Responsibility, part 2: Common sense behavior around dogs

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Anyone who wishes to avoid a dog attack needs to know something about dogs and how to behave toward them. Some children, for example, seem ignorant of rules taught me as a child, when rabies was more common among domestic dogs than wild raccoons. A group of children will gather to tease the dog in the neighbor’s yard or one chained to a tree. A child will stray into a dog’s yard.

It is fortunate that such actions do not always have immediate consequences. Nevertheless, any one of them creates a situation in which a dog attack can and often will occur, even if the dog is normally calm and friendly.


A boy about 10 years old rushed directly toward a German Shepherd on a lead sitting beside its owner in a pet store checkout line. The dog barked and lunged toward the boy. The boy went away while the owner reigned in the dog, which returned to its calm state.

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What is happening here?

Research shows that the following behaviors normally will provoke an aggressive response from any dog, regardless of temperament:

  • Running at a dog, which dogs consider aggressive behavior that requires a similar response in self-defense. Invading a dog’s territory, such as when a non-resident enters a dog’s yard.
  • Teasing a dog, especially if it is confined or chained. (The smaller the territory the dog has to defend, the more aggressively it will defend what it has.)
  • Coming between a male dog and a female in heat.
  • Coming between a dog and its food. (Food aggression is a behavior that can be modified, but dogs generally will not allow anyone - especially a stranger - to threaten its food.)

Anyone engaging in these behaviors courts an attack from any dog. Common sense rules of behavior toward any strange animal involve approaching not at all or very slowly, staying out of its territory if at all possible, leaving it alone or treating it with respect, not interfering with its access to food or to a female. Avoiding these behaviors normally will eliminate circumstances that can provoke an attack even from a dog not otherwise inclined to be aggressive.

In this incident, therefore, the boy was the aggressor. The dog calmed down as soon as the threat was removed. If the boy had not altered his direction, or if the owner had not been alert to the situation or had not trained the dog to behave in an acceptable manner, the incident could have escalated. At that point, whether the owner, the dog or both would have been held legally accountable for the result,even though the boy created the situation that led to his injury, likely would have depended upon the extent of injury and how hard it was to regain control of the dog.

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