Written by Disha Ramanan
A recent survey done by LANA Paws, Pet Dogs of India 2019, highlighted a significant observation. An overwhelming 95% of all the pet parents who took the survey felt the need for local authorities to run structured programmes to sensitise children towards being kind and compassionate towards animals.
Cases of dog bites have been widely reported and, in some cases, even sensationalised by the media. Many of these cases have been directed at children. Public opinion regarding stray dogs is at an all-time low. As a result of this, some people (children in particular) panic upon the very sight of stray dogs.
With children, some tend to misbehave and tease dogs on purpose. If this is done often enough, a dog may take all children to be threats. It is important that when seeing a child misbehave with a dog, we must stop them then and there.
On the other hand, other children mean well but show an effusive (yet misguided) love for street dogs in a language that threatens them. In this context, keeping in mind the following tips on dealing with stray dogs could significantly lower the cases of dog-related conflicts.
Needless to mention here that most of these points can be applied to dealing with pet dogs as well.
Children should not attempt to be over-friendly with any unfamiliar dog
Often, young children tend to immediately run towards dogs on the streets, trying to pet them. While this comes from a good place and it is important to encourage compassion from childhood, kids must be taught to keep things in balance. A dog as a species is entirely different from humans.
For a dog, the sight of a stranger smiling, yelling in joy, running towards it with their arms outstretched and flailing, no matter how innocent in intention, is a definite sign of a threat. For them, such actions signify an attack.
Most pet dogs and many street dogs will have been used to children from puppyhood itself, but it is much better to leave unknown dogs to mind their own business. If a child wants to be friendly with animals, start with earning a dog’s trust through small treats and food, verbal praise and polite, respectful behaviour first, before physically intrusive actions such as running, cuddling, petting etc.
When you observe dogs eating, it is best to keep distance
Some dogs tend to strongly guard their resources. Also, particularly due to the stigma attached to street dogs, food is something that does not come by too often for them and therefore needs to be guarded.
When you or a child sees a dog being fed, or eating something, it is highly recommended to keep a safe distance from him until he has left the spot. This would not be a good time to interact with him.
Avoiding eye contact with unknown dogs
In the animal kingdom, creating and maintaining eye contact is construed as a definite sign of challenge. The same applies for street dogs; their instinct is to avoid eye contact, both among themselves and with humans.
Often, children tend to stare in wonder at everything that catches their fancy, dogs included. A dog would usually turn its face away or may even walk away to remove itself from the “threat” or “challenger”. However, some dogs which may be more territorial or protective may take it upon themselves to defend their position and their pack.
Therefore, it is important to impress upon kids to avoid eye contact with any animal.
Avoid children’s contact with puppies
When a mother dog has puppies on the street, kids tend to look upon them as adorable, fuzzy, cute little playthings, meant to be lifted, caressed and showered with love.
Again, while the intention is nothing but good-natured, it is best to shower them with love in a way in which they would understand. Now, most mother dogs do not harm humans, especially children who mean well for their puppies. But if a mother has had bad experiences in the past, or if it’s her first litter and she does not know quite what to expect, she may get aggressive around people who come near her pups.
The correct way to show affection for puppies is, first and foremost, ensuring the health of the mother. This means, coming to her with food and earning her trust and love. Doing this, one would indirectly be making sure that the puppies receive good nutrition.
After doing this for a few days, the puppies can be played with but even so, it is not correct to lift them off the ground and handle them too much. There have been cases where children have lost control of a struggling puppy and as a result, inadvertently dropped them resulting in the immediate demise of the puppy. (It is also beneficial if pictures of any street pups can be circulated on social media to find adopters.)
Another critical rule to follow when interacting with puppies is to never take them away to play with and leave them in an unknown or new territory, far away from their mother and siblings. Most of such puppies never make it back to their family and end up losing their lives due to starvation, mishandling and often road accidents. If you see a bunch of children who may be likely to move a puppy from its territory to play with, do educate them on why it is important to never dislocate a pup from its territory.
Never Run Away from a Dog
Despite every precaution, sometimes some dogs tend to become stunned and skittish when a person suddenly walks through their territory. The human may mean no harm, but a nervous dog considers this an intrusion.
It is important to remember that most skittish dogs do not begin directly biting humans. When people, especially children, are afraid, they scream and run away. In the dog’s mind, the person then immediately becomes a prey. Dogs have hunting and chasing instincts which means they give chase to something that’s running in front of them; and this is a subconscious behaviour.
Also, when being barked at by dogs, the worst thing to do is to throw stones or try to kick at the dog. This makes a bad problem much, much worse. One should instead follow the following steps –
- stop and face the dog (i.e., no running or even turning your back),
- maintain no eye contact at first and assess if you can calm down the dog,
- if you have any eatable with you, begin throwing small pieces of it near the dog; if not
- immediately start verbally engaging with the dog – speak to it kindly, but firmly, expressing your displeasure and stating you mean no harm to him (dogs are incredibly perceptive at picking up emotions and intentions from both verbal and body language cues)
- if the dog begins de-escalating its panic response (i.e., barking, advancing etc), continue to praise the dog – a “good dog!” meant from the heart indeed goes a long way! Remember that ALL dogs have an inherent desire to please humans. At this stage, you may start advancing.
- However, if a dog does not de-escalate, rather advancing at you despite your reassurances, it is best to remain rooted to the spot, meet the dog in the eye and state a stern yet calm “NO! Bad dog.” It is important that you maintain being calm and exude confidence in dealing with the dog. You may even take a step or two towards the dog, making sure your body language is as confident and assertive as possible, as opposed to fear or aggression based.
Dogs, unless rabid, do not continue to show aggressive behaviour when your responses are in tune with their language. After all, be it human or dog, we only fear what we can not understand. If we instead take the time to understand someone, we can see that it always pays much more to be kind rather than cruel.