The most important rule to remember is: Never approach any strange dog. If the dog approaches you, don't run. Stand perfectly still (tell young children to stand like a tree), with your fists folded underneath your chin and your elbows close to your body. Keep your legs together and look straight ahead, not at the dog. (Remember, staring is a threat gesture.) If the dog approaches you while you're on the ground, roll onto your stomach with your legs together, fists folded behind your neck, and forearms covering your ears (tell kids to act like a log). Remain still until the dog goes away.
In at least half of all reported dog-bite cases, the bites were provoked by the victim -- although often unintentionally. Dogs usually give clear signals they're ready to bite -- clear, at least, to other dogs and to people who know how to recognize them. The most common dog-bite scenario involves a person or young child who misses the dog's warning sign and gets within range. The other common cause of bites is miscommunication. Perhaps the best known example is the encounter between a child and a stray dog: Frightened by the sudden appearance of a large and unfamiliar pooch, the child instinctively screams and runs away. This triggers the dog's chase reflex or is misinterpreted as play behavior. Either way, the only way the dog has of catching the child is with his mouth.
Classic canine body language that signals a dog's readiness to bite includes staring, bared teeth, growling, stiff-legged stance (it almost looks like the dog is standing on the tips of his toes), raised hackles (the fur on his shoulders, back, and rump), and a wagging tail with a stiff, rapid movement. Usually, your final warning is a more intense stare and deeper growling. When the dog's head is lowered and the ears go back against his head, you can expect the next thing you hear to be the sound of his teeth snapping together on whatever of yours he can get ahold of. Of course, it doesn't have to come to that. A wise person will back off well before it gets to this point.
When to Call a Behaviorist
If the potentially threatening dog you encounter is your own, you may need professional help. Dogs may bite out of fear, defense, pain, or to protect territory -- all reasons too subtle for you to detect without knowing what to look for. A trained behaviorist can help you pin down the reason for your dog's biting as well as develop a strategy to change the behavior. This might be as simple as giving the dog more exercise; socializing with people and other dogs; or teaching all family members to leave the dog alone while he's eating, sleeping, or hiding. However, it may involve a more extensive overhaul of your relationship with your dog.
When dogs chase cars some owners might find cute or comical. However, it can be a dangerous problem. In the next section, we will help you break your dog of this bad habit.