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The following is partially information from seminars I've given to parents and children about dog safety. The rest of it is more adult-oriented and sort of off the top of my head.

Dog bites actually aren't responsible for very many deaths in the United States annually. In fact, more people died in 1997 after having been stricken by lightning than after being bitten by a dog. Stillinall, dog bites are scary, and the vast majority of the time, they're also preventable.

-- Do not approach a dog that is "tied out." More than half of the dog bite cases in the United States in 1997 involved tied dogs. If you have a dog, don't tie him up outside and leave him unsupervised! All dogs (and humans, for that matter,) are equipped with a defense mechanism called the 'Fight or flight reflex.' Basically, it means that when faced with a threatening situation, a dog's first reaction is to flee. If his option for flight has been removed (as by a chain connected to a tree or a post,) his only alternative for self-defense is fighting. Tied dogs experience a behavioral phenomenon called "hyper-vigilance." They become acutely aware of the fact that they cannot run away, and that they are vulnerable in that anyone/thing that chooses to can approach them as closely as they please. Tying a dog outside is a dangerous practice. Approaching a tied dog you don't know extremely well can get you hurt.

-- Do not pet a strange dog unless you have been granted permission to do so by its handler. Even normally friendly dogs can react unpredictably when approached, especially head-on, by a stranger with his or her hand extended toward the dog's head. Additionally, some dogs are quite protective of their people, and they may interpret a stranger's approach as a threat to their "pack."

-- Remember that there are only two common causes of aggression: fear, and protectiveness. If a dog is snarling and lunging because he is afraid you will harm him or threaten his territory, belongings, or pack, you are likely to get bitten if you don't figure out what you're doing that's causing him to react and knock it off. There are several ways to communicate to a dog that your intentions are innocent:
1) Avert your eyes! Even though it's terrifying to take your eyes off something that's scaring you, direct eye contact is frequently considered threatening by dogs. Look away, cast your glance down and to the side, or close your eyes altogether. This also happens to be one of the ways dogs defer to each other in nature.
2) Change your body position. An approach from the side while facing the same direction a dog is facing is the least threatening. Don't walk up to a strange dog head-on if you can avoid it. Walking away is another option.
3) Keep your hands down. Approaching a dog with your hand raised, even to pet his head, can be misinterpreted as a "strike-ready" posture. This especially freaks out dogs who are corporally disciplined by their people.
4) Check your tone of voice. Excessively high-pitched, loud squeakiness ("oooh, who's a good doggie nice doogie CUTE doggie!") can be as frightening to an anxious dog as hollering and screaming. If you must speak at all, use few, simple words, and talk slowly, softly, and in a low tone.

-- Understand a dog's body language. There are a few things to watch for that many behaviorists consider "telltale" signs of a pending bite, or bite attempt. Can you see the whites of the dog's eyes all the way, or almost all the way around the iris? If yes, back off. Are his pupils entirely or almost entirely dilated? If yes, again, be careful. A dog's eyes (and guess what, a human's too...) open wider and the pupils dilate whenever a particularly emotional thing is happening. The sympathetic nervous system causes these and other reactions in order to allow the most sensory information possible into the dog's brain. What are the dogs ears doing? If they're folded closed and flat against his head, he probably means business and again, you should tread lightly. Where is his tail? Tucked far between his legs and onto his belly? That is a signal of fear. Held WAY up high over his back? Sometimes (ONLY sometimes,) that is a signal of dominance and/or protectiveness. Note: A wagging tail is not necessarily a sure sign of a friendly dog. Is the dog baring his front teeth? Is he growling? These are more obvious indicators of a potentially aggressive dog. Also, check out the hair on the back of the dog's neck and down his spine. If it is standing on end, once again, you may be dealing with a fearful or protective dog.

Another important thing to remember is this: Most dogs will avoid biting if it is possible, not because they're just everso sweet and cuddly, but because biting, for a dog, is "getting out the big guns." Once they've done it, they've got nothing else in their bag of tricks, and if it doesn't work, they're screwed and they seem to know it. Dogs who have bitten successfully in the past are more prone to bite again. But don't let the number and size of a dog's teeth terrify you to panicking. Your biochemistry changes when you are afraid, (thanks again to the sympathetic nervous system) and dogs can literally see, hear, and smell those changes. If you are freaked out, it is very likely you will communicate your anxiety to the dog without saying a single thing. (That would be bad, anxiety is contagious!) Try to remain as calm as possible. Avoid sudden movements and above all, do NOT offer to punish or strike a dog that is growling at you in a menacing way. The chances are that this particular pooch is either already scared to death of you and simply trying to protect himself, or already looking at you as a source of danger to him, or to his stuff. Carrying on like a lunatic will only intimidate him more, and guess what...that will make him MORE, not less, likely to nail you.

For the record, I have been training dogs for nearly seven years now, and I have been bitten three times. All three bites were obviously my own fault, and only one of them broke the skin. (Unfortunately, it was the skin on my FACE, the little bugger!) Dogs do not bite because they are inherently mean and nasty. Every behavior they exhibit makes absolutely perfect sense to them, and it isn't a dog's fault if we haven't taken the time to understand his motivation. Kindness goes a long way, too. Carry some dog biscuits around with you one day and see how many friends you make!

I agree with virtually all of MissCreant's advice, except for one bit (ha ha): Speaking in low tones is not the best advice! I agree that a squeaky, annoying voice is not advisable for communicating with a frightened dog either, but be aware that low tones sound like a growl to a dog. In general, most mammals associate low tones with aggression, and higher pitches with happiness. Men, especially, must watch their voice pitches when speaking near an unfamiliar dog. Women have a better time training dogs due to their higher pitched voice.

If you're training your dog, low tones can be useful. Once the dog accepts you as its alpha, a stern low-toned NO! can be a powerful deterrent against unwanted behavior. If you are not recognized by the dog as dominant, however (i.e. the dog isn't yours), I would not recommend doing this. Be friendly with dogs you don't know. Avoid low tones.

While walking great danes in the city I have been witness to a bewildering array of stupid moves by people concerning my dogs. The following info should help out.

  • Dogs become more protective of their owners at night. Ex. During the day anyone can approach my dogs safely with or without my supervision, but when it is dark out some people will cause them to become extremely protective of me and begin with serious warning growls.
  • Many dogs become more defensive/protective when on leash for the same reasons MissCreant noted about dogs being tied up outside. Theres not much you can do about it but it is a good thing to be aware of.
  • If a dog growls at you do not assume that your previous "dogs like me" experiences will allow you to disregard the growls and approach the dog. My advice is to NOT put your hand out, step back, and do not make eye contact with the dog. If, for some reason you really want to pet the dog look to it's handler for guidance.
  • If you are unfamiliar with dog body language pay special attention to the tail as it is the easiest to read. the bigger the wag the safer it usually is. If the tail is not wagging you should be more careful.
  • Never assume a dog knows you are approaching unless it has made some sign (watching you, turning to face you, etc. ) to that effect. They do have better senses than we do but they may be focusing on something or someone else at the time and not notice you.
  • When jogging past a dog be sure to give it plenty of space. I have seen too many people come running directly at my dogs, attempting to pass us with under a foot of space. Running directly at a dog isn't a brilliant idea in the first place but cant really be helped in the city. When you near the dog slow down and be sure to avert your eyes and give it plenty of space. When passing a dog from behind do not assume that the dog knows you are approaching, especially at night. Give the dog a wide birth as you pass and, again, slow down.

    When running with a dog yourself it is especially important to not run directly towards an unfamiliar dog. Dogs tend to grant humans some slack in the bad dog ettiquette department but not other dogs. Your dog may be well trained enough to heel perfectly and completely ignore the other dog. This does not mean that the dog you approach is that well trained. It is in your best interest to slow to a walk and give the other dog a wider birth than necessary for just you.

    I have had at least three people make the mistake of running past my dogs, from behind, with no space, at night. The result was a surprised 140lb dog lunging in their direction and growling as they passed within inches of him. I know my dog well enough that he would not have bitten them even with out my restraint but it didn't stop him from scaring the crap out of the joggers. He could very easily have been one of the thousands of more agressive dogs out there. This isn't really a training issue so much as it is a "Holy Shit what the fuck is that?!?!" issue for the dog. Surprising a potentially dangerous animal (and all dogs are) is just not a good idea.
  • Never pet a dog you are not intimately familiar with without first getting its attention. I have seen a number of dogs in situations with lots of people, like dinner parties, where, confused and distracted by so much action a friend of the dog will come by and pet the dog from behind, startling the dog and causing it to snap. Usually this is just a warning snap and not a bite but, you never know.
  • MissCreant has already stated this but it can not be restated enough. Never pet a strange dog.
  • Never assume that someone else's dog is friendly. I have passed many people and had them suddenly turn and stick their hands out to pet, or be sniffed by, my dogs without first asking me if it was either ok with me, or safe. I have been tempted to bit the person myself for the huge risk they just took and the stupidity that must have been required to take it. There are a number of dogs out there that will snap or bite in that situation.
  • Always ask a dogs handler permission to pet their animal. In addition to helping keep all your digits attached to your hand, it is polite, and it is respectful. Many dog owners consider their pets like children. To them, petting their dog unannounced is equivalent to walking up and touching a strangers child without permission. If you are interested in learning about the specific dog you will find the owners much more helpful and conversive when you ask first.
  • In general, the larger the dog, the calmer the personality. You have a higher risk of being bitten by the small yappy breeds than you do by the larger, more docile breeds. IMHO the higher risk with small breeds is due both to the genetics of the breed and some common bad practices by the owners of small breeds.

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