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Pet Set


Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page M07

You're walking down the street with your pooch, having a fine time, when a loose dog appears, no owner in sight. Without knowing if this is a four-legged friend or foe, what should you do to keep you -- and your pet -- safe?

1 Read body language.

"Ahhh, scary dog! Get away from me and my Fifi." (Renee Lynn -- Getty Images)

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A friendly pooch's ears are relaxed, its mouth is open in a grin and its tail slowly wags in a wide sweeping motion. On the other hand, a "flagging" tail -- like a child waving a flag back and forth -- is a possible sign of aggression, as are stiff, jerky movements; a direct stare; raised lips or growls. Flattened ears and raised hair along the spine can be signs of either combativeness or fear.

2 Stay calm.

Experts say your pet is usually the target of this unwanted attention, not you. "People often make the situation worse by tightening up on the leash and saying to their dog in a worried voice, 'Everything's OK.' That transmits down the leash to the dog, 'We've got a situation here,'" advises

Rachel Jones, owner of obedience-training company K-9 Divine. "If you are calm and silent, you stand a much better chance of keeping the encounter under control."

3 Pick up cup-size canines.

"Small dogs are delicate. We don't see it too much, but one bite from a large dog can be fatal," says Dan Teich of Dupont Veterinary Clinic. "If you're unsure about the loose dog's intention, pick up your tiny pooch." Exercise caution -- if the unleashed canine is right in front of you, bending down to pick up your pet puts your head and hands at risk.

4 Break eye contact.

In confrontational situations, dogs stare at each other until one looks away, essentially saying, "You win." "If you break eye contact, sometimes the dogs lose the drive to become aggressive," says Teich. Experts suggest that, for this purpose, you might want to make a habit of carrying one of the following items with you on walks: a whistle, a large umbrella that quickly opens with a whooshing sound, a filled water pistol or a silent noise maker designed to repel dogs. For owners whose pets wear head halters (like a Gentle Leader or Halti), Teich suggests gently pulling on the leash, which turns Fido's head sideways.

5 Walk away.

Move slowly backwards and away from the loose dog. Don't run -- even a friendly pup will chase you. And once again, if worse comes to worst and a battle erupts, don't try to break it up. Warns Jones: "Even a nice dog that's not trying to harm you will bite if you stick your hand in the middle of the fight."

Maryann Mott

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