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Unleashed: Once bitten twice shy

Following on from the ‘dog attack’ in Krabi the other day (Feb 7), I thought it would be good to talk about human-canine behaviour, and how the misunderstandings between the two are often the primary cause of unwanted issues. As you can probably imagine, this is quite an in-depth topic, so we’re going to spread this out over two columns.

LifeUnleashed
By Russell D Russell

Sunday 16 February 2020, 10:00AM


Aggressive dog. Photo: Mother Nature Network

Aggressive dog. Photo: Mother Nature Network

I often hear people claiming to have a “bulletproof” plan for dealing with stray dogs, which can be anything from taking a big heavy stick with them on their walk, or ‘barking back’ at the dogs that ‘attack’, or (and this is the kicker) ‘staring them down’. As you’ll see, none of these are a good idea, and if anything, are making things worse.

If you were at home, and some complete stranger opened your gate, waltzed into your property and walked around – without doubt, you’d be on alert. You, myself and others might all react differently to this intrusion, depending on our personalities – where some people might say, “Hello! How can I help?” Other’s might be a bit more direct.

As a ‘one-off’ incident, it’s not a problem. But what if it happens again and again. What if that person who wandered into your property had a big stick and start waving it at you, or even hit you with it?

What if they started shouting at you, whilst they walked around before they eventually walk off? And what if this happened, numerous times in the day. Day after day? Your behaviour now is going to be markedly different from what it was the first time.

And this is exactly what the dog sees. Someone walks into my territory, I run out to investigate, and ‘those people’ turn out to be ‘aggressive’. They start shouting, or waving sticks at me - how dare they! So I will bark, and by doing so, make then go away. Which is true, because you carry on walking down the beach past them. But as far as the dog is concerned, barking made you go away. This is why some dogs chase bikes and cars. They don’t chase them non stop. They just chase them ‘out of their territory’ and then retreat. It becomes a repetitive learned behaviour - “if I chase and bark at the bike, it goes away.” Simple. They learn that they can control their environment 100’s of times over the course of the day.

Of course, along with all the shouting and stick waving, the single biggest mistake people make is to stare directly at the dogs - and try to stare them down. Understand that body language is massively important to dogs.
Front on, eye to eye contact, is polite and encouraged among people, but it is incredibly rude, dominant and aggressive between dogs. When socially adept dogs encounter ‘strange’ dogs, there will be a lot of posturing and physical displays incorporating ears, tails, fur and body movements all at a distance. They may circle, and exchange side glances, as they slowly come closer for a sniff – always at the rear end first, never the head.

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Regardless, it’s invariably a calm process. Consider that against the agitated, exuberant performance of us, shouting, screaming, waving arms – it’s essentially pouring fuel on the fire.

Additionally, we may have our own two, or four-legged companion with us. So now we have to consider ‘their’ reactions to the oncoming barking dog, especially because your dog lunging and barking back, or your child screaming and waving arms, is simply making it worse.

Also, understand that picking up said dog or child can be dangerous. The dogs on the ground are likely to be looking, and maybe jumping up, at the noisy thing you’ve just raised – ergo closing in on you and eliciting a heightened reaction. Also, if you’ve picked up your dog, you’ve removed his option of flight and under stress, you run the risk of a redirected bite on you, from your own dog.

It is far better to stop moving, disengage and remain calm, and don’t make eye contact. I invariably would stare at the ground a few feet in front or behind them, so I can see them, but I’m not being rude about it. If you remain calm and dismissive, the stray dogs will be calmer. They might step a bit closer for a sniff, and then give up and retreat. Sure, as you start to move, they may re-engage and bark again. So you repeat the steps. Over time, the dog works out, barking and lunging makes you stay where you are, whilst being calm, and leaving you be, makes you go away. It’s that simple – on paper.

The next factor to look at is the sociability level of both our dog and the dogs on the beach themselves, for this is invariably where problems can occur. To be continued...


If you would like some more information on canine training, or behavioural issues, then please do contact us on 091 654 1960, email info@k9pointacademy.com, or check our website www.k9pointacademy.com. CPA is accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator.

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