WHILE there are possibilities of problems arising from dog ownership it’s also clear that this human/animal relationship has many benefits.
Studies recently showed that having a family pet increased the health of the immune system in newborn babies. Dogs keep their owners active (researchers at Michigan State University found that dog owners are 34 per cent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking a week) and engaged in the community, and that in turn increases their mental health.
“Owning a dog is a little like owning a car,” says Dr Kersti Seksel, a specialist at the Sydney Animal Behaviour Service.
“You can’t drive it just anywhere. There are clear and informed rules; if those are broken there are consequences.”
The laws are clear here in the ACT: dogs are only allowed off the leash in designated areas where they must be supervised, dogs are required to be registered and microchipped.
It’s the situation the dog finds itself in that affects how it acts and sometimes even the most placid family pet will get worked up.
“Aggression is a normal response to certain stimulus in humans and dogs,” Dr Seksel says.
“It’s not so much the dog but how the owner handles the situation that’s key.”
Fellow veterinary behaviourist Dr Andrew O’Shea says: “The overwhelming majority of dog bites are what we call ‘Band-Aid bites’.
“More than often they are inflicted by a known dog within the household.”
In fact, most dog-related incidents in our region are of a domestic nature, arising from misunderstandings of dog body language and signals.
“The information is now that a child under 10 should not be left alone with a dog. Children under this age are not good at reading canine signals,” says Dr O’Shea, who has a particular interest in this area.
So what should you do if you are approached aggressively or baled up by a dog?
- Stand still, don’t run, even if this is your instinct. Dogs’ eyes are good at seeing movement, this often attracts their attention. If you stay very still you are likely to become boring. If the dog is still some distance away it may lose track of you completely – depending on how good its eyesight is.
- Keep your hands by your side. Don’t flap your arms or kick at the dog. This is likely to excite it and make it more interested in you. You don’t want that, you want this dog to leave you alone. Don’t give it anything to get its teeth into.
- Stay quiet, try not to make any noise. Be as passive as possible. Buy yourself time.
- Avoid eye contact with the dog, look at the ground. Some sources recommend turning side on so you seem less “confrontational”.
- Once the dog has lost interest, slowly back away. Dogs live in the moment, if you are not doing anything the dog is likely to move on to something else… hopefully, its calling owner.