Old Sayings And Safe Handling:

There is an old saying that you should never turn your $_72back on a strange dog. I’ve done it literally thousands of times and never been bitten. There seems to be a big of a disparity between the old saying and what I know to be safe. Turning your back is often the best way to greet a dog you don’t trust. Facing front can be a trigger for a bite. That is because many threatening dogs are scared. If you let them off the hook they aren’t going to bite you. If you do things that make them more fearful eventually you will hit their breaking point. With that in mind I’ll tell you about how I caught a dangerous Akita, one day.

I was working as an animal control officer for the City of Everett, Washington in the mid-1980’s. One day I got a radio call specifically asking for my response. An Akita was marauding through a neighborhood and had already bitten two citizens, a police officer and one of my colleagues. When I arrived I saw the dog on its own property – a large two-story house with a pass-through between the garage and house but no side fences to prevent the dog from circling around at will. So I started forward with my trusty hand-snare in my hand. This is a photo of me with a snare at 050914_2144_TheBestDogC1.jpgabout the same time period. (I am with my animal control dog, Megan, but on Akita-Day she was on other duty.) As I walked forward (yes, facing the dog) I extended my snare and aimed it at his face as he charged forward. That made him back off. Then I continued on my way to go to the back yard. I wanted no interruptions from the small crowd of two police cares, about five neighbors and another animal control vehicle and officer. The dog conveniently veered around front of the house anticipating my move. He was going to cut me off in the backyard. Once he got there he was surprised a bit. I was seated on the ground, facing away from him with my legs crossed. He approached cautiously from behind. This wasn’t what he expected. Then he moved slowly around to the front. I studiously avoided eye contact and my snare was on the ground to the side of me so I could poke him with it if necessary. Then I did what he really didn’t expect. I said, “Sit”. He sat.

Once he sat the strategy was revealed. Get him out of his aroused state and try to make him think I was anyone but a dog catcher. By saying “sit” I changed the rules of engagement. Then I slipped a lead on him, walked him to my van and boosted him into one of the stainless-steel compartments. It took less than five minutes. They key was turning my back.

Shelter Sense: Turn your back
My eight years in shelters forced me to handle animals in a regular basis that were there specifically because they had bitten someone. Added to that were dogs captured by dog catchers that had been violent in public, never been in a kennel or simply decided they didn’t like men, people with hats, strangers or people who wanted to control them. After awhile you start to realize that “what people say” has little to do with that job. Few people outside the profession ever see or experience a violent, threatening dog in a kennel as other than a spectator, by accident.

In my Akita example, I put the dog in the truck of the officer that was first on the scene. She took him out on a control stick/rabies pole/catch pole. The next morning, someone called about the dog. The dog has a tag. Any tag information should have been written down by the impounding officer. The Titanic was supposed to get to New York, too. I have to go into the kennel with a dog that isn’t very happy about the process. I had an edge in this case because I had already introduced myself the day before. What if you had to enter the kennel of a dog like my Akita with no information about its character other than it is growling at you. Best move? Sit down and turn side-ways for awhile, outside the kennel. Getting down low makes you less of a threat. Turning side-ways makes you less of a threat. Avoiding direct eye contact makes you less of a threat. After the dog settles down, you unlock the kennel door, open it slightly and slide in side-ways with your back to the dog …and freeze. You do not put your hands by your side. You do not want to touch the dog accidentally or have the dog touch you with its snout. You just stand there. You don’t even look down. Just wait. At some point the dog will turn away out of boredom. You aren’t interesting and become part of the background of the kennel. Then you squat or sit down – again, with your back to the dog.

Here’s where it gets interesting.
Now that you have proven that you are not a threat, the dog is likely to get friendly. It will come forward and try to look at your face from close range. Turn your head in the opposite direction and remain frozen. Sometimes the dog will wedge its head between your arm and side, push its head upwards and attempt to make eye-contact. Don’t move. Turn your head away. The worst thing in the world you could do is to look down and make eye-contact from six inches away. That can lead to a nasty facial bite. The dog is still questioning you. Eye-contact is often a trigger for a bite from a scared dog. So, pin your arm to your side and resist the dog’s nose wedging it outward.

Let the dog get bored again. Then say something pleasant. Don’t worry that you don’t know the dog’s name. Most of them only recognize tone of voice and respond to anything said in that manner. “Hey, Buddy, how’s it going” works. Then freeze again. You can try asking for “sit” if you like. If it works, do not get cocky. You are still in the dating phase of the relationship. Wait for the dog to get bored and move away again.

Now rest your hand on your leg and pat your knee while saying “Come” or “Come-ere” and wait for a reaction. You may get none or you may get a friendly approach. The dog may even nuzzle your hand for affection. This is very, very important. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR HAND TO TOUCH THE TOP OF THE DOG’S HEAD, NECK OR SHOULDERS. You are still sitting down, remember. Your face is very close to the dog. If you slide your hand up to the dog’s shoulders you can trigger a bite – and you will be in position to leave your face wide-open. If the dog tries to move around to your front, elevate your cocked arm so that the dog runs into your elbow, held at shoulder height, parallel to the ground. Don’t move it, just make it a stationary obstacle. Turn your head in the opposite direction and freeze. Let the dog relax, then try again.

Once the dog will come over to you, try to slowly grab the tags. If you can rotate them and read them, good. If not, you’re going to have to remove the collar. This is where it get’s tricky. You do not want to make the dog feel like you are restraining it. If it pulls way, let it go. If you can release the entire collar without putting pressure on the dog’s neck, give it a try. If not, you’ll need help with this process if you do not feel entirely comfortable with the dog’s demeanor.

Now that you have the information, (You can have someone else outside the kennel at a slight distance writing down the info as you read it. Make sure they aren’t making eye-contact with the dog and are simply standing, looking at anything else) it’s time to exit the kennel. Wait for the dog to lose interest again and stand up – continuing to face away from the dog. Open the kennel latch and slide out the way you came in – sideways. Done. You have just achieved two things; you got the information and you started a polite relationship in case you have to handle the dog later. Done.

Note: What I do is not what you may do in this same situation. Turning your back on a dog is either the safest thing you can do or the most risky. That is why I don’t like one-dimensional rules. For instance, it is incredibly difficult to not make eye-contact with a dog when you are scared. It takes practice. To this day, I go to our local county pound every few months and practice. I sit sideways next to the most reactive dog I can find. I then make eye-contact and watch the instant arousal. Then I look away. Then I repeat. This article is meant to be a counter-point to an old saying. It is not a tutorial. If you attempt to recreate this without the experience necessary to remain calm when a dangerous dog is sniffing the back of your neck, you will likely be injured. Turning your back is a component that may or may not solve the problem. If you fail to respect the other rules you can call me from the ER.

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