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My topic today is one of safety. Like I mentioned last week, there are a lot of myths in dog training. There are a lot of traditions that donít make any sense and set us up for consistent failure. I had the misfortune of witnessing two dog bites this week, and both of these bites were a result of these traditions.
I donít know who came up with the advice and I donít know why it is still so prevalent today, but many people believe that if you allow a dog to smell your hand prior to petting, that they will become comfortable and enjoy the physical contact. This couldnít possibly be any further from the truth, and I will even go as far as saying it is the catalyst for thousands of bites every year.
Dogs donít communicate the way we do. They have their own language that is comprised of body postures, movements, and sounds. Very often we feel as if we are helping the dog when in fact we are sending a threatening message. Letís dissect it together.
There are different kinds of people and there are different kinds of dogs. For instance, I am the kind of person who prefers to keep to myself when on a plane. However, there are some people who would prefer to chat with the strangers beside them. There is no good or bad or right or wrong in this scenario. People are just different.
Many dogs prefer to be quiet passengers on the plane, and some want to chat. I usually tell people that youíll know the difference when you see it. If the dog is openly engaging with you and coming to you for attention, itís probably OK to reciprocate, but if a dog is cowering, acting standoffish, widening its eyes, peeing, shaking, yawning, licking its lips, moving away, growling, or hiding, DO NOT pet the dog. Itís not a chatter.
When we extend our hand to a dog that doesnít want to chat, we apply spatial pressure with our bodies which in turn makes a dog feel trapped. In addition to that, leaning over a dog to pet them is a threatening posture that dogs use with one another. This mixture forces dogs to react in ways we can avoid.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid petting any dogs you donít know and read the signs very carefully before petting dogs you do know. Bites happen quickly and there usually isnít much warning. Teach dogs that there is no pressure on them to be social, and they will open up in their own time.
Stephanie Vichinsky is the owner/head trainer of United K9, LLC in Post Falls. 208-964-4806