Animal Behaviour


Dogs and humans have been living side by side for about 100,000 years. Many dogs are friendly, but some are not. Some dogs are smaller than cats and some are bigger than ponies. Some big dogs are so full of fun that they get into trouble, because they push children over when they are being friendly. Small dogs, especially those bred to round up sheep and cattle, can be a bit snappy. You can’t tell from the size of a dog, or from its breed, whether he is going to be friendly or aggressive.

All dogs have to be treated with respect. If you forget this you may get hurt. Dog bites hurt, because their teeth are very sharp. They can leave painful infections and scars that may last for the rest of your life. If you learn how dogs talk to each other, and how to talk to them, this will help you understand whether you’re dealing with a friendly dog, or one to keep away from.

How dogs communicate

Dogs love to sniff at everything around them. On a walk they often sniff at lamp-posts. Sniffing their way through the park is like reading a newspaper: who came that way just before? Who else is in the park? Are there any strange dogs around? Dogs also smell under each other’s tails to check whether they have met before. When two dogs that have not met before say “hello”, they have to decide who is the boss. By sniffing each other they learn about one another. Puppies do not get involved in fights. They just want to play!

Never try to stop two dogs fighting. You may want to save your dog from being hurt but when two dogs start to fight they tend to bite at just about anything that is near them—including helpful humans. So never get involved in a dog fight. Instead, always call an adult to help.

How to say ‘hello’ to a dog

To say hello to a dog you must let him approach you at his own speed. Don’t rush up to him, because he cannot be sure that you are friendly. Be quiet and let him sniff and lick your hand. Always ask the dog’s owners if it is OK for you to stroke their dog.

What to do if you are frightened by a dog

  1.  Stand still like a statue.
  2. Clench your hands into fists and tuck them under your chin.
  3. If the dog knocks you over, curl into a ball, put your hands over your head and stay quiet and still. The dog will probably get bored and go away.

Never run away from a dog. You cannot outrun a dog. Most dogs can run as fast as the school bus can go. If you stop moving the dog will get bored and go away.

Handle with care making friends with animals by Paul McGreevy.

Handle with care making friends with animals by Paul McGreevy.

If you are concerned that he is going to use his teeth to steal your snack, the best thing to do is to throw your food as far away as possible. Then calmly walk to the nearest adult.

Flapping your arms around and squealing will make the dog want to do the same thing. Of course, dogs cannot flap their arms and squeal, so they bark and jump up at you instead. Sometimes they will want to hold on to you and the only way they can do this is with their mouth. Then the dog gets into trouble for biting, even though he was just excited.

How to hold a dog

Some dogs are too big to pick up. Some dogs do not like to be picked up and will growl if you try. Never try to pick up a growling dog.

If the dog is happy to be picked up, support him with one hand behind his front legs and one hand behind his back legs.

Puppies can be quite wriggly. It is important to use two hands when you hold a pup so it won’t slip to the ground. With the puppy looking towards you, hold it firmly around its chest and tummy. Keep the puppy still and give it a toy to play with instead.

If you are taking the dog for a walk, make sure the collar is not going to slip off and always keep him on a lead.

Dogs sometimes carry germs and worms that can make you sick. Because germs and worms can get inside you through your mouth you should not allow animals to lick your lips or mouth and you should always wash your hands before touching food. (You have probably heard that said many times before and now you know why!)

All this information and much, much more about your favourite pet can be found in Handle with care.