Working in the animal industry and having dogs and a child of my own has made me intensely aware of the importance of ensuring parents and children understand how to behave around animals. Although I am using images of dogs and speaking predominately about dogs in this article, the principals also apply to cats.
When you or your child meet a dog for the first time, or even the 100th time in the case of the family pet it is imperative that they greet them correctly. To do this we advise the human presents the back of their hand to the dog (or cat) and allow them to smell it, the dog will then either come closer for some attention or turn away disinterested. If the dog does not approach to smell you, it is generally best to leave them be.
If you lunge toward the animal trying to give them a cuddle or a pat on the head the animal may react in an unfavourable way due to fear.
Learning the body language of dogs and cats is a great way to begin to understand how you are making them feel, which in turn will allow you to gauge if the animal is friendly and keen for a cuddle or perhaps cautious or scared.
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to ALWAYS ask an owner before approaching their dog or cat, especially in a veterinary environment. In a clinic environment a normally placid, friendly dog may feel threatened or scared and react in a defensive way.
If you have children, spend some time educating them on the importance of asking before touching an animal and learning to try to read the behaviour of an animal. Are the ears flat on the head? Is the dog shaking? Are they licking there lips when there is no food around? Are they pacing or trying to hide? All of these signs are showing that the animal is uncomfortable, acknowledging these may just save you or your child from being bitten.
In a situation where a dog has bitten a person, the dog is generally always blamed. However, often the dog has given many warning signs that have been ignored. Sometimes the dog is even told off for growling or shying away when in actual fact this is the dog giving fair warning that it is uncomfortable with the situation and would like what ever is happening to please stop!
If you are going to introduce a new family member into the household, be they four legged or two, please be mindful of the pets whom already live there! If you'd like some tips on how to make these introductions go smoothly, please don't hesitate to contact us.