By Stefani Fortney ABCDT. May 15-21 is National Dog Bite Prevention week. While it’s great that there’s a month dedicated to the education of the general population on how to avoid dog bites, I’m going to focus on talking specifically to dog owners. It’s our responsibility as owners to prevent the situation arising where our dog could bite. So often, owners of potentially aggressive, timid, snippy, or picky dogs don’t want to acknowledge the fact that their beloved pooch might bite someone.
As a pet professional, I see it more often that you’d think–dogs whose owners just knew that Sweetie Flufferston would never actually bite until someone was bitten. At that point, the owner is in a panic trying to get their dog into the mandatory ten-day quarantine, calling their lawyer, filling out police reports, paying fines, and feeling guilty and embarrassed. This doesn’t just happen to people with “bad dogs”. We see normal family pets and cherished companions who have bitten someone on a regular basis. These dogs are then labeled as “vicious”, “dangerous”, “aggressive”.
As I mentioned before, there are some dogs who are more prone to a dog bite incident. Dogs who are resource guarders (with objects, food, toys, or even their owners), leash reactive, fear aggressive, dog aggressive, print to redirect… these are all examples of high-risk dogs when it comes to bites. It has nothing to do with size, breed, sex, or even age. Every dog is an individual, and any dog can have or develop an issue that may increase their potential to bite.
Identifying these traits, characteristics, and behaviors in your dog are the first step to protecting your dog, yourself, your family, and your community.
Three ways that we as owners can help to prevent dog bite situations.
1.Keep him confined.
In most communities, it’s the law to keep your dog within a fence or other enclosure, or on a leash. It’s much harder for a dog bite incident to happen when your dog isn’t at liberty to approach people or other animals without any restriction. All dogs should be responsibly confined at all times. No exceptions.
While your dog may be a total sweetheart, he may get freaked out when he sees that strange bearded man riding a bicycle. Or maybe a kid comes running to pet your dog and startles him. What if a cat or dog or squirrel or raccoon crosses your path? Without a barrier or a leash, you have no control over the situation. That’s when a dog bite is more likely to happen.
2.Keep him safe.
Don’t put your dog in the position to bite. It seems simple–but so many of us want a dog who can do every day, “regular” activities that we sometimes push our furry friends into scenarios that they’re uncomfortable with. Pay attention to your dog’s body language. If he seems frightened, nervous, agitated, or upset, fix the situation immediately.
If you’re walking down the street and your dog seems scared of the lady with the umbrella approaching, take him to the other side of the road. If your dog doesn’t like loud noises, don’t take her to the block party or parade. If the kids playing next door insist on trying to pet your pup as he tries to move away, bring him inside or ask the kids (nicely at first, but forcefully if necessary) to give your guy the space he needs.
It’s our responsibility to our dogs to keep them safe. Never put them in a situation where they feel they must bite to protect themselves.
3.Keep him muzzled.
If a time comes when your dog must be in a situation where you feel he may bite, he should be properly and humanely muzzled. This may be a trip to the vet, necessary “business” walks, introductions to new people that can’t be avoided, etc.
Don’t wait until your dog needs to use a muzzle. Train him to enjoy wearing his muzzle before you ask him to wear it in a stressful situation.
By taking baby steps, using treats and positive reinforcement, most dogs can be taught to look forward to putting on and wearing a basket muzzle. The basket muzzle allows your dog to pant, drink, and accept treats normally—but prevents a dog bite from occurring. I’m currently training my Boxer/Lab mix, Poppy, to wear a muzzle because of resource guarding issues. The muzzle keeps her, my other dogs, other people, and me safe while we work on behavior modification. When she sees me reach for her muzzle (I use a Baskerville Ultra Muzzle), she gets excited because she knows there will be tons of peanut butter and treats coming, too.
Responsible dog owners are the first, most important line of defense against dog bite incidents. Know your dog and pay attention to his or her body language. Keep him confined. Keep him safe. Keep him muzzled. Keep a dog bite from ruining your dog’s life.