Being safe around animals, especially dogs, is very important, because dogs can bite when they are unhappy, threatened, scared or angry.

Understanding dog behaviour and practising responsible dog care is the best way to minimise the risk of dog bite incidents.

Here you'll find information about:

Why do dogs bite?

Firstly, it's important to know why dogs bite. Here are some of the most common reasons:

A dog might bite if it...

  • is unwell or injured
  • is in pain
  • is afraid or scared
  • is protecting something (its owner, its home, its food, its toys)
  • is put in a situation that makes it uncomfortable (at the vet, dressed in costumes, surrounded by lots of people)

Every dog is different, and even a dog you know well can bite if it feels unhappy. That's why you should always behave appropriately around dogs, even those you know, and especially those you don't know.

How to behave appropriately around dogs

red cross icon

DON'T

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DO

  • Touch a dog you don’t know
  • Put your face near a dog’s face
  • Disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating, playing with its toys or caring for puppies
  • Grab or hug a dog you don’t know
  • Stare a dog in the eye
  • Approach a dog that’s tied up
  • Yell, scream or shout at a dog
  • Chase a dog you don’t know
  • Grab a dog’s tail or ears
  • Run or ride a bike past a dog as dogs like to chase fast moving objects
  • Always ask your parent or guardian, and the dog’s owner before patting a dog
  • Stand still when a dog comes towards you
  • Talk softly to the dog while it approaches and sniffs
  • Stand sideways to the dog to make it feel more relaxed
  • Only pat the dog when it appears relaxed and wanting a pat
  • Pat the dog’s chest below its face
  • Always supervise children when there are dogs close by

Understanding dog body language

Being able to interpret a dog’s body language is very important as it helps us to know whether a dog is safe to approach.

warning icon Angry dog = unsafe to approach
Picture of angry dog posture

  • The dog’s teeth are bared
  • The lips are curled back
  • The ears are stiff
  • The tail is held high and stiff, but may be wagging just a little bit
  • May be barking or growling

warning icon Scared dog = unsafe to approach 

Picture of scared dog posture
  • Ears are low or back
  • Tail is low and still or between legs
  • Head is low
  • Body may be shaking or close to the ground

tick icon Happy dog = safe to approach, but still ask the owner first

Picture of happy dog posture

 

  • Ears are forward and relaxed
  • Tail is low and wagging
  • Mouth is open and relaxed

 

Meeting a dog safely

When walking home from school you might see a dog in the park and want to pat him. Here are some hints to meet a dog safely:

  • Always ask permission from your parent or guardian.
  • Ask the dog’s owner if it is OK for you to meet their dog - the owner knows their dog well so they can decide if it’s safe for you to interact with it.
  • Stand side on to the dog, put your hands by your side and allow the dog to sniff you and decide if it’s happy to say hello.
  • If the dog is happy to meet you, gently pat it on its chest. This is so the dog can see where your hand is.
  • If the dog tries to pull away from you, let it - it’s telling you it has had enough pats.

When encountering an unknown dog alone - be a tree:

  • Stand still
  • Lift your arms across your chest
  • Tuck your chin in (down to your chest)
  • Stay quiet and don’t move
  • Don’t stare
  • Don’t run away
  • Act bored

Never run away from a strange dog - the dog might think it’s a great game of chasey! Instead, stand still and quiet and don’t stare at the dog. Let it sniff you if it wants to, then it should move away without harming you if it thinks you are boring.