Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Brice's Bites

Brice is a real estate appraiser. To do his job, he must enter a property and move about inside the home. What with all the foreclosures, Brice has been busy.

A few months ago, Brice complained of being bitten by a Toy Poodle. Only yesterday, he said he was bitten by an "English sheep dog". Brice is a good guy but I'm not convinced that he'd recognize an Old English Sheepdog if one walked up and bit him. Oh, wait.

Breed aside, Brice asked my advice on how he can avoid being bitten in the future. Here's what probably won't work:

1. Tell them you are afraid of dogs. Both times Brice was bitten, the owners told him the dog was "harmless" and the mad barking was nothing to worry about. People who are that rude to someone who made an appointment with them to enter their home, isn't likely to soften into kindness if they think you're scared. They already have the advantage: a dog with teeth. Don't give them more ammunition. And we must acknowledge the very real possibility that there is some hostility present. Let's face it, if your home is being foreclosed upon, Brice is the symbol. And if you don't believe a dog can sense hostility in their owner and who it is aimed at- you are living in a dream world.

2. Tell them a pack of dogs that looks exactly like theirs attacked your village. You were the only survivor. They'll say, no no this is a white Poodle. Only the apricot Poodles are vicious.

3. Appeal to good manners/gosh, I can't hear you while your dog barks in my face. Sorry, anybody who lets their dog abuse a guest, even a not terribly welcome guest like a plumber or an appraiser, is deaf to the notion of being polite.

4. Employ Baby Talk at the dog. Brice admits to trying this. It got him bit by the quasi Sheepdog. While it is true that some dogs respond to baby talk, most dogs with good sense are repulsed by it.

5. Don't look the dog in the eye. This is a good habit for most encounters with a dog you don't know. It suggests that you are not out to challenge the dog. However, if you are there in the dog's territory and you avoid looking at him while still moving boldly about- well- that got Brice bitten. Unless you follow up by dropping to the floor with your belly vulnerable like a submissive puppy, the whole eye contact thing may be moot in this instance.

6. Stop reeking of cat. Brice has a cat. He wonders if the dog is reacting violently to the aroma of said pussy. Doubtful. Most dogs are aware of the damage claws can do. But more importantly, even with his eyes closed, a dog can tell the difference between a cat and a man who smells like a cat.

So what is Brice to do?

The thing is, the people who tell guests that their barking dog is harmless often didn't bother to tell the dog that. Dog Trainers have a name for it: Socialization. Part of teaching your dog includes showing him when it is OK for a stranger to come into his space. Some dogs don't magically get the nuance without explanation. Then folks like Brice suffer.

My best advice for Brice in his quest to go unbitten is to tell the dog owner that it is company policy that all dogs be contained during the appraisal, for liability reasons.

Good luck, Brice.


  1. Avoiding eye contact didn't work? I'm surprised. My mother bred and trained German shepherds for show and for security work. I think that must have been the first thing she taught me.

    Once, a pit bull was after my son. I yelled to him to stand still and don't make eye contact. The dog stopped, too...at least long enough for its owner to come and get it.

  2. I think less confident and undertrained dogs are the most likely to sort of sneak up and bite. A confident socialized dog is better at reading cues like eye contact.

  3. "Only the apricot Poodles are vicious."

    Well, yes, they are.

  4. I adore this post. Especially, "a dog can tell the difference between a cat and a man who smells like a cat."

    You hear people saying that all the time, whether it's about another dog or any number of animals, and to explain just about any type of behavior the dog is exhibiting. Let's shout from the mountain tops, "The dog realizes you're a human, even if you've recently visited any number of other animals."

    As for myself, I'll take my chances with nearly any dog. It's my hobby — trying to read dogs and see just how well I can communicate with them. Trying to pinpoint behaviors and see how I can affect them positively. For the average person, though, I recommend doing exactly as Lynn suggests — ask the person to put the dog away. Tell them sternly, if need be.

    Most dog owners are not informed enough to be making the assumptions about their dogs' behavior that so often come out of their unknowing mouths. Or, I've seen people often play down a dog's behavior (He's barking because he likes you and wants to play) as if their ignorance and excuses will change things, only to admit later they realized the dog had an issue.