MEETING A DOG AND RECOGNIZING THE WARNING SIGNS OF AGGRESSION UNDERSTANDING DOG BASICS
If you are a dog lover, regardless of breed or gender, you view most dogs you meet with a certain degree of love and confidence. Why, you may think, would this animal harm me? Regardless if the pet is owned by a friend or by a stranger and is leashed or even loose but supervised, even if he is presented to you with the owner around, it is always incumbent on you to take the appropriate precautions before engaging with the animal. Safety is not limited to breeds. You are equally as likely to be bitten by any breed of dog, if that animal is predisposed to aggressive behavior or is startled, fearful or in and environment that is new to him with some highly negative stimulus such as a severe thunder storm, loud music or an unstable group of people in close proximity.
Given all that can go wrong, it is always a good practice to not ‘smother’ the animal at a first meeting. Moving toward a dog, arms spread wide, screaming how precious the pup is, can be disastrous and can result in a bite. You can traumatize a young fearful dog for quite some time in this aggressive approach to an initial meeting. It is always best to ask the owner the most simple question possible. “is you dog friendly” and “can I pet him or her”. The answers may astound you. Many owners may say NO because they know all too well that their dog is not happy with strangers touching him. They may know that he has snapped in the past and allowing him to interact with you, or worse, you small child can have catastrophic results.
There are many ways to detect the presence of aggression with dogs so as to avoid issues. In rescue we have no idea of the background of the pet and therefore reaching to take his food away is a no-no unless you do it with a plastic hand. Originally meeting the pet in a shelter at least has some staff input as to his demeanor but street meetings are quite another story. Dogs have many ways to tell us to back off. Moon eyes is a classic one. This is where you can look into the animals eyes and clearly see the whites of his eyeballs around the color of his eyes. This behavior tends to show that animal is afraid of you or the situation and it is best to stand back. Always greet any dog with a erect posture and never lean over the dog as that is a show of submission where standing up straight shows confidence hence dominance to an unknown dog. Never raise your open hand, palm in, towards the dogs face because you have no clue how he will perceive that move. The best approach is using the back of your hand near the dog, given the animals willingness to allow that, for him to sniff you before any touching can begin.
Always speak softly to a new dog as your voice tells him more about you. GSD’s do in fact love squeaky voice above any commanding voice at a first meeting which seems to calm them. If the dog is fearful you will clearly see his posture become rigid and he may even start a low rumble (growl) which can be immediately recognized as a warning. Rarely do animals lung and bite without notice in the form of a visual behavior that should be easily recognized by a prospective owner, foster or just a friend wishing to pet a dog. In some cases when the dog shows his teeth, barks violently, places his head low and puts his ears back, you can expect bad things to happen. There are many ways through training that these behaviors can be offset with more positive interactions, but that is for another day. Make no mistake, not every dog is a love-bug and not every dog wants you to pet him.
People who deal with dogs every day become in tune to these caution signs and respond in kind with how they were trained to react and interact. When you have a pet you always need to convey these traits to guests in your home and those you meet so as to avoid a trigger event that can lead to a bite and then to a law suit. Regardless of just how stupid you are, how much you avoid the caution signs and verbal warning by owners can do great harm to the dog and to yourself. Dogs who have bitten can be ruined for life, be put to death by the courts, be forced out of their families when the bite was a protection reflex rather than an act of aggression. Ask before making contact, check the warning signs both by asking and by viewing the dog and never approach any dog, regardless of size and breed, without recognizing that the animal can hurt you or whomever you are with at the time.