dogs)
4. If the dog is shy, don’t make sustained eye contact with him.
5. Let the dog sniff you first – that’s how dogs get to know you.
6. Hold out your extended hand, with your palm facing up.
7. If and when the dog comes over to you and you’re ready to pet him, give him a scratch under the chin or on the side of head – not over the head.

I usually squat down and rest my arms on my knees with my palms facing up. I don’t move to the dog, but instead wait for the dog to come me. If the dog is interested in meeting me he will move into my space, if not then maybe he just isn’t ready to interact with me just yet. The key is everything should be on the dog’s terms.

This is a hard thing for many “dog” people to grasp because the urge to pet a cut dog can be overwhelming. Avoid the typical human tendency to stroke a dog over its head. This can be a bit too forward and uncomfortable for some dogs. Always scratch under the chin or on the side of his head under his ears.

Children should ALWAYS be supervised during dog interactions, and they should be taught how to respect and behave with dogs. I have 3 year old twins and I’ve spent lots of time teaching them exactly what the can and cannot do with our dog, Hayley. Kids are a bit unpredictable so I would always lean on the side of caution, especially with a dog you don’t know well. The victims of the majority of reported dog bites are kids, to you can never be too careful.

If you approach all situations with some thought and let the dog dictate how much interaction there will be, you should have a great encounter. Be aware, act smart and enjoy those doggies.

photo by: Scarleth White

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