Greetings, human readers! It’s me, Olive. I’ve just arrived at Second Chance and am just about the cutest thing going with my little werewolf hairdo and big smile. How could any creature that starts out this endearing ever harm a human?
Good question. Most people will tell you, “my dog would never bite,” but that’s simply not true. All dogs will bite, given enough stressors — just like all people, given enough stress, will lose it if one more icky thing happens.
You’ve also surely heard of “The Dog That Bit Without Warning.” Another myth. The truth is that very few dogs use teeth without first giving some other kind of indication they are uncomfortable. The problem is that these signs are often subtle and if humans don’t know what to look for important communication goes unnoticed (another problem is punishing a dog for growling, which leaves a nervous dog with few alternatives but biting — but that’s a column for another time...).
Many people don’t miss a growl or a snap — but there are a whole bunch of signals dogs will usually give long before resorting to these more obvious measures. They are called stress signs.
Many stress signs are typical behaviors, but when indicating anxiety, they are seen as out of context. Three examples are lip licking, sniffing the ground and yawning. Obviously, these behaviors are common in daily life, but if they are seen drastically out of context — you are out for a walk and a screaming baby in a stroller is headed your way and suddenly Fido yawns and sniffs the ground — that indicates stress, and it’s time to take notice.
Fido has just told you he is not comfortable whatsoever about what is headed your way. It’s time to get out of there and make a mental note to work on teaching Fido screaming babies in strollers mean great things. It is definitely not the time to try to introduce Fido to the baby and invite trouble! When you see a dog exhibit stress signs she is telling you she is nervous, and you should help her out of the situation immediately.
Other stress signs include showing a lot of white in the eye, turning away, shaking off and freezing. For photos of what these signs look like, visit livingwithkidsanddogs.com, a great dog bite prevention website.
Dogs are more likely to trust people who can hear and respond to what we are saying, and subsequently less likely to escalate our behaviors to be heard. Likewise, you are better able to predict canine behavior by recognizing our emotional states and thus keep you and others safe. This is important whether you are a dog parent or not. And it is a positive step toward a world where people better understand and connect with dogs.
And that means dogs become more valued, adoptions increase and homeless pets become a thing of the past. And that is something to make me and my hairdo happy. Learn more about adopting me today. I am a 3-month-old terrier mix who loves attention, squeaky toys and cuddling up for naps.
Second Chance Humane Society’s Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops have been servicing San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties for more than 26 years. Call 970-626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about emergency response, community medical, spay/neuter, volunteer, or other services. View shelter pets and services online: www.adoptmountainpets.org.