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Staying safe around camp dogs, with AMRRIC
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.amrric.org or call 08 8948 1768.