Man’s best friend comes with a good set of teeth. To ensure both you and dogs near you remain comfortable, practice these tips to avoid a bite from an unfamiliar dog.

By Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT
November 18, 2020
Advertisement

Whether you’re taking a leisurely stroll in the park or just going for a quick run around your neighborhood, you’re likely to come in contact with dogs that you do not know. Even though it can be so tempting to pet every cute doggo you meet, dogs who don’t know you, who are scared or stressed, or who are engaged in other activities (like off-leash play with other dogs) are not good cuddle-time candidates.

No matter how dog savvy you think you are, or how friendly you think a dog is, any dog is capable of biting. It’s important to understand that when it comes to preventing dog bites, how you behave makes all the difference. Here are four tips to help navigate situations with unfamiliar dogs and to help avoid a bite.

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Living in a human world is a challenge, even for us humans (Hello, 2020!). There are so many different nuances, communication barriers, and misunderstandings between dogs and humans that it’s no surprise that a lot can get lost in translation. Adding to this, humans are loud and have lots of flailing limbs…and dogs have big chompers.

Dogs never just bite out of the blue and most dogs give lots of body language signals telling you to back off before things get ugly. But unfortunately, us humans aren’t great at picking up on these cues. Dogs often bite due to stress and fear and when they think it’s the only way they can get a scary thing to go away. Just like we do, dogs have moments when they wish they could yell “Leave me alone!” When a human just isn’t listening, a dog may feel there is no other choice but to bite.

How to Avoid a Dog Bite

When in doubt, don’t pet! It’s always a good idea to play it safe and avoid petting a dog you don’t know or who you can’t read. Every human should take the time to study up on dog body language and communication to protect both themselves and dogs. 

When encountering a dog you have never met, you should never run away! Running actually encourages a dog to chase. In addition to not running, here are four things you can do to ensure both you and any dog remain comfortable.

1. Remain Calm and Keep Your Body Still

Don’t try to act like a corpse and hold your breath, as that would freak anyone out more—dogs included. Instead, keep your body loose, avoid lots of twitching and moving, and breathe normally.

2. Fold Your Hands at Your Waist

No dog likes it when a human reaches out towards them, especially when they are feeling nervous. Reaching a hand out towards a dog for them to sniff may actually increase your chances of a bite. Instead, keep your hands clasped at your waist.

3. Avert Your Gaze

Staring directly into the eyes of a dog you don’t know, especially if the dog is feeling less than comfortable, isn’t a good idea. Some dogs may find that direct eye contact is offensive and scary, and the result may be more intense behaviors towards you.

4. Pay Attention to Body Language and Only Pet in “YES” Zones

Just because a dog approaches you doesn’t mean he wants to be petted. Pay close attention to his body language, watching for signs that may suggest he is not a happy camper. If he does want pets, be sure to only pet in comfort zones. These "YES" zones include spots like their chest, shoulder area, and possibly the back. Always avoid touching the face, paws, rump, and tail.

If you remain calm and follow these guidelines, you can likely make yourself so boring that an unfamiliar pup will wander off to find something more interesting to investigate. 

Credit: Getty