Safety Around Strange Dogs: What A Dog Owner Wants You To Know

My German Shepherd weighs over 100 pounds. He’s big. He’s (mostly) black. He’s scary-looking. You’d think the scariness would outweigh other considerations, like the desire to pet a dog or a fondness for German Shepherds. You see an enormous black dog on a leash, and you stay away.

Except if you’re a good portion of the public. Then you rush at him, hands held out, grabbing him without so much of a “Can I pet your dog?” I’m not just talking toddlers. I mean full grown, don’t-you-know-better adults.

Luckily Q is a good natured sucker and soaks up all attention as his rightful due, repaying it in nothing more than nuzzles and licks. Luckily. Because those jaws could deliver a powerful bite.

Most people have no idea how to behave around strange dogs. This translates into “most people have no idea how to stay safe around strange dogs,” because if you don’t understand dog behavior, you don’t understand how to avoid provoking them.

How To Approach

Dogs bite when they are startled, frightened, or aggressive. If you want to pet a strange dog, first, ask the owner. Some owners may not want people to pet their dog: it may be a working service animal (they are not required to wear vests); or it may be reactive and have a habit of acting out at strangers. If the owner agrees that you can pet the animal, let the dog sniff you first. This lets the dog investigate you. The dog may also approach to investigate you; let them. If you don’t, they may view you as a threat and act accordingly.

Do not reach up to pet the dog on head, or reach over the head to pet the neck. Many dogs find this frightening, since they can’t see your hand or where it’s going. Frightened or startled dogs are at risk of biting. Instead, pet the dog on the side or back, coming in from an angle where the dog can see you. All dogs like to be petted; many, including mine, dislike being patted. There’s a difference

Do not allow children to hug dogs. Doggonesafe notes that this puts them in close proximity to the dog’s face and mouth, which is when many bite situations happen.

Move away immediately, by walking backwards, if you see any signs of aggression. Signs that a dog is uncomfortable and may feel the need to bite include, according the Humane Society of the United States, “tensed body, stiff tail, pulled back head and/or ears, furrowed brow, eyes rolled so the whites are visible, yawning, flicking tongue, intense stare, and backing away.” Every owner likes to think his or her dog is friendly, and many are deluded that their pooch would never bite.

On The Loose

But what about loose dogs? Many of us have encountered loose dogs, especially when we’re out with our own. This can be a dangerous situation, as the loose dog may fight yours, grievously injuring or killing it. Experts at Barkbusters recommend that first, you never, ever, ever approach a loose dog. Second, as soon as you see one, seek a safe place: somewhere fenced in, a house, a building, etc. Instead of carrying pepper spray, they also recommend you carry kibble, which may work in a hungry stray situation.

And if you’re menaced by a stray dog, do not run. Dogs have a natural drive to chase their prey. Instead, make yourself stand firm and tall without making eye contact (dogs see this as aggressive). If the worst happens, try to toss them your coat, camera, shirt — anything — and get out of there, backing out and again, not running. If you get knocked down, curl up in a ball, protecting your head and belly, and do not move until the dog goes away. Then call Animal Control.

Dogs are generally sweet and amiable. But even the sweetest of them can startle. Even the sweetest can have off days, can get tired, can snap. My I-let-the-kids-dress-me-up-in-a-tutu Boxer sometimes lets out a growl when she’s sick of all the kid attention and fussing. Some dog owners may be better off buying DO NOT PET vests off eBay, just so people will keep their hands off our animals — and keep us safe from potential lawsuits. Just in case the worst ever happens.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

Leave a Comment

Trending News

Follow Us