I recently had to deal with Mango, a dog who had a history of unprovoked aggression towards women in particular. Mango is a massive dog with a known bite history.While I have dealt with dogs of this nature in the past, this is the first time the dog was close to two-thirds of my body weight. That changed things for me.I had to know exactly what I was doing and not allow for a single mistake.
Mango came to visit me. We spent over an hour together and he finally left with no unpleasantness between us, whatsoever. How was something like this possible, when Mango’s humans were convinced that he would bite me?
In order to understand our own behaviour towards dogs, it helps me to compare and contrast. Last week when I was walking Buster, I saw a few children rile him. The children were not doing it on purpose. But their body language was completely off and that upset Buster immensely. So when my session with Mango ended I sat down to ponder what the differences were between my body language and those of the children that upset Buster so much.
At the top of the list was the speed at which I was moving. I was neither too slow nor was I rushing. I walked at a relaxed pace. The children on the other hand were stomping and running past Buster. Their arms were flailing all over the place. I had my arms close to me, and was making very small gestures. Dogs are hyper-sensitive to our movement and it stands to reason that unusual or excessive movement from us will draw their attention and get them worked up.
Next thing I noted was eye contact. At no point did I make eye contact with Mango. I looked roughly in his direction because I needed to evaluate him. I kept my eyes and face soft, with a gentle smile on my face. The children on the other hand were staring down Buster, presumably because of their own anxiety. Hard stares are very confrontational in the dog world and dogs will react to those either by slinking away or by getting reactive. While it may be difficult for people nervous about dogs to look away from a dog, it’s one of the most important skills such people can benefit from.
And last but not the least, I ensured that I planned the entire session well enough to not have to get up and walk around while it was on. Mango did not know me and I did not want to unnecessarily rile him by making unexpected movements around him. He needed time to get to know me. The children on the other hand, walked straight up to Buster and hovered close to Buster. Never approach an unknown dog. If you would like to get to know the dog, allow the dog to approach you. It is very impolite in the dog world for you to approach a dog – he might feel the need to defend himself.
I learnt from Mango that even a dog branded “aggressive” is capable of being nice if given respect and space. I learnt from the children that many of us are doing the exact opposite of what we need to do in the presence of dogs. Our dogs try hard to learn from us the rules of our world. But we are humans, capable of learning much more. So it should not be that hard for us to learn a few simple rules of their world.