How to Interact Safely with Dogs

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Dogs are complex animals that may display a variety of behaviors in any given situation. Any dog—from your best friend at home to the stray dog on the street—will react differently, and possibly unexpectedly, to people, places, and other animals.

Animal behavior can shift from moment to moment, so it is important to constantly be aware of changes in the dog’s behavior and in the environment. The dog’s personality plays a major role in how they will interact with, or react to, situations and people. Because there is such variation between each dog and their environment, it is important to understand how to interact with dogs as safely as possible in any circumstance.

Approach the dog in a safe manner

Here are some basic tips for approaching a dog in a non-threatening manner:

Look for signs of stress in the dog

When interacting with any dog, it is vital that you are aware of what the dog is communicating to you. It is usually easy to identify a dog that clearly doesn’t want you to approach; it will bark, growl, tuck its tail, hide, run away, or roll over onto its back. However, dogs may show more subtle signs of stress, even while you are petting them. These warning signs indicate that the dog is uncomfortable and may include:

Based on the signals dogs use to communicate, it is important to know when to back off and when it is OK to continue interacting with the dog.

Safety tips for dog owners

As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to know your dog’s personality, stress signals and limits; to avoid situations that put your dog in a potentially stressful and dangerous situation; and to watch for signs of stress when encountering people, animals, and situations.

For more information on dog behavior and handling, please visit http://ddfl.org/behavior-help for behavior handouts or to sign up for a free behavior helpline appointment.