Hundreds of people are bitten by dogs every year in Omaha, not by strange dogs but by dogs familiar to the victim. Many of those bites could have been prevented by understanding when a dog feels threatened.
Meet Zen, a 3-year-old friendly, socialized dog, but even Zen can feel threatened when you invade his personal space. “We go to grandma's house, she has her dog there, we let our kids go up, give it a big hug and that's why we see a lot of facial bites,” says the Nebraska Humane Society’s Kristie Biodrowski. “We think, it's grandma's dog, we know the dog, we're comfortable with it and so we let our kids do things that they really shouldn't be doing with the dog.”
The Humane Society and UNO just completed a three-year study of more than 1,000 dog bite reports and found that kids make up the majority of the dog bite victims.
Look at it from a dog's perspective. Adults are usually tall enough that they're out of the dog's personal space, but children are right down on the dog's level which can lead to more bites, especially in the face and neck.
“We all think dogs like to be hugged and it's just not cool,” says the Humane Society’s Denis Gurss. “It scares the heck out of them. You see a lot of stressers with the dogs when the kids are hugging them and it might be okay for you to hug your own dog. They have acclimated to that. Having a stranger come up and hug your dog is not a good idea at all.”
Another stresser for dogs is patting their head. Zen is used to it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't bother him. “Dogs are very good readers of body language, but we are not,” says Biodrowski. “So that's where we have to step back and say okay, let me learn a little more about my dog, the behavior signals that he's giving me to let me know that I'm not comfortable with this situation.”
The Nebraska Humane Society is now teaching school children to "be a tree" when approached by a strange dog. Stand still and wait for the dog to lose interest and walk away.