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Why People Get Bitten by Nice Dogs

Picture this: You’re alone on an elevator and a very large man gets on. The door closes and the man approaches you and starts putting his hands all over your body. What do you do? Tell him to stop? Scream? Fight back? It’s terrifying, right?

Recently I had a call of a dog running around an apartment complex, barking and growling at people. I arrived to find a small mixed breed, obviously someone’s baby, and completely terrified. He wasn’t about to come to me and no amount of sweet talk or cookies was going to do it. I had to corner him, dodge his teeth and slip a leash over his head. Once I had him he settled down a bit and I was able to walk him over to my truck. As I was preparing to scan him for a microchip a man walked up and reached for the dog, who I’ll call Fluffy, to try and pet him. Fluffy’s body language screamed “back off, you’re scaring me. I will bite if you don’t give me space.” The man kept coming and I said, “please don’t touch him, he’s scared enough to bite.” The man said, “oh no, I’m good with dogs.” And I’m thinking, if you were good with dogs, you would not be causing this poor dog more fear and stress, and if you were good with dogs, you would see that this dog is about to bite you. I had to ask the man several more times to stop reaching for the dog and I knew without a doubt that I would be writing a bite report and labeling this poor scared dog with a bite history if I couldn’t get the man to back off. 

I finally got the man to stop but he argued with me and I could see that he thought I was being unreasonable. I was able to slowly, gently, scan the dog, pick up a microchip and wrap him in a blanket and get him in my truck. I could see that he wasn’t a bad dog, just a lost dog, scared enough to bite if strangers took liberties. Thanks to the chip, I had him home to his grateful person in a few minutes, but thank goodness I was able to prevent a bite that so easily could have happened. 

I also recently had a similar experience at an adoption event for our non-profit rescue. We had a very sweet, 6-month-old border collie mix puppy up for adoption and it was her first event. She had been an absolute delight, wagging her tail, approaching people and really loving the attention. I turned away to look at something for a moment and suddenly she was flipping around on the end of the leash trying to get away and a man was trying to corner her to pet her. She even started snapping at him in her panic and I said, “sir, it’s her first event, please wait and let her approach you.” Shockingly, he kept coming, following her and reaching for her as she retreated in terror. I had to ask him twice more, quite firmly, before he backed down, and then he looked annoyed at me. Even the most un-dog-savvy person should have been able to tell that this puppy did not want him touching her. She literally needed only a few seconds of introduction before climbing in people's laps and he couldn’t even give her that.

Dogs are amazing. They are adorable, and soft and it feels good to touch them. I love dogs, I work with dogs all day and have several adult fosters and a few litters of rescued pups at home most of the time along with my own dogs. I never get enough of cuddling them, stroking them and touching them. But it’s so critical to take a moment to assess how comfortable the dog is and to respect what they are telling us.

I’m sure many of our readers have had similar situations with dogs and pushy people. Tell us your experience. 

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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