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Safety around dogs and cats: understanding your pets’ behaviour

Dogs playing with stick

There has been a lot of media attention in the last few years around dog attacks on young children and no doubt it touches a deep cord in all of us.

As a mobile vet in sydney I have been to several house calls where dogs have been aggressive, the worst case being where another dog in the house was killed in a dog fight. Obviously the outcome is much more devastating for the family when a human child is killed as has happened in some cases.

The most important of all rules is to never leave a young child in the company of any dog without supervision – no matter how well you think you know your dog.

All dogs have significant primitive instinct and if they are feeling threatened you can never predict how they will behave, often with physical force as that is how they protect themselves.

It is important to be able to read and understand your dog’s behaviour. Being able to read fear and anxiety in our pets enables you to better understand their feelings and allows you to manage the situation more effectively.

A dog displaying fear or anxiety is far more likely to bite or attack when provoked and so these signs must not be ignored. Some of the signs of fear or anxiety are more obvious but others are more subtle such as licking lips, panting, yawning. If you notice this behaviour it is important to try to understand why your pet is behaving like this so you can address the problems. I also have some information on what to do in the event of a dog fight or attack in my blog.

It is also very important to know how best to handle and approach your pet dogs and cats in general. An easy way to understand it is simply to think about how you would treat and approach people as there are many similarities.

Dr Sophia Yin, a veterinarian in the United States of America, has produced several articles on behaviour and has a very good website for this information. I have some links below to some of these fact sheets which you can print out and use for educational activities with your kids. They have cartoon pictures and are very descriptive and easy to read.

It is also currently “Polite Pets Month” and the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) website also has excellent material for the public on dogs and cats about understanding their behaviour and managing them effectively. It is certainly worthwhile having a look at some of this material, click on their links above to go to these pages.

The following fun fact sheets were produced at the websites listed above where they are also available for download:

Body language of fear in dogs

How kids should NOT interact with dogs

How kids SHOULD interact with dogs

How to greet a dog

Creating a courteous cat

Please take the time to peruse these, especially if you have children and you can all learn some interesting and safe ways to interact with your pets.

Don’t forget that our pets have their own special ways of manifesting their emotions and reacting to the environment and so it is imperative that you can read these appropriately. Even the most well meaning and adoring pet can become aggressive and dangerous if the appropriate trigger occurs.

I am more than happy to provide a mobile vet call to your home if you are unsure about anything, or if you think your dog is behaving oddly so don’t hesitate to call me for advice.

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