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Staying safe around camp dogs, with AMRRIC

14 Aug 2023

Camp dogs are culturally significant, a source of joy, and a mainstay of many remote communities. However, health professionals who work in or visit remote communities may sometimes find them intimidating. Here, Dr Bonny Cumming from Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC) shares advice and resources for how to stay safe around dogs.

Pic­ture a remote Abo­rig­i­nal or Tor­res Strait Islander com­mu­ni­ty scene – camp dogs are sure to spring to mind! They are an ever-present part of life for most remote Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander com­mu­ni­ties. Despite their free-roam­ing nature, they are by no means un-owned strays! The vast major­i­ty are beloved fam­i­ly mem­bers, and they can also be val­ued hunt­ing aids, pro­tec­tors against phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al intru­sion, incor­po­rat­ed into Kin­ship sys­tems, and for some com­mu­ni­ties, inter­wo­ven into cre­ation sto­ries, cul­tur­al respon­si­bil­i­ties, and ceremonies.

While camp dogs reg­u­lar­ly bring moments of joy, and play an impor­tant role in cul­ture, when they suf­fer poor health and man­age­ment, they can detri­men­tal­ly impact both the phys­i­cal and men­tal health of com­mu­ni­ties. Dog attacks can result in sig­nif­i­cant phys­i­cal and men­tal trau­ma for vic­tims, zoonot­ic pathogens can trans­mit from dogs to peo­ple (par­tic­u­lar­ly immuno-com­pro­mised peo­ple), and for dog lovers, own­ing or wit­ness­ing sick and injured dogs yet hav­ing lim­it­ed access to ser­vices that can assist them, may bring about distress.

Lim­it­ed access to ani­mal health ser­vices and resul­tant over­pop­u­la­tion are the under­ly­ing dri­vers of the major­i­ty of these con­cerns and are some­thing that AMR­RIC works hard to address through direct vet­eri­nary and ani­mal health ser­vice deliv­ery, capac­i­ty-build­ing train­ing and sup­port, and advo­ca­cy for suf­fi­cient and sus­tained resourc­ing for these impor­tant services. 

We also reg­u­lar­ly pro­vide remote advice to com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and ser­vice providers who have con­cerns for either an indi­vid­ual dog (or cat) or a whole population. 

We under­stand what it is to be an ani­mal lover but restrict­ed in your abil­i­ty to access vet­eri­nary ser­vices, and we thank the many health clin­ic staff who come to the aid of injured and ill ani­mals in the absence of vet­eri­nary services.

Many peo­ple who work in or vis­it remote com­mu­ni­ties have report­ed feel­ing threat­ened or intim­i­dat­ed by com­mu­ni­ty dogs. When it comes to dog safe­ty, learn­ing to read and respond to dog body lan­guage is key. To assist, AMR­RIC has devel­oped a range of dog safe­ty edu­ca­tion­al resources for audi­ences rang­ing from chil­dren to adults, all freely avail­able on our web­site. For any­one new to com­mu­ni­ties, our Stay­ing Safe Around Dogs videos and online mod­ule are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful resources that dis­cuss dog behav­iour and body lan­guage, as well as how to recog­nise the dan­ger signs and tips and tricks to de-esca­late threats.

Remem­ber, each com­mu­ni­ty and each dog is dif­fer­ent. When inter­act­ing with free-roam­ing dogs, prac­tice cau­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing ear­ly morn­ings and evenings when dogs are most active. By under­stand­ing dog behav­iour, you’ll go a long way to avoid­ing dan­ger­ous situations.

AMRRIC’s advice for stay­ing safe around dogs:

  • Talk­ing to locals about dogs in the com­mu­ni­ty can help you be aware of which dogs, if any, are known to dis­play threat­en­ing behaviours.
  • When arriv­ing at a prop­er­ty announce your pres­ence – honk your horn or call out before leav­ing your vehi­cle or enter­ing the property.
  • Watch your body lan­guage, vocal tone and eye con­tact. Just like us, dogs react to our body lan­guage, the tone of our voic­es and our eye con­tact. Keep your pos­ture relaxed. Move slow­ly and calm­ly. Keep your voice low and calm. Avoid direct sus­tained eye contact.
  • Car­ry treats or dog bis­cuits when walk­ing around com­mu­ni­ty or enter­ing prop­er­ties to gen­tly throw towards the dog/​dogs (under­arm). This can help you dis­tract threat­en­ing dogs and can also help to build trust.
  • If you are approached by a threat­en­ing dog – don’t run! Sud­den move­ments can esca­late the sit­u­a­tion. Instead, keep calm and slow­ly back away, while call­ing out to the own­er or oth­er bystanders for help.

For more tips and tricks, see AMRRIC’s Stay­ing Safe Around Dogs edu­ca­tion­al resources.

For more advice and resources, or to access a request for assis­tance form, vis­it www​.amr​ric​.org or call 08 8948 1768.