When we were in Thailand, more than once I thought: “By the power of Greyskull, I’m really glad I don’t have a problem with dogs…”. Because they are everywhere! Small ones, big ones. Young ones, old ones. Lying, sleeping, trotting, running. Together or alone. In the streets, around the temples or on the beaches.
Maybe they have an owner, maybe they don’t. They are an accepted part of life over there, and I never witnessed anyone shouting at them or abusing them. Instead there were little plates and bowls with scraps or dog biscuits randomly dispersed throughout the streets.
The way the dogs in Thailand ran around told me that they were comfortable with their lifestyle: head high, bouncy and relaxed; minding their own business. I suspect not everyone finds that as nice as I did, though. Their freedom might be scary for people who are not used to such a scenario.
Mind you, I think you’ll get used to it pretty quickly because it’s just so normal over there. Also, since these dogs don’t lack the basic necessities, you won’t have them coming up wanting food or love – they really leave you alone.
Still, every now and again you encounter one dog that seems to have a problem with you walking by. During our three months in Thailand, we probably had two or three of these situations. It definitely pays off to speak some ‘dog’ in order to defuse the beef you didn’t know you had with the odd hound from hell.
Since I grew up with dogs and also needed to be able to deal with them in my profession as a vet nurse I thought I’d share what has worked in my experience. So let’s up your dog mojo, shall we, and work on your dog-meets-dog social skills!
1) Dogs are pack animals and as such their social behaviour is mainly about conflict prevention. A dog will not randomly threaten or attack you just out of unpredictable viciousness. There is most likely a reason why it’s upset with you. It probably wants to defend itself or something that is important to it. It will also want to avoid an escalation, even though it does not necessarily look like it to you. So don’t panic! It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, agreed, but the calmer and more confident you are, the better.
2) Freeze. You really want to avoid confrontation and show that you’re no threat. If a dog faces you, growling or barking, neck hair standing up, etc., just stop and stand still. Depending on the situation or how you feel, you could slowly sit or even lie down. But if any movement results in further growling, just don’t do anything and wait. Do not run! If it makes you feel safer, you can curl up in a ball on the floor. You can also slowly move your bag/backpack/sweater in front of you to shield yourself.
3) Slow-motion. When you move, make sure you do it really slowly. Keep your hands down, don’t become hectic, don’t shout or scream.
4) Avoid eye-contact. Do not stare at the dog and do not look him directly in the eye – that is aggressive behaviour and not in your interest to demonstrate. Instead, lower your eyelids, look at the floor, squint.
5) Turn your head away, or even turn your whole body away. Another way of stating that you are no threat.
6) Ignore the dog. If you were a dog, you might start to sniff the floor, or scratch yourself, or stretch yourself with the upper body on the floor and your rear up. It basically means “I have better things to do than fight with you – don’t you see how busy I am, uhm, scratching my ear?”.
7) Lick the edges of your mouth. Yes, dogs do that.
8) Yawn. Even if you just fake it, breathe in really deeply – dogs are sensitive to breathing patterns.
9) If the dog approaches you slowly, just don’t move and let it check you out. It’s more likely though that it will just stay where it is and seem to lose interest in you, giving up its aggressive posture. At that point you can start walking away, still slowly.
10) Do not walk directly towards/past it. Instead, move in a curve around it and try to keep your distance.
Ever since I tried these actions out and found they worked, I have integrated them into my behaviour towards dogs. I can imagine some of them might sound a bit awkward to anyone who has not come across anything like this. I did not make them up, though!
These are all so called “calming signals” that dogs use in their communication with each other, and they are dog-valid worldwide. What a bonus! This means you can start practising your new set of doggy social skills wherever you are (or at least wherever dogs are…)!
I hope I awakened the dog whisperer within you and provided you with some useful tips. If you have a question or want to share more tips, drop us a comment! And as always, thanks for reading.