Training Tips

Dog Safety: Reading dogs and their owners

As I sit here at my computer, I’m trying to remember what I did on the weekends before I had a search dog. I think I read more books. After eight years, that’s all I can remember. The hours working dogs has changed my perception on dog behavior and dog safety, so much so that at times I’m astounded by what the average person doesn’t see.

One of the things that’s changed dramatically is how well I can read dogs. At a dog demo a few months back two Huskies stared at each other and I said watch out, they’re going to fight. Less than ten seconds later one Husky growled, lunged and tried to pin the other to the ground. To be honest, I’m not sure how I knew. When I think back, I was concerned because of the breed. I also noted the continuous eye contact, the stiff bodies. While both dogs were leashed, neither owner noticed the behavior and their dogs were at risk because of it.

I wouldn't let my niece near Rook unless I trusted him. Watch how owners treat their dogs, you'll learn a lot.
I wouldn’t let my niece near Rook unless I trusted him. Watch how owners treat their dogs, you’ll learn a lot.

Another key component of dog safety is to watch dog owners. Owners know if their dogs are aggressive. They know if they’ve bitten another dog or a person. So, if an owner tenses up and steps back, leash firmly in hand, when they see me and my dogs coming, I make sure to give that dog lots of space. If an owner shouts out, he’s friendly, I’m less cautious, but I still keep an eye on the meet and greet. My dogs are my heart, so while I want them to make new friends, I realize any new meeting has some probability for disagreement.

There are breeds I’ve learned to trust more than others. Welch Corgis, poodles, labs, goldens–when I see these breeds I’m not as concerned. Other dogs, like Boxers or Rotties or Malinois, I watch them more carefully. I know dogs bred to be companions or hunting dogs are less likely to cause trouble than dogs bred to fight. Do I know Rotties that I love? Goldens I don’t? Absolutely! But, dog safety is my priority, and knowing the history of different breeds helps. (Here’s information about fighting breeds and guard dogs.)

Nikko looking to have some fun. I love taking the dogs to this field because we rarely see other dogs.
Nikko looking to have some fun. I love taking the dogs to this field because we rarely see other dogs.
Lucy at the neighbor's fence out on the wash that runs behind my house.
Lucy at the neighbor’s fence out on the wash that runs behind my house. Another place I rarely see other dogs.

I don’t go to dog parks very often. I’ve seen fights. I’ve watched owners sit by without saying a word as their dogs charge the entry gate to “greet” a new arrival. If I do decide to go into a dog park, I watch first. How many dogs are hanging out today? Are there any stare-downs? Is there a dog guarding a toy or a water dish? As I walk close to the gate, does any dog run toward me and my dogs growling?

dog-safetyI wish I could give you a rule. If the dog does this, then this will happen. I did find this helpful chart from BarkPost. What makes any chart hard is that dogs don’t hold their poses for very long, so you have to be a bit of a speed reader! It will come with practice. So, keep an eye out. Watch other dogs. Watch dog owners. You’ll be surprised by what you see.

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