My brain screamed, “Wrong!” I remember flashing on the picture in my mind, but my foot reacted and slammed on the brake just as the speeding car flew by in front.
I had stopped at the stop sign, and my eyes saw the distant truck on the left. Believing I had time to cross the road, I started to pull out. At that moment of moving my foot to the accelerator, my mind registered an anomaly. The truck looked funny. When the car flew by, I knew that I had “seen” it start to pass the truck at a high rate of speed in a no-pass zone. The anomaly was a car being where it shouldn’t have been in relation to the truck. Thankfully, I blinked — reacting on scant evidence backed by experience.
But this isn’t a story about car driving. It is a story about dog bites and how to stay safe by learning to blink.
According to State Farm, California had the highest number of dog bite claims in the country in 2011.
Obviously, no one wants to be bitten or have a family dog bite anyone. Depending on the circumstance and severity of the bite, it could mean a death sentence for the dog or a lifetime of vigilance, management and behavior training to prevent another.
Many bites, however, could be prevented if people learned to read dog behavior and to understand the normal situations in which a bite generally occurs. Having this knowledge and getting a chance to practice reacting and interacting with dogs will reduce the dog bite occurrences.
I’m just going to give a couple of tips that any dog owner, parent or one who loves dogs should learn. You can study in more depth using the many sites on the Internet; just Google “dog bite prevention.” At the end of the column, I will list a few resources that can help in your education and that of your children.
For dog owners
Learn to understand when your dog is not happy, and remember which situations your dog can handle and which it can’t.
I carefully watch during every encounter for insight into the dog’s internal emotional state. This will tell me if it is comfortable in a situation or if it needs to be removed.
I want to see a dog’s body moving forward loosely with a happy tail to say “hi.” If I see the tail drop down or tucked, the body go still, the eyes dilate or the ears go back — and, most telling, maybe a whisker twitch — I blink and act on this type of body language as a danger zone and move the dog or the human out of the situation.
Just because the dog is good with your children or some of your friends doesn’t mean it is going to enjoy all children and all friends.
For everyone’s safety, assume a dog will be uncomfortable around children until you know for sure.
Using one of the resources at the end of this column, teach your children to ask for permission to pet a dog and how to pet it.
Do not let your children hug or kiss an unknown dog. In dog language, that is very rude, and a child may be bitten if the dog resents being grabbed.
For dog lovers
In spite of your love for all dogs, all dogs will not love you, and some will resent your familiarity. Respect their space.
If a dog doesn’t move toward you, the general rule is not to move toward it — unless you are greeting an overly friendly dog trained to sit for petting. I wait for a dog to ask for interaction with me.
My vigilance and experience in reading dog-human interactions, watching for the small details that call out “danger” and being ready to act in the blink of an eye before I’ve even processed the reality has kept my friends, customers, employees and dogs safer and happier. (Yes, I’ve learned the hard way.) I definitely don’t wait for the dog to decide a situation has gone too far before I react.
By taking time to watch for the details and being ready to react, we will reduce the number of dog bites and the trauma that follows.
•Internet resources: www.doggonesafe.com/dog_bite_prevention, www.aspca.org/Home/Pet-care/kids-and-pets, info.drsophiayin.com/download-dog-bite-prevention-powerpoint. In addition, www.dogwise.com has many books on behavior and bite prevention.
Augusta Farley raises, trains and competes with Belgian Malinois dogs and runs Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy in Patterson. She also hosts a Patterson-based nonprofit dog shelter, Westside Animals for Adoption, on her property.