Move off the Grid? Learn Dog-Speak Instead

dog in furry suit photo

Third in a series

Fear is the driving force in nearly all dog bites to humans. Really? Fear of a toddler or preschooler? Don’t bother trying to apply human logic to a split-second canine reaction. Dogs think differently. They share many social traits with us but they are members of a different species, not little people in furry suits.

Instead of taking up residence in a human domicile Buster the Boston terrier could have lived in a feral canine social group. (Dogs, by the way, don’t live in packs. Wolves do.) Like others of his ilk he would be free of unnatural constraints like walls and furniture. Had I invaded his personal space he would not have felt trapped and bitten my face. He would have bolted and run far enough to feel safe from this @#%&* slobbering 4 year old.

The simple way for the grownups to set this jittery terrier up for success would have been to sit cross-legged on the ground in a big open field as they played their raucous game of bridge. As I delightedly approached the round-headed object of my delight he would have sprinted for the next county. Sadly, hemmed in by walls and furniture, he had no place to go. So, he panicked and snapped. Punishment would not have been the right treatment for his fear, nor would banishment from home and family.

Dogs communicate. Those who get wiggy around unfamiliar people might lean away. They may turn their heads while watching the scary monster with a “whale eye.” Also look for lip licking, yawning, and shaking off, as though they are wet. Some overwhelmed dogs bark and lunge.

Repeating these encounters, hoping a dog will get accustomed to strangers, is a formula for worsening the problem. The only safe management is to prevent the drama. Never allow anyone to approach, reach for, lean over, or stare at a dog who shows tension. Allow that nervous wreck to stay in another room with a food-dispensing toy while you party hearty elsewhere.
Next week: Childhood lessons in empathy and boundaries.
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.