==> What to do that it doesn't happen - to you or to someone else
Best practice and common sense tips to prevent getting bitten by any dog!
Dog Bite Prevention
This Periodical concludes our comprehensive dog risk series (for now), which started with the Periodical Are German Shepherds Dangerous? (which itself included dog bite statistics across all dog breeds and mixes, not merely German Shepherds).
Some people simply arm themselves with pepper spray and hope that's enough to be prepared. Although, in this case, the right shrill alarm unit certainly is safer to use (you know what to expect and it can't get in your eyes; while the 130db effectively deter any attacking dog).
In this Periodical we go beyond these obvious means:
- What to do when we come across a roaming dog
- How to prevent dog bites from a leashed dog
- What to teach our children to prevent dog bites
- How to prevent dog bites from our own dog
What to do when we come across a roaming dog
A roaming dog / stray dog can be considered the most critical situation since a roaming dog neither experiences a physical restraint (leash) nor a trained restraint (dog owner's command).
If that's a dog that has been strictly obedience-trained, then this situation is most dangerous for us and for our children, because a roaming dog is well aware that without the owner in sight there's no one that needs to be obeyed to!
This can lead to outright dangerous situations for everyone but the owner - who has trained himself to control the dog with some combination of force, fear, and food treats. This is one of the key reasons why at MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG we are against Obedience Training as the primary training concept for dog owners.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Another reason is that Obedience Training increases the conflict the dog is experiencing in its Pack - leading to stress and thus to behavior issues that wreck our nerves (and to health issues that wreck our wallet). A further reason is that Obedience Training does not allow for a loving dog-human relationship because it is based on a Master-Servant mindset - which by its very nature requires the use of force and fear or large volumes of food treats.
Thanks to the thousands of "copy-from-the-copier" dog trainers, authors, and entertainers that have taught millions of dog owners in the world to focus on Obedience Training, most dogs indeed are obedience-trained, and thus when roaming they pose a risk to the public (particularly to children). The dog bite statistics speak for themselves.
Frankly, when I come across a roaming dog/ stray dog, my mental state changes to somewhere between hyper-careful and scared. No wonder that children often panic in such a situation!
Sometimes I met a dog at one moment and only many minutes later I passed the supposed dog owner, so much apart they were! A few times I met a dog with no owner or handler around anywhere.
So I thoroughly thought about what we can do when we come across a roaming dog, and I tried various approaches back at the time when I was walking through woods, fields, and parks. In brief, here are the results:
- The commonly recommended approach to stand still, tall, and strong like a tree: Dogs come to check you out, so not at all a pleasing and safe response!
- Lie down on the ground, face down, fists at the neck, arms covering the ears: I didn't do this exactly (too old to lie flat in the mud somewhere!), but kneeling down: Again, dogs come to check you out!
- I also tried what I felt would be the best response anyway: Demonstratively looking away and walking away.
Meaning, where the environment permitted, I changed course to be facing and walking away from the dog. Not in the opposite direction, but clearly away (while peeking over once a while from the corner of the eye). Not in a rush, but a determined stride that spoke for itself.
Said differently, I used my body language to communicate to the dog: "This individual has to go somewhere; his determination shows he is not scared, rather not to mess with. He has no time to play with me either. Right now, he's not interested in me at all."
As expected, this worked best. Every time. - One of the many small hints life threw at me, that made me come up with Behavior Training: Using our own behavior to tell the dog what we feel and want.
Why this response works best is common sense: Because dog language is body language anyway: Dogs communicate with their body what they feel and want (posture, stride, head position, look, tail, mouth, ears,...). Thus I decided to do the same!
Works GREAT with dogs! Try it. Often.
And: Works both ways. The fewer commands we give, the less barking we bear. And the more we use our body to communicate to the dog what we want, the more the dog communicates with its body too (all else being equal of course).
Okay, but what when I met the stray dog on a narrow path, with no chance to demonstratively be walking away, other than what would now look like escape?
In such situations I tried all three (sensible) possibilities:
- Turning around and 'escaping' from the dog. Not in a rush, but like above: Demonstrating that I have to go somewhere else, and that happens to be in the opposite direction, and right now!
- Continuing to walk towards the dog, as if the dog meant nothing to me (hard to pretend when you cross a Great Dane or such, but I tried my best).
- Stopping in my stride, standing still ("like a tree"), but facing away from the dog, and waiting for the dog to pass me (after the obligatory sniffing).
I have never tried things like pepper spray or shrill alarm that I mentioned at the top (but I have tested the noise level of the shrill alarm and was gobsmacked). - Don't think that taking a bag of tasty morsels with you everywhere will keep you safe. I doubt that very much.
Have a guess what worked best of the three approaches that I tried - or try them out yourself, and continue reading here next week.
Well, when the dog had not seen me yet (bendy path, dog was busy in the bushes, while I am always observing far afield), then the first tactic (1) did work (and made me feel best). Note that it worked despite that the dog must soon have noticed me walking in front of him, but away from him (after each bend, when out of sight, I was sort of jogging, to gain distance! )
When the dog had already seen me anyway, then 3) worked best (made me feel best). Although 2) clearly is advantageous, to be frank, 2) always ended up in 3) anyway when I came close to a large dog (say 5 meters away, ha!). Because I too find large dogs intimidating (I wouldn't make a good burglar I guess).
When a dog reaches as high as your belly button, it gives you a different feeling! I can fully understand how children must feel. So, please be considerate with your German Shepherd dog: As responsible dog owners we must appreciate that many people don't feel comfortable when a GSD gets close. I am definitely a friend of unleashing our dogs, but:
Let us compensate for those (bad) dog owners that allow their dog to scare people and to ruin the public image of the German Shepherd Dog breed in particular (and their owner).
How to prevent dog bites from a leashed dog
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
A leashed dog gives the benefit that - whether obedience-trained or not - the dog is physically restrained (if not too strong for the dog owner), and the owner is close and can try to control the dog via commands too.
Since the dog is on-leash, we can swerve to avoid the dog as much as we like. Still, to be sure the dog won't lunge and drag its owner towards us (has all happened!), I found that an additional bit of Behavior Training the stranger's leashed dog helps a lot:
- If we are scared of the particular dog, of course we swerve (eg use other side of road)
- When we are in a hurry, we better slow down a bit and demonstratively face away while passing the leashed dog (dogs are energy recipients, and quick movements raise the energy level; a quick rise in energy level can lead to aggression)
- If we want to pat the leashed dog, then to be safe from dog bites we call the dog to us and wait for the dog to approach us (more than sniffing!, at least nudging its head against our leg, or licking our hand, or showing a posture and tail movement that unmistakenly describes a happy dog)
Only thereafter we should pat the dog (starting with chest stroking is safest).
The common advice to ask the dog owner for permission is useless. It is exactly this dog owner who typically claims after a dog bite: "My dog has never done this, I would never have expected he bites you/him/her"!
If you have been facing any other situation with a leashed dog where dog bite prevention matters to you, just mention it in the feedback box below, and I'll cover it in a revision.
What to teach our children to prevent dog bites
First of course, I would teach them the above, but add some points pertinent for typical situations of children:
- When you cross a stray dog, demonstratively look away and walk away wherever possible. Where not possible, but you feel confident to demonstrate a determined but relaxed stride, continue to walk while facing away (else stand still, tall, and strong like a tree, while facing away from the dog). Demonstratively look as if there's something much more interesting in the bushes, on the ground, or elsewhere. Now wait for the dog to pass.
- When you cross a leashed dog, and the leash is tight, do not wish to pat the dog. Swerve (because this dog is on a high energy level, and thus potentially dangerous). If the leash is lose, wait for the dog to approach you and to nudge its head against your body, or to lick your hand, or to wag its tail fast and below the horizontal while its torso moves flexibly. Note that a rigid torso and a stiff or slow moving tail is a sign of danger (tension > high energy level > fear or preparation to lunge).
- When you go to friends who have a dog, do not greet the dog initially. Instead, respect the dog's territory with a short freeze and light bow, and then ignore the dog first. Only after a few minutes call the dog to you, and if (s)he comes and clearly is friendly, stroke the chest first, then the chin, then the belly (if you want). Avoid back stroking and particularly head stroking, and don't touch the tail.
- If the dog doesn't come upon your first call, don't hold a grudge but leave the dog alone. Do not accept your friend's offer to give the dog a food treat (you don't want the dog to expect you to come as a source of food, rather to accept you as your friend's friend).
- When you play or mingle with your own dog, follow the advice below.
Yes, that's what I would tell your children to prevent dog bites! Again, show is better than tell, so I would show them all of this first, before they get into such situations on their own.
I would not give them pepper spray, but depending on age the shrill alarm may be a great addition to their key ring.
In any case, note that any safety device you or the kids might use should be the last resort: Using our own behavior (Behavior Training, ie tools from the Dog Training Toolkit) and interpreting the dog's body language (say with the help of Brenda Aloff's photographic guide) definitely is the much safer and more humane/canine approach.
How to prevent dog bites from our own dog
The below is in addition to the above (what to teach our children to prevent dog bites), but is also helpful for ourselves and adult family members, as well as relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues that get to meet our dog. Either on our own premises (ie on our dog's assumed territory!), or in their places, or elsewhere.
If you doubt any of this here, or if you generally prefer to see things live rather than to read about them ("Show, Don't Tell", yes!), then do check out "Doggy" Dan's comprehensive dog training videos.
If you like it, stay; if you don't, let me know why (may give me an idea, ha!). Anyway you'd then better concentrate on our Periodicals here, rather than to believe you could substitute his videos with say shows of the "Dog Whisperer" or Youtube clips. You can't.
We cannot. Quality material always requires MUCH more work on the content than on marketing and promotion (that's why it's harder to discover); and it requires more long-term effort and consistency too.
- To startle the dog is not fun for an animal
- To scare the dog is not helpful (Cesar & Copiers are wrong). Although scaring the dog indeed does prevent unwanted behavior in the short term while we are there, mid- and long-term it raises aggression in dogs. Rapidly against others, and at some point even against ourselves. When we have our dog for longer than the 90 minutes of a TV production (and the time to prepare for it), we must not ever scare our dog. Although to scare the dog is easy and may seem right, it ruins the dog-human relationship (even before the TV show is finished)!
- Instead, we must reduce the conflict our dog is experiencing in its Pack (see The Prime Secret about Dogs). We must reduce stress for our dog. Much quicker than for us humans, with dogs stress leads to behavior problems incl. biting (and of course to health problems too).
- Every family member must become our dog's accepted Pack leader, because striving for Pack leadership is one of the core canine quests (again, see The Prime Secret about Dogs).
- Thus, we target every area that dominates our dog's life, and implement small changes of our own behavior to get our dog to behave the way we want. In this case: to stay calm and relaxed, to wait for our signals, to heel or stay behind us, and generally to adapt the behavior to our body language or visual or vocal commands.
- To achieve this, most importantly we implement the recommended Feeding Routine into our daily life, and that of our children. - Typically misunderstood: Our Feeding Routine has little to do with feeding, but is a top means to become - and remain(!) - the accepted Pack leader.
- Accordingly, we also prepare the dog for the walk: We don't go out, and once outside we don't take a single step, until our dog matches our movements. To achieve this, we start with SSCD inside the house; for more see GSD Leash Training Secrets and GSD Puppy Leash Training.
- In addition, we play with our dog (or generally give attention) only when we have called our dog to us, not when our dog is merely coming to collect a cuddle or food treat that we did not plan to give at this moment.
- We appreciate our dog for what it is: an animal. Thus we try to do things canines like, and to avoid things merely people like (as eg tight hugs, head-stroking etc).
- When we feel it's safer (eg for our kids), we get a basket-style muzzle, and we gently train our dog how to use the muzzle (but without the excessive use of treats that this dog trainer suggests).
Maybe you are wondering: How can all these points that relate to us and how we treat our dog prevent that our dog bites someone else?
They do prevent this too because, besides making our dog calm and relaxed, they condition our dog to naturally behave in a certain way (the way we want) - without being pushed or threatened with consequences if not.
Like say, when we demonstratively brush our teeth every morning and evening, then our children are likely to do the same even when away with the scouts.
While when we merely tell (or even force) our children to brush their teeth, then the first chance not to do so will be taken - either because they forgot what we told them, or because now there is no force/threat/fear, or to rebel against it (for dogs it's only either of the first two).
With dogs, of course the exception is when someone scares or threatens or hits our dog. When provoked, even an otherwise docile dog may bite. - In my personal view, the dog then has every right to defend itself, incl. through biting. Otherwise the whole idea of having a guard dog would become implausible.
By the way, in all situations of perceived danger, be conscious of what you carry or find: an umbrella, handbag, or satchel, the coat, belt, or pen, newspaper, magazine, or bicycle - practically any item you have or can find near you may help to protect yourself (or your kids) if necessary.
When you feel you have implemented/accommodated for all of the above areas, it would make sense to re-take the Dog Bite Risk Assessment.
Next edition: The Flaws of Obedience Training