By Laura Atwood
For Senior Voice 

How to behave around dogs to avoid bites


April 1, 2019

Laura Atwood photo

Should you pet Whisper? Here, Whisper's ears are back and his toy is being held between his paws: Do not pet.

As adults we tend to think only kids need to know how to behave around dogs. But actually we all need to know how to be safe around dogs.

Anchorage Animal Care and Control teaches kindergarten through sixth grade students how to behave around dogs to prevent dog bites. But adults often need the same lesson. April 7-13 is Dog Bite Prevention Week, so here are some tips and illustrations from our school presentation for everyone in the family:

When a dog is happy and feels secure, their face shows it. Their ears are up, their mouth is loosely closed or open in a smile, and their eyes have a soft expression. If a dog is frightened, their ears are back, their mouths are tightly closed, and their eyes can be either somewhat closed, like they are worried, or large with the whites of their eyes showing (similar to a whale's eye). A dog with that facial expression should not be approached by children and should be approached carefully by an adult.

Humans may like hugs but most dogs don't. We have a hard time accepting that our dogs may not appreciate our well-intentioned hugs but they truly may not – they may let you hug them but that doesn't mean they like it. Next time you or the grandkids hug your dog, watch their body. If their mouth closes, or their ears go back, or their tail goes down, they are merely tolerating the hug. So be polite and don't hug them again. And never hug a dog you don't know.

We also like to put our faces close to a dog's face. Guess what? They like this about as much as they like being hugged. If your dog turns their eyes away or their whole face away from you, they're politely telling you to please step away. And in their head they are wondering where your manners are.

Brian Luenemann photo

Here, Whisper is relaxed and happy and his owner is present. OK to pet.

Remind the grandkids that dogs are not toys. They don't want to be ridden, laid on, have their ears or tails pulled, or be poked or pushed. Teach kids to be gentle when they touch them and quiet around them. Excited movements and loud voices can trigger the prey drive in some dogs.

Finally, remind the grandkids to leave dogs alone when they are eating or chewing on a bone or toy. The dog may be protective and may respond with a warning growl, snarl or a bite. Adults should teach dogs how to trade, for instance, trading a toy for food.

Generally, bites don't "just happen." We can prevent them by learning how our dogs communicate and what they do and don't like.

Laura Atwood is the public relations coordinator for the Anchorage Animal Care and Control.


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