Veterinarian Reviewed on January 4, 2008 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Although most dogs are friendly, loving pets it is vitally important to remember that certain breeds are incredibly strong and may become aggressive. Even a friendly, playful pet can be dangerous with children. Take the example of a pit bull raised in a loving family with children. If left alone, the pit bull might take to playing with a small child, which seems harmless, but because of the somewhat aggressive nature of certain dog play and the fact that pit bulls are powerful dogs, it is quite easy for a pit bull to injure or even kill a small child. There have been so many of such cases in fact, that some countries have legislation against owning certain breeds of dog. This is an extreme example, of course, but illustrates the point quite clearly: Special precautions need to be taken with dogs, especially unfamiliar ones, in order to maintain the safety of yourself, your loved ones, and even your pets.
Even the friendliest dog will bite if it feels threatened or afraid. In addition, dogs will often bite during play. While this kind of bite is usually gentle, it can still be painful and may cause injury in small children. For this reason, there are a number of precautions that you should take, especially when approaching an unfamiliar dog. Firstly, always be sure to gain permission from the owner before petting a dog. An aware owner will know about their dog’s behaviour and whether it will be comfortable being petted by strangers. Also, it is advisable to never pet a dog when it is sleeping, eating, or in a fenced area. Dogs can be protective of their food and territory and may resort to biting. Never approach a dog exhibiting aggressive or strange behaviour; instead, contact an animal safety organization, like the SPCA, to report unfamiliar dogs.
Friendly versus Unfriendly Dogs
Dogs communicate via body language and their facial expressions. One important aspect of dog safety is being able to identify the differences between a friendly and an unfriendly dog.
Friendly dogs will have a relaxed look on their face and their ears will be forward. You’ll also notice that a friendly dog will have his mouth open and his lips might be slightly back, making it look as though he is smiling. In addition, if a dog’s tail is wagging and his tongue protruding, he is likely a friendly dog. Be mindful but not fearful of friendly dogs. Dogs can sense your anxiety and may become over-excited or anxious themselves which may cause them to behave aggressively in a protective manner.
Unfriendly dogs can be identified easily as well. An unfriendly dog is often growling or barking with teeth bared and nose wrinkled. They’ll likely have raised hair on the back of their neck. Their tail will either be raised and rigid and wagging rigidly or may be down. Their ears will either be upright or held back. If an unfriendly dog approaches you, there are some techniques that will help them relax. Firstly, try slowly blinking your eyes and yawning. These tend to be calming behaviours for a dog. Also, never look an aggressive dog directly in the eyes as this may be seen as a sign of aggression. Finally, never turn your back on the dog; instead walk away slowly and backwards.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan