Fight or flight

“Oh my goooossshh! Ahhhh, such a cute dooogy!” three little girls scream as they come running across the park at my dog and me. Their arms dangling out of their sockets like half cooked spaghetti noodles flapping in the air. As they approach, I calmly say to them to slow down and not get any closer. Stopping in their tracks, faces slacking, as if I have just told them that candy no longer exists, I kindly explain to them that dogs get scared just like they do. Rushing up to a dog may frighten them and when a dog is frightened, they may bark or bite at them. The best way is to calmly approach a dog and ask permission to pet the dog. Now they politely ask, “can we pet your dog?” This is when I invite them over and explain to them to pet the dog on the top of the head or down its back.

Children love dogs. Dogs love children. Yet dogs’ flight or fight trigger can be much higher than humans’. A dog’s natural reaction to fast movement or noises that frighten them is to bristle up their back hairs, and take a defensive standing position along with barking a warning. It is immediate. This in turn is interpreted as mean, aggressive. This is frightening for the person staring at the defensive dog. Some dogs are so sweet that nothing seems to cause a standing strand of hair. Knowing which dog is going on defense is known only by the owner. It is important that humans and their children understand how to ask permission first. For our dogs’ safety, assume that all other humans do not know how to approach a dog. Offer guidance to them so they can understand dog behaviors.

Other dogs have specialized training in serving the human they are a companion for. Many dogs are working, so they should not be distracted. Just like we can create mistakes at work when we are distracted, so can they. Service dogs are becoming a normal occurrence in our world, so understanding how they function and how to approach them is important for all of us.

Labs are typically easy going, fun loving dogs. However, on a walk one afternoon, a skate boarder quickly came up the sidewalk unannounced to my lab and myself. As he quickly zoomed past the right side of me, Grace lunged and snapped at him. The look of love was not on skateboarder’s or Grace’s face. I too was started. Luckily for the dude on wheels, Grace was not able to reach him. Her fight mechanism was quick to response once she was frightened.
Not all people love dogs. Some love dogs but are not familiar with them or have had a bad experience with them. For dogs to live safely among humans, it is important that those of us who do love dogs and have had experience with them teach those who don’t know. It can be done kindly and with the same love we show to our dogs. Teaching compassion with animals translates to compassion and understanding with humans. We need to create pleasant experiences, good loving experiences.

Posted by
Cheryl Wilson

Cheryl Wilson created Why We Wag in 2012 as her result of her lifelong love of dogs. After 22 years in the Educational sector, Cheryl utilizes her expertise as an award winning educator, to educate dog lovers, along with offering supplies that support a healthy, meaningful relationship with canines. Residing in Utah, Cheryl is celebrating her 5th generation with dogs and now her first generation of grand-dogs.