Since April 8th to 14th is Dog Bite Prevention week, we thought this was a great opportunity to talk about safety with strange dogs and even your own dog for that matter. Reducing the risk of dog bites is important to all of us but especially if you have children or small visitors to your home.
An essential part of canine ownership is taking responsibility for educating yourself about canine body language and learning your own dog’s limitations and comfort levels in different situations. While no one wants to believe that their dog might bite someone, it is important to understand that in the right conditions, any dog can and will bite. Even the most docile and tolerant of dogs will bite if they are challenged or provoked beyond their comfort levels.
We often hear stories from people who were shocked when their dog bit someone. Yet, every dog will issue warning signs prior to biting. We need to learn those signs and then remove our dogs to space where they feel more comfortable. Respecting your dog’s space while eating, sleeping, playing with toys. and teaching children to do the same will greatly reduce the risk of biting incidents. Resource guarding (food/treats/toys) is a natural and normal behaviour in dogs, but it is frequently misunderstood by owners. If your dog show signs of resource guarding, we recommend you seek advice from a certified professional dog trainer for accurate information on how to safely reduce this behaviour. Call us if you need a recommendation for a trainer in your area.
Safety with Dogs and Children:
Educating children to avoid approaching, petting, or extending their hands towards strange dogs is hugely beneficial in reducing risk. Children should be taught to respect your dog’s space within the home and yard. Teach them to avoid disturbing the dog while sleeping, eating, or chewing. Allowing children to hug dogs or crawl on them puts children at extreme risk of bite injuries. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not appreciate a big hug. It often makes them quite uncomfortable. You may see signs of their discomfort such as lip licking, yawning, wide eyes with the white part showing (whale eye), their ears may go back, their body may become tense and they may or may not growl to show their displeasure. Please refer to this illustrated sample of dog body language. It’s a great reference tool for both adults and children from the well-renowned Dr. Sophia Yin.
Hugging is strictly a human, and it is most unfair to inflict it upon our dogs if it makes them even the least bit uncomfortable. We suggest you take a closer look at some of those social media posts with children hugging dogs once you have learned the signs of stress in dogs. You will very quickly realize that many of these dogs in the so-called cute photos are displaying signs of stress and discomfort and that these children are placed at risk of injury.
The ASPCA website contains some excellent safety tips for children. Please check it out if you have children or plan to take your dog to a home with children.
By gradually exposing our dogs to different situations and challenges in a positive way, we can reduce their anxiety in new situations and in turn, the risk of biting incidents. It is important to use positive reinforcement while socializing dogs and to make them feel safe at all times. If your dog shows signs of discomfort or tension in a new situation, allow them to gain some distance until they feel comfortable. Make sure you are prepared at all times for new situations when out in public with your dog. Keep your dog on a leash and treats handy in your pocket. Most commonly, we choose to socialize our dogs to children, strangers outside and inside the home, other dogs on and off leash, traffic, loud noises, sudden movements, people in uniforms, people in hats but the list could go on and on. It is not realistic to expect dogs to understand how to navigate our world without a gradual introduction to all the smells, loud noises and sudden movements. Once again, we highly recommend you engage a certified professional dog trainer to assist you with proper socialization techniques for our canine companions. For dogs with more serious behaviour issues, you may need a referral from your veterinarian to an animal behaviour specialist.
Impulse Control Training To Prevent Accidental Injury:
Many bite injuries occur accidentally when dogs snatch toys or food from hands. It is usually completely unintentional on the dog’s part. They are simply acting upon a natural instinct to fulfill their needs. Excited dogs will snatch at toys during play time, but they can easily be taught to take the toy only upon invitation. It is where impulse control training becomes so important in the meshing of dog and human worlds. A trainer can show you how to use some very simple techniques to teach your dog to resist snatching food and toys from human hands by using positive rewards for inhibiting their natural inclinations.
By educating the public about canine behaviour and the benefits of positive reinforcement training techniques from reliable, educated professionals, we hope to reduce the number of bite injuries. A better understanding of natural behaviours and canine body language will result in both fewer injuries and far less dogs being surrendered or euthanized. We’re here to help. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour, please contact us for a recommendation.
Written by: Jill Whitfield, A.H.T. Practice Manager