Yesterday I wrote in detail about dog bite prevention from the perspective of someone living with an extraordinarily wonderful dog with a blemish on his record, because of his own fear based reactive behavior. When dealing with a reactive dog, especially one who already has a bite history, the attention to management in conjunction with a behavior modification/training program is critical. While I touched a bit on the training piece, the point was not to talk about our training plan or progress as much as it was the management tactics that keep people safe. Having said that, I do want to emphasize the importance of both. Management alone will not help a reactive dog develop coping strategies or change their state of mind, and so if you are dealing with a reactive dog, please be sure that you consult a professional trainer while implementing steps to keep you, your dog, and the world around them safe. With big love, sometimes there come big responsibilities, so please be responsible with your furry loved ones.
Okay – moving on, I would like to now speak on behalf of myself and all the nice people out there who are caring for dogs like mine. And I would like to thank Jessica Dolce for creating www.dogsinneedofspace.com – who much of what is to follow is credited to.
Keep in mind that not all dogs needing space are necessarily reactive, but mine is. And we’re working on it. But, just like people have good days and bad days, dogs have them too. Some days are worse than others. It’s embarrassing and makes me feel awful when my dog makes a scene. I feel awful for him as it is, because I see the struggle going on in his doggy brain, but feeling a burning stare from someone who slows their step, or worse, having to explain or apologize to someone trying to engage in conversation about my dog in the middle of a meltdown, turns a bad situation to worse times about 1,000.
I understand that most humans don’t need to fiercely protect their dog against the world (or the world against my dog) in the same way I do, and for a very long time, I probably fell into the “My Dog Is Friendly” patterns. So believe me when I say I see both sides of the coin on this issue.
Dogs In Need of Space created a great handout that outlines some of the requests of dogs like Balton – which can be viewed and explained HERE (and printed for easy real world sharing!). In short, the requests are:
1. Obey Leash Laws
2. Ask Permission Before Approaching
3. Listen to our Response
4. Respect Our Space
5. Do Not Give Chase
6. Lock your Leashes
7. Be Kind
8. No Matter How Nice You Are, the Rules Still Apply
While I will admit that no one has ever really chased us with their dogs (Balton doesn’t typically let that happen), kindness and space respecting are two that we we struggle with (we also do have a neighbor who seems to think he and his dog are above the leash law, and gives me dirty looks when both my on-leash dogs start flipping out when we encounter him on the trail).
While it pains me that the leash-walking world is unable to see the loving, gentle, wonderful dog I spend time with at home, and while I wish my dog COULD say hi to you, I’ve learned well enough the importance of space and not pushing the limits of my dog. I’ve learned when he has a meltdown, it does little to help when you and your walking partner slow down to ask what THAT dog’s problem is, so we can regroup or move on. It does less to help when you stop and ask the human of the muzzled dog you got too close to, who is now lunging at you, “does he bite sometimes?” as if that wasn’t already obvious. “Yes, he bites sometimes, so please keep moving.”
It’s awesome that you are friendly, but my dog really isn’t looking for new friends right now. Not while we are out on walks, anyway. They are too scary for him. So please, on behalf of the Baltons of the world, try to look at the dog acting like a werewolf at the end of his leash just a little differently, with a little more kindness in your eyes, and give him some room to breathe, while he learns how to deal with the big, fascinating, but sometimes scary world around him. The human on the other end of the leash in all likelihood isn’t a big anti-social jerk, nor are they an irresponsible pet owner. But they have a lot going on already, and they are trying to help protect their dog, while also being cognizant enough to protect the world from them as needed.
Notes on Dog Bite Prevention at Dog Parks:
I also mentioned that the Dog Park is a better space for Balton, likely because he can retreat as needed, without having to resort to a reacting at the scary things. People look at me like I am a liar when I tell them Balton has stranger danger while he is at the dog park. But, people can still make him nervous. When dogs give clear body language that they are uncomfortable, and we don’t listen, this is what can cause them to speak more loudly. As I stated yesterday, any dog can bite, and properly greeting a dog is important, regardless of whether that dog is naturally nervous or not.
So, here’s me standing on my soapbox about dog parks. I am of the belief that humans have many, many, many parks to enjoy in, and dogs have far less. Even the sweetest dogs run fast and play rough at dog parks, so it’s my firm belief that humans who enter into dog parks need to have a good understanding of dog body language. We’re in their territory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go into the woods to go camping and expect the bears to adapt to human behavior, and I don’t go to a foreign country expecting people to speak English (unless I guess I’m in England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and some parts of Canada). Most bites come from inappropriate greetings, and just because dogs do well at dog parks, doesn’t make it any more okay to be rude. Dogs have a right to play off leash without being terrorized, and when you’re a fearful dog parent like me, we don’t need any more safe places taken away from us because human rudeness creates a bad experience at the dog park.
Dr. Sophia Yin goes over the principle of how dogs bite when greeted inappropriately, and how inappropriate greeters also put the lives of fearful dogs at risk, in this well written article. I encourage you to read it over and give some thought to what is being said.
At the risk of sounding like Miss Hannigan from Annie, I admit I also have a pretty strong cringe factor about when people bring their kids to the dog park. Recently, our county community dog park group opened, and they have a rule about kids under age 11 being there at all, and it is a rule that is constantly broken. The rule was established because even the most kid-friendly dogs can play rough at the dog park, and frankly, not all dogs like kids. Balton actually does fine with kids at the dog park while he’s off leash, but i watch him like a hawk and typically try to steal his attention with a soccer ball (ever grateful he has discovered that particular leisure activity) so he isn’t allowed to interact with them long enough to get overwhelmed. I do not want my dog to bite your child. I don’t want my dog to bite anyone, actually, as I hope I have made clear. If we find ourselves in a situation that we don’t think he can handle, we help him escape, and leave if necessary.
Having said that, it sucks a lot of joy out of our lives when we have to leave the dog park because there are little people running around, flailing about, picking up dog toys and playing with them (and seeming shocked when dogs show interest), running away when an overexcited dog starts chasing or mouthing at them, or bringing in an ice cream cone and shrieking when a circle of dogs stick their nose in their business. All of these things have happened at the park while I’ve been there, and not necessarily with my dog being the guilty dog party involved. I’ve also watched kids hover over dogs that are not their family pet, being completely inappropriate in their greetings, while their parents stand a good couple of hundred feet away. If you can’t keep your kid with you in the dog park, the kid shouldn’t be there.
Realizing that some people are going to bring their kids to the park, regardless of what rules are in place, this little document was created to state:
- Why your kid and the dog park don’t mix.
- What you should do and know if you insist on bringing your kid there and taking a risk with their safety. I’m not trying to tell people how to parent, but realize you ARE taking a risk with their safety when you take your kids to play with large quantities of strange, off leash dogs.
So, this post has gone on a little longer than I intended, and has already covered a couple different topics. So tomorrow, I’ll let Ollie chime in via the Ollie Pop Bloggie Stop, so he can offer his own advices on dog bite prevention, even with dogs like him, who are pretty much happy to see everyone and have never bitten anyone. He has made it clear that he REALLY doesn’t want to bite anyone in his young life, and would like to tell you what you can do so he never has to.
Meanwhile, for more complete information on Dog Bite Prevention Week (and making every week your own personal Dog Bite Prevention Week), visit www.doggonesafe.com