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I Do Not Bite Stray Dogs
Do you find stray dogs to be scary?
Gross encounters of the toothy kind
I enjoy the company of well-behaved dogs, and feel that reward-based training is better than coercive fear-based approaches. That said, your knowledge of positive reinforcement training techniques will not be very helpful when two big hungry stray dogs are giving you the evil eye while you're out for a walk in the neighborhood.
I've been bitten by dogs on three occasions in my life. The first time happened during childhood. I was visiting with one of my young friends, and was standing in his backyard. For whatever reason, Allen's family's German Shepherd did not appreciate my presence, and attacked. I was not very dog-savvy at the time. And as an adult, I don't remember enough details to get inside the dog's head, and figure out what made him go postal.
The second gross encounter happened in young adulthood. I was being a nice guy, and taking a friend's Doberman Pinscher out for a walk. For no obvious reason, the dog bit my hand with just enough force to draw blood, and then stopped. Testing, testing... After the fact, there was not much that I could do. However I do remember using some choice Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.
These days, I almost always know where I stand with big dogs. We have an unspoken understanding: I won't bite them if they don't bite me.
Small dogs are a different story. The third gross encounter happened several years after the Doberman incident. Some irresponsible dog owner let his Chihuahua run loose. The dog sneaked up behind, and bit me on the ankle. Don't let their small size fool you; Chihuahuas are holy terrors.
Hubpages author, alexadry, who is a professional dog trainer, has written an article about the warning signs in a dog's behavior, and about certain aspects of canine etiquette that can minimize the likelihood of a toothy encounter. Some of these are well-known; others were new to me.
I'd like to add two lesser-known approaches.
The invisible stone
Sometimes I enjoy taking long walks in the neighborhood. Half a mile from where I live, there's a quiet residential street that I call Stray Dog Alley. Most of the stray dogs are indifferent to me. A few are even friendly.
One warm Summer evening, I was walking there, and suddenly I felt something cold touching my calf. I turned around, and saw that a stray Airedale Terrier had been very curious about what I smelled like up close. I knew where the dog lived, because on another occasion, the same dog had barked as I walked past, when he and his mistress where standing in her driveway.
The biggest stray dog hazard is when two of them join up. On one such occasion, I could read their body language. They were both very curious about what a Larry Burger would taste like.
During daylight hours, there's an effective approach for dealing with stray dogs who have less-than-friendly intentions. If you're right-handed like me, lean to your right side, and touch your fingertips to the ground. The dog will usually back off. Why?
Almost everywhere in the world, there are ignorant little boys who throw rocks at stray dogs. Being intelligent creatures, the dogs associate the throwing motion with the pain of being hit with a small rock. They make the same association with the gesture of my leaning over to pick up a rock. Dogs -- and some people -- indulge in magical thinking.
However most dogs have poor vision. When I make that same gesture, they fail to see that there are no available rocks for me to pick up and throw at them.
An enlightened approach?
At night, the Invisible Stone Technique does not work very well, because the stray dog cannot see well enough to appreciate your theatrics. For people who enjoy long nightly walks, I recommend carrying a 4-cell Maglite flashlight, to minimize gross encounters of the canine kind. (At one time, this was called a police flashlight.) With the flashlight, you can scan poorly-lit areas of the sidewalk, and avoid stepping in dog poo.
More to the point, you can shine the light directly in the eyes of any suspicious stray dog. A vicious dog will find it difficult to attack vulnerable body parts that he cannot see. However I had one surprising experience while experimenting with the flashlight doggy deterrent.
On one evening walk, a stray German Shepherd eyed me from across a quiet residential street. As she approached, I aimed the light beam directly at her eyes. This had no effect whatsoever. She continued walking toward me.
Apparently, some irresponsible owner had driven the dog to a strange neighborhood, and dumped her there. In her new surroundings, the dog became increasingly desperate. She had no dependable food source, no safe place to sleep, and no companionship. Then the dog smelled me.
She sized me up as being a soft touch, and as a good prospect as a new owner. She had absolutely no intention of harming me. In my most authoritative voice, I told her to go home. No effect. I looked in vain for an ID tag with a telephone number or address on her collar.
Then she followed me all the way home. I fed her, and let her sleep for a couple of nights in my walled-in patio, because it was a weekend, and our local under-funded Animal Control department was closed at the time. End of digression.
Now the obvious question: Why the police flashlight? Wouldn't a lighter one be just as good? No, it would not deter a pair of stray dogs that had teamed up. Fortunately, the heavy flashlight is a dual purpose tool.
When gripped at the wide end and swung like a hammer, an old-school police flashlight can provide legal, bone-breaking self-defense against a canine or human attacker.
Mel Gibson befriends ferocious dog in Lethal Weapon III
The youtube video and more
Mel Gibson used two of the time-honored techniques for befriending a dog. He offered the Rottweiler a dog biscuit. But that's a no-brainer.
Another example: Mel also got down on his hands and knees. When he's on the same level as the dog, he's less intimidating.
Mel also stuck out his tongue and panted. In dog language, that means: I'm really enjoying your company. However if the dog is not in a friendly mood, that overture may irritate him.
Sometimes Hollywood gets it right.
One more thing: I'm slightly hard of hearing. It is extremely difficult for me to understand what people are saying when they mumble, as Mel was doing in the video. This is a major pet peeve of mine about movies. Rant over.
Like all animals, dogs want to survive. They want food. They want to mate. Female dogs want to rear their young. In many cases, territorial defense is necessary to accomplish these objectives. As pets, dogs also need adequate physical exercise.
Dogs are social animals. They enjoy the companionship of humans, and of other dogs in their pack. Dalmatians also enjoy the company of horses. Livestock Guardian Dogs, like Great Pyrenees, bond with, and enjoy the company of sheep, or other farm animals that they were brought up with.
Big, stray dogs are not killing machines.
Copyright 2012 and 2015 by Larry Fields