Dogging the Dogs
by Gary Kurz
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The Humane Society has gone on record stating that dog bites have become an epidemic. While I agree that the more than five million annually recorded bites are of epidemic proportions, it is nonsense to categorize dog bites themselves as an epidemic. They are not a contagious disease that has been allowed to continue unchecked and there is no connection between the bite of one dog and another.
Additionally, I reject the premise that dog bites are always a deliberate action on the part of dogs. Rather, most dog bites are a reaction to some external stimulus. I am not suggesting that biting is a justifiable reaction, only that the reaction is often explainable. There are reasons that dogs become aggressive and violent.
I will concede that sometimes dogs attack without any apparent provocation, but somehow the public gets the message that all dog bites are of this variety. It seems the media's thirst for the sensational has caused them to focus more on extreme examples of bad dog behavior rather than presenting the whole story.
A more balanced representation of both unprovoked and provoked attacks by the media would be much fairer to this noble animal. Additionally, such an approach might help educate the public on how to avoid being bitten by a dog rather than cause them to panic every time they see an unleashed canine.
Sadly, the result of one-sided press is usually lower public tolerance and ultimately, unspeakable carnage for a species of animal whose history has been one of service and companionship to us. For each dog bite there are a million wagging tails and sloppy kisses that go unreported. Yet each day in our country many dogs are put down simply because they exhibited aggressive behavior.
When men commit unspeakable acts of violence and murder, we incarcerate them, but we provide room, board, medical benefits and educational opportunities at virtually no cost to them. But let a family pet defend itself against a neighborhood teenager hitting it with a stick and that animal is quickly snatched up, taken to the nearest shelter and scheduled for destruction.
I am not saying that we should give animals with bad behavior a free pass. I am saying rather that with a little more awareness and effort, most dogs can be trained to be non-aggressive and the public can be made aware of how to avoid being bitten.
If you keep a dog, there are certain things you need to do to ensure that your animal does not develop aggressive behavior. He/she may display good behavior in your presence, but you want to make sure they act the same way when you are not around. There are certain steps each responsible dog owner should take to help their best friend develop properly. Here is an acronym to help you remember several critical points in ensuring that your dog is a "good boy/girl". The word is STOP (as in "stop them from biting").
S - Spay or neuter. Only about 25% of dog bites come from dogs that have been spayed or neutered. There are differing opinions as to why this is, but whatever the reason, it works. Aside from the other advantages of having this procedure performed, give your best friend a head start on developing good behavior by having them spayed or neutered.
T - Training. Formal, professional training is best, but if you would rather do the job yourself, consult with experts or read leading books on the topic. Make sure your dog responds not only to your commands, but to those of your immediate family. Train them to be sociable with those of your household and with visitors. Do not isolate them in the backyard on a chain. This almost guarantees behavioral problems. Rather, expose them to people in positive situations and teach them to be comfortable around them.
O - Observe. If possible, observe how your dog acts around other people without them knowing you are watching. Also, consider setting up a video camera in the home while you are gone for a few hours to see how they react to outside noise, telephone rings, deliveries, other pets, etc. This may seem an extreme measure, but you may be surprised at what you find. If you discover problems, go back to "T" above to correct them.
P - Play. Playing is important to an animal, just as it is to people. As silly as this may sound, they need a diversion from their life of leisure, a time to get excited and to burn up energy. Play games with them. Run through the woods with them. Go swimming with them. Avoid anything that would promote aggressive behavior like saying "sic em" when you see a bird or squirrel, but make them use up their energy in positive ways.
Balls were made for children and dogs. Use them. Make them have a good time and they will be happy. The worst thing I ever saw a happy dog do was slobber all over someone. That may make them manner-challenged, but it does not make them a bad dog. Make sure that your pet knows the difference between being good and being bad. If they are properly trained and socialized, they should be able to understand the difference.
Now then, this takes care of your dog, but what about the dogs of others? What can you do to protect yourself and your family from a dog that has not been trained and socialized properly when they display aggressive and threatening behavior? Let's employ another acronym. The word this time is SCARS (as in how to avoid getting them from an aggressive dog).
S - Strangers. You should be very cautious when you approach or are approached by a strange dog. Of course, the danger is relative depending on the size of the dog. I don't think an angry Chihuahua is as much a threat to someone as an annoyed Doberman, for example; so exercise appropriate caution. Remember that the dog doesn't know you either and to them, you are large and threatening in your own right. You make them feel uncomfortable.
C - Control. When you are in a situation where a strange dog is displaying aggressive behavior toward you, try to control the way you react. The old axiom that animals can smell fear probably is better stated that they can "see" fear. If a dog growls at you and you take off screaming and running like a Saturday morning cartoon character, the dog is probably going to chase you.
Each situation is different, but generally speaking, it is a good idea not to turn and run, not to scream and not to make eye contact with the animal. If the dog approaches you, it is recommended that you keep arms, legs and hands close to your body. Maintaining control is important. It is akin to not splashing in the water when a shark is around. You don't want to draw attention to yourself.
A - Awareness. Don't surprise a sleeping dog. Make them aware that you are there. They can be startled just like people and their initial reaction is going to either be that they run off with their tail between their legs, or they stand and defend themselves. The former is preferred over the latter, but there is no guarantee that is the way they will react when disturbed.
Therefore, when approaching a sleeping dog, or one that is otherwise preoccupied and does not see your approach, make it a point to make them aware of your presence long before you are close enough to startle them. Often they will just give an initial cursory bark and then go about their business.
R - Respect. If at all possible, adherence to the old cliché "let sleeping dogs lay" is a good rule to follow. Some dogs wake up as grumpy as people do and it is better to just let them sleep. Additionally, dogs that are eating, feeling ill, pregnant or nursing a litter require a little more respect than the dog that comes up to you wagging their tail. Just as we covet our personal space, they want theirs too. Respect their needs and you will have fewer problems.
S - Substitute. If all else fails and you are certain that an attack is imminent, be ready to substitute an article of clothing or something you are carrying in place of your body. We have all seen the nature documentary where a hiker throws their backpack to a charging bear. The bear stops to investigate this "present", affording the hiker valuable time to make their escape. Dogs are curious creatures too. If you throw your purse or shirt or shoe in their path, the chances are good that they will stop to investigate. You can always come back later and get your belongings.
In summation, most dog attacks do not have to happen. They can be avoided. It only takes a little effort on the part of dog owners and common sense on the part of the rest of us.
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I found this article to be very informative. It is wonderfully written. I especially liked the "wagging tails and sloppy kisses". I wonder if there is a market in some sort of pet magazine for this. I think this article should be there.