August 29, 2013
Everyone gets frightened of something or someone from time to
time, and animals are no exception. Fear is an emotional response
to danger and causes our survival instincts to kick into high gear.
Even the most loving and docile of pets can lash out when put in a
threatening situation, and the results can often be dangerous. In
order to prevent an attack, there are a few things you should
always look out for when interacting with any animal.
"The most important things to recognize are if the dog is
staring at you, its lips are pulled back so teeth are showing, and
it has a stiff tail pointing upward," explained Dr. Bonnie Beaver,
Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. "They also tend to be rigid and move slowly." If you've
noticed this body language and behavior from the animal, it is best
to back away slowly and find something or somewhere to separate
yourself. If you notice that the animal is becoming aggressive, it
is best to freeze and avoid direct eye contact, said Beaver.
Just like if coming across a bear or other dangerous wild
animal, you should never scream and run away or make any sudden
movements. Wild animals and pets alike may view you as prey when
you run, and it is their instinct to chase after you. Always stand
your ground and keep your chest facing them, and your eyes
Some general guidelines preventing dog and other animal attacks
may seem like basic knowledge, but it is always best for you and
the others around you to double check your facts. You should always
keep your distance from unfamiliar dogs, despite your urge to pet
the unbelievably cute ones. Ask the owner prior to interacting with
their pet, as they usually know if the animal handles strangers
well. You should also let the dog sniff you or your hand before
petting them. It's best to let them approach you first.
Avoid dogs that are sleeping or eating, as you may startle them
and cause them to respond negatively. Hugging an unfamiliar dog is
also ill-advised. In dog world, hugging is a dominant expression.
Although you relish hugging your own dog, it undoubtedly enjoys it
less than you do. While your own pet may tolerate your innocent
hugs, in an unfamiliar or shy dog, they may warrant an unwanted
Dogs, like people, are complex products of genetics, upbringing,
training, and experiences. While some breeds may demonstrate traits
such as shyness or extroversion more frequently, generalizations
are tricky. You can never fully judge an unknown animal by its
furry cover and it is always best to be cautious.
What if the shy, aggressive dog in question belongs to you?
Remember that dogs, like children, have inborn personalities that
can be influenced to a certain extent, but not changed. Dogs are
masters at interpreting our facial expressions, body language, and
vocal inflections. Your dog may sense your uncertainty and
discomfort and become anxious. If your pet is displaying
aggression, fear, or any other troublesome tendencies, consult your
veterinarian. "Veterinarians can often help these animals," Beaver
said, "or can refer to or consult with a board certified veterinary
behaviorist or an appropriate trainer in the community."
Though you think it may never happen to you, attacks are more
common than many would guess. It is always important to keep in
mind when interacting with any unfamiliar pets that though dogs may
be man's best friend, the wolf is still their second cousin.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for
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