In the Auckland region, the number of dogs in 2019-2020 registration year has gone up from 110,969 in the previous year to 112,530 in 2020 – an increase of 1,561 dogs. This was reflected in most other regions in New Zealand.

Did you know last year (2020) in New Zealand there were over 10,000 new reported dog bite related incidents to ACC. That’s more than 25 a day. More worryingly around one third of those were attacks on children under the age of 12 years old.  Most people would assume that this would be due to children approaching strange dogs, but what’s really disturbing is that over 70 percent of those attacks were from dogs that lived in the family household or were well known to the child.

I recently started a project with Te Totara primary school in Rotouna, North Hamilton to bring awareness to how children can be safe around dogs. 

Although it’s aimed primarily at the students it also targets the parents, as they are the ones best placed to teach their children; whether they have a dog or not. I’m really looking forward to launching this project again after lock-down and making a difference for kids in the Waikato.

On that note I thought I would talk about one thing that I urge all parents to stop telling their children to do. Also remember dogs may feel a little more stressed during and particularly after lock-down so this is an important one as we leave lock-down as well.

Don’t do the HAND SNIFFY TEST!!!

First of all, one thing that dog trainers see all the time and it personally makes me cringe. Is what’s known as the ‘Sniff Test’ . ‘Just put your hand out to the dog and let him sniff you?’ STOP – STOP – STOP. I’ve even heard parents say this to their children and it seems to be a bit of an accepted way to greet a dog. But if you knew anything about dog behaviour, this would be the last thing you’d be recommending your child to do.

The problem is as you reach out to them you are directing your BODY ENERGY at the dog. You are doing this without their permission and normally without them realising. You are forcing an interaction with the dog whether the dog wants to or not. The dog will probably not have time to asertain if you are a friend or foe and won’t be able to work out its escape route.

Dogs have a very complex greeting ritual so they can gather information about each other, this includes releasing pheromones, eye contact, evaluation of body tension, sniffing glandular areas to name but a few. Building a relationship that can be trusted can take some time. You onlyhave to see two dogs meet in the park to see this.

When we extend our hand out to a dog we bypass all of these processes. This is made even worse if the dog is on a lead as it cannot escape the situation so is forced to deal with it. For the dog it may just be too much, the resulting action might be to snap at your hands. If you are a small child this snap can be quite disastrous. If this happens to a dog on numerous occasions, just think how many times your nervous Cavoodle puppy has had this done to him, the result could be a very anxious and nervous aggressive behavioural issue in the making.

I’ve heard parents say, ‘put your hand out darling and let the dog sniff you?’. I guess we think that by sniffing on the hand the dog is going to be able to know who we are?

Well NEWS FLASH, they did all of that about 10 metres away. 

Dogs have over 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than ours. So you see they don’t have to make contact with our skin to smell us.

And remember that like people not all dogs like to say hello to everyone they see. I often, as a dog owner, say NO, with my hand held out flat, to people when they ask if they can say hello to my dogs. You see some of my rescue dogs don’t like people they don’t trust, and with good reason. So to allow a stranger to reach out and touch them would be a violation of their space and the resulting stress could cause anxiety. 

I feel that the idea that children should be able to say hello to other people’s dogs on the street is a very strange concept in the western world. You certainly wouldn’t go up and say hello to every dog you see on the street in Mumbai? Although I have had a few great interactions with some awesome street dogs in India myself, I wouldn’t recommend it.

So what should you do when you meet a new dog?

Making the interaction with a dog a stress free one for you and the dog is always going get better results.

  1. Always ask the owner if you can interact with their dog. Even a good dog can have a bad day. Even if you know the dog and have interacted with them before, check with the owner every time.
  2. Stand up straight in a relaxed pose with your hands at your sides.
  3. Ignore the dog and talk to the owner as if the dog isn’t there. This one is difficult for children so needs parental supervision and guidance.
  4. Make sure that any eye contact is short lived. Don’t try to force the dog to interact with you. If the dog wants to know you it will do it in its own time.
  5. Keep your hands at your side, even if the dog comes in for a sniff. Don’t be in a rush to pat or stroke the dog. Dogs will normally come in once to sniff you, then back off and come back again if they trust you.
  6. Often a dog will kind of nose butt you and then go all waggy tailed. This is normally a sign of acceptance, and an invitation to interact. Stroke them a couple of times on the back. NOT the head as this is really intimidating.
  7. The most important step is to assess your interaction. Parents,  this is where you come in. Did the interaction go well? Is the dog still happy? If so, then you can interact more. Often this step is overlooked and without realising we have not picked up on the stress signs. When we keep interacting with a stressed dog we risk the chance of aggression developing. Often people are bitten by dogs they have been interacting with happily minutes beforehand.

Remember a strong relationship takes time to develop, so don’t rush this process. You don’t want your dog to become nervous of kids and you don’t want your kid’s to become nervous of your dogs. Getting it wrong can be a nightmare and a place you just don’t want to go.