There has been a spurt of news pieces on dog biting and aggression incidents recently. As a dog parent, I am among the first people to have directly experienced the impact of growing fear of dogs, triggered by these.
I have had several people ask me why I have a dog, a dangerous animal. Then, there are also those who didn’t fear dogs, were their supporters, but now find themselves against them.
It breaks my heart to see an army of dog haters, mostly those who are scared of them, rallying against these lovable and sometimes misunderstood four-pawed babies.
I think it’s necessary to debunk these for humans to be more accepting of dogs. I spoke with dog trainers and behaviourists Mitali Salvi and Akash Shukla to clear the air. Salvi often works with dogs that most trainers have given up on; and Shukla’s work focuses on strengthening the dog-human relationship.
All dogs bite and attack humans
Dogs don’t bite out of the blue, says Salvi. They will only bite if they are not comfortable and are pushed to a point when they are compelled to, usually as a means of self-defence. Here are some of the most common reasons that push them to this situation.
If the dog is in pain or is hurt. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to be clued into his/her dog’s behaviour, notice any changes and take actions to relive its discomfort.
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“Many people do not exercise their bigger, powerful breeds enough. This could cause aggression,” says Salvi. Also, working line dogs, which are bred to work, need to be exercised extensively. “Dogs are very proud creatures and love to earn their food,” says Shukla. If you channelize their energies by mentally and physically stimulating them in different activities, they won’t become aggressive. “It’s important to retain their self-worth,” adds Shukla.
All dogs will jump on people and pin them down
Most pets and community -dogs jump on humans out of excitement and curiosity, and not to harm them. But jumping is not considered a healthy behaviour. “We all need to acknowledge that not everybody likes dogs. With right training, you can teach your dog not to jump on people,” says Shukla. If a dog jumps on you, the best way to deal with him is to fold your hands and turn around. “Do not pet him, do not look him into the eye and do not run away. In most cases, the dog will walk away,” says Shukla. The not running away bit is extremely important. Most dogs love to chase, I f you will run, it might think it’s a game and will run behind you. So, don’t run.
When a dog barks, it is to attack you
Dogs bark for various reasons. To alert other dogs or humans to not get into their territory, or to, sometimes, express their excitement and joy. A bark isn’t necessarily aggression. But it’s best to keep your distance from a barking dog.
A dog sniffs you to attack you
“Only a week or two after dogs are born, can they see and hear, but can smell immediately after,” says Shukla. “Sniffing is the way dog learns about the world. It’s unreal to ask them to not sniff,” adds Shukla. “Just as we explore the world by touching and seeing, dogs explore the world through their noses,” says Salvi. A dog sniffs you because it wants to know about you. When it happens, do not make any eye contact, do not touch the dog, and do not scream or run away. In fact, screaming is counterproductive. The dog might get alarmed and in self-defence might bite you. “So, stand still, breathe and ignore the dog,” says Salvi. “It will eventually walk away,” adds Shukla.
Street dogs often follow people because they want to bite
There are three possible reasons why street dogs follow you, explains Shukla.
a. You are a regular in the area and they love you, even if you don’t feed them.
b. They smell food on you. Whether you are carrying food or have come from a restaurant, they are excited about the prospect of being fed.
c. Often at night, when community dogs are the most active, they might think you are a trespasser. They might be following you to ensure that you don’t get into their space.
The way to make them stop following you is very simple. Stop, don’t run away, and shoo them away or just walk away from them. Basically, do not get in their space.
The bigger the dog the more aggressive it is
“Not at all,” says Shukla. People misunderstand power breed as aggressive dogs. Even small dogs can develop aggression issues. People often over-pamper small dogs or frequently carry them. Such dogs can lose their sense of worth and get aggressive. But incidents of their behaviour are not reported as their bites do not cause a lot of damage. As established earlier, aggression is due to an underlying cause.
Humans can pet dogs, but dogs shouldn't react
This is another highly unrealistic expectations. “A dog is a living being with emotions and not a robot,” says Shukla. If you don’t want a dog to react, don’t pet it. Simple.
Humans shouldn't enter the elevator a dog is in
This really depends on the dog, the person accompanying one, and the one trying to enter the elevator. Shukla shares common scenarios when one can and should not enter the elevator if the dog is in it.
a. If the dog is standing ahead of its human, its ears are erect and he is on a tight, short leash, it's best to take the next elevator.
b. But if the dog is sitting at the back of an elevator in a corner, is relaxed and on a loose leash, you can enter. But always ask the pet’s human companion, if it would be okay.
All dogs love being petted
“No, just like humans, dogs, too, have different personalities,” says Salvi. “Some are more social and some like to keep by themselves,” she adds. An owner must understand his/her dog’s personality. If the dog doesn’t like be touched by humans, the parent must strictly ask people to not touch it to safeguard their dog and not put them in uncomfortable situations.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, a Kathak student and a first-time pet parent