Dog bite prevention week is upon us. I believe we need a new focus. Instead of “dog bite” let’s focus on dog “aware.” Dogs communicate in MANY other ways prior to communicating with a “bite.” I believe that the focus needs to be on dog communication and promoting learning how to become dog “aware.”
Think of it this way. Think of something someone does that drives you NUTS. I cannot stand gum chewing. The sound of cracking gum or popping gum makes my skin crawl. Truly it does! I remember being in a class taking a test and I could not think of anything outside of the gum chewing sounds from the person next to me. I fidgeted, gave glances, wiggled in my chair, drank water, tried to focus on everything but the gum chewing sounds….I could not. I became more anxious and irritated over time. Meanwhile the gum chewer had NO idea I was irritated. They were focused on the test. They did not receive my signals of frustration…glances, shifting weight, moving back towards, covering ears etc. Signals were not received and my frustration grew. I could not focus on anything but the sounds of the gum chewer. I finally said…. WILL YOU PLEASE CHEW QUIETLY! The person was surprised…they had no idea I was annoyed and they were doing what they do naturally when focusing…chew gum. They did not intentionally irritate me or ignore me but were focused on the test and missed my subtle signals and efforts to try and engage without getting in trouble during a test. Meanwhile my blood pressure was (I am sure) going up and all I could hear was gum chewing!
Well this frustration is similar to what I imagine dogs go through every day in our home. Each dog has his or her own comforts and triggers. In busy homes with kids we expect a lot from our dogs. Often we don’t notice things until there is a problem. I know I can be guilty of this. The good news is that a small bit of knowledge and observation can go a long way.
Here are a couple things to consider:
Do you really notice when your dog is uncomfortable?
Do you offer him an option or options when you notice this?
Do you know what signals to look for BEFORE your dog is truly fed up?
Would you notice them or are you often distracted juggling many balls at one time? (Like me)
Dog bites happen in homes because we expect our dogs to adapt and adjust to whatever we throw their way. Often they will “check in” with eye contact for guidance but we may miss it. Just like you and I they have comfort levels and triggers too. They are constantly offering “clues” about how they are feeling but many times we don’t observe them or just do not know what to look for.
I got frustrated with my gum-chewing friend. I tried to use body language to communicate my stress, discomfort, irritation etc. She was focused on the test and did not observe my gestures and efforts to communicate. She had no idea. When my quiet (test rules) attempts to communicate did not work…I became more agitated and frustrated until I impatiently said, PLEASE CHEW QUIETLY! That worked… it was clear and ended it. Was it the best option? No (This was the better option LOL at the time.) Was it effective when other attempts did not work. Yes. Did I try other ways to avoid the “conflict.”? Yes but was limited due to exam rules.
My point to this long story is not just that I HATE LOUD CHEWING SOUNDS! But it is that we all use body language in our daily communication. As human beings we recognize stress signals, emotions etc. in physical displays because we connect and relate to it. Since we are not dogs…. we do not naturally recognize or relate to some of the less obvious indications of stress or conflict that our dogs may share in daily communication.
Taking time to become dog “aware” means learning how all dogs communicate with body language. Then you can observe your own family dog and see how he uses his body language in your home in different situations.
So, my impatient PLEASE CHEW QUIETLY was my communication after other options did not work. Your dog may walk away, growl or bite when all other attempts to communicate do not work. Biting is a form of communication. In almost all the cases I have seen over the years with kids and family dogs….Biting is the last resort when other communication attempts do not work. Become dog “aware!”
Ongoing Education leads to proactive prevention!