Remember this skit from “The Pink Panther”?
“Does your dog bite?”
(reaches down to pet the dog, and it bites him)
“I thought you said your dog does not bite!”
“That is not my dog.”
I just read an article about putting a yellow ribbon on dog’s collars to indicate that they are skittish. The yellow ribbon indicates to people that the dog should be approached with caution. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is aggressive. It can simply mean that the dog isn’t as friendly as could be.
Perhaps the dog is new to the owner. Or the dog has been abused. Maybe the dog is receiving medical treatment. No matter what the cause, it means that the dog should be approached very carefully and cautiously.
I suggest that instead of putting a ribbon on a dog to indicate that the dog should be approached carefully, it makes more sense to treat all dogs as if they are suspect. People need to learn how to approach all dogs that they do not know. Children especially need to be taught that if they do not know a dog they need to be careful around it. They need to learn how to behave in such a manner that will make the dog feel safe. It is better to train people than mark the dog.
So what are some good things to do when you encounter a new dog? This is by no account a definitive list of what to do, but it is a good start.
Stand still, and don’t make any sudden moves. Keep your arms to your sides.
Speak in a calm, quiet voice to the dog.
Do not make direct eye contact – look to the side of the dog.
Notice how the dog is behaving. Here are behaviors that indicate trouble: Hackles are raised. Dog is growling or baring teeth. The dog gets in a fighting stance – lower shoulders, feet wider. Ears are flattened. Tail is low.
If the dog still seems friendly, you can lower yourself to the dog’s level – but don’t get on your hands and knees. You want to appear lower to the dog so you aren’t threatening, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t escape if the dog starts to attack.
Let the dog approach you. If the dog chooses not to approach, respect that and move on.
If the dog approaches you, put out your hand, palm down, fingers curled in. This exposes only the back of your hand to the dog. Let the dog smell your hand.
If the dog accepts you at this point, then you may try to pet the dog –but move slowly at this point as well. Try to pet the dog in a way that he can still see your hand. Speak in a calm quiet voice to the dog and don’t make any sudden moves.
Remember, not all dogs need to be petted.
Especially do not pet or call to a dog that is assisting someone. Service animals are working, and it is important to not distract them while they are assisting their master.