Stray Dogs and Your Safety
Ahhhh! There’s nothing like spring in Omaha. The robins are singing, flowers are blooming, kids are outside playing, and people are taking their dogs for much needed walks.
As good as it all sounds, it is also the time of year when most dog attacks take place.
In a sense, it has all the makings of a perfect storm. Kids are playing, running, screaming, laughing, and dogs finally get to run outside and go for long walks with their owners. There will be times when even the best parent or pet owner, while immersed in yard work or home repairs, will find it difficult to keep a watchful eye on everything their children or pet(s) do.
Families talk to their kids about not talking to strangers and not playing in the street, but how many of them talk to their kids about safety around dogs and other animals? Not many I’m sure. With almost 900 dog attacks in 2009 in Omaha alone, we need to add this warning to the things we teach our kids.
Did you know that the worst thing you can do when encountering a strange dog is to run? Not many people can outrun a dog. The reason for not running is that a dog’s fundamental instinct is to chase. Not just certain breeds have this trait…ALL breeds have this trait. If you run, they have the need to catch you. Whether it is to chase you and play with you, chase you and then run so you chase them, or chase you to attack, we may not know the reason they give chase until it is too late.
Here are some thoughts and ideas to keep in mind as you venture outside.
A mother and 6-year old son are out for a walk. Adults must always keep their eyes open for dogs, strangers, cars, etc. About a block away, you see an unattended dog walking towards you. What should you do?
A: turn around and walk the other way;
B: stay on your path with a watchful eye; or
C: run screaming through the neighborhood.
A and B are right answers depending on your ability to assess the situation. If you, as the adult, are scared of the dog coming towards you, then you should turn and walk another direction. If a human feels fear, a dog can sense this, and it may make him feel he has the need to fear you. This could cause him to attack out of fear for his safety.
If you choose to stay on your path with a watchful eye, stay on the opposite side of the street with total confidence in your ability to control the situation. If the dog notices you and starts to walk your way, do not speed up. Stay at a normal pace or stop completely and keep the child on the side of you farthest from the dog with your hands at your sides. Do not give eye contact or any verbal commands to the dog.With the lack of interest the dog is getting from you, he will be more likely to lose interest in you and keep on walking.
Children are outside by themselves and encounter a dog coming towards them. This is when we want to teach them how to “be a tree.” They must stand completely still, with arms straight down by their sides and look away from the dog (do not make eye contact as some dogs consider this a challenge). NO screaming, NO arms in the air, NO kicking, and NO running! These actions will only antagonize the dog and could cause an attack. When the dog walks away, the child should walk slowly to their house and tell their parents what happened. The parents should then call local animal control and let them know there is a loose dog in your neighborhood.
If you ever get into an attack situation where you can no longer ignore the dog, then you must take control of the situation. Become 10 feet tall and bulletproof with the strength of the Incredible Hulk! Face the dog and gruffly and fiercely command the dog to “GET AWAY.” Always keep your body between the dog and your child. If the dog bites, you must try and keep your wits about you. Kick or punch the dog in its throat; this should temporarily stun the dog so you can get away. Some people may think this is a cruel way to handle the situation, so this may not be the right solution for everyone. You must remember, though, as soon as that dog went to bite, he became a potentially deadly enemy. You must do what’s necessary to keep safe. If you can grab a rock or a stick, then do so and use it as a weapon. An even better idea is to carry a can of pepper spray or mace with you and spray directly into the dog’s face. This will keep a safer distance between you and the attacker.
Always remember that you must keep control of the situation. Do not lose your cool; you must be ready for anything. You never know how a dog’s been treated. It may be a dangerous dog that needs to be contained, but it may be a friendly family pet that just wants some love. Never pre-judge an animal because of its breed. Take some time and learn how to read animal behaviors. It’s simple, interesting, and (potentially) life saving.
Dedicated to Charlotte Blevins. Whose mother did everything right but came across a dog owner that did everything wrong.