It’s probably not surprising to anyone who knows any one of us at Cold Nose College for us to tell you we’re advocates for dogs. All dogs. No matter the breed, no matter the size.
As a professional dog trainer, I work with furry clients who have very sharp teeth and the ability to use them when they’re over their stress threshold. What’s amazing to me, is that time and time again, no matter how stressful a certain situation becomes for a dog, most don’t bite. But when they do, they can lose their life. I don’t like it when a dog loses its life.
Based on data collected by the CDC, it’s estimated that there are 4.5 million dog bite victims per year and that figure tends to be rising. As any professional dog trainer will tell you, it’s always easier to prevent unwanted behaviors than it is to modify an unwanted behavior.
Here are 6 things I believe are crucial to helping prevent dog bites:
Early proper socialization: The prime period of socialization is up to 14 weeks, so enroll your puppy in a puppy class as early as 8 or 9 weeks (the American Society of Animal Behavior’s recommendation). The risk of disease in a clean, well run facility is minimal compared to the number of dogs who lose their lives because of behavior problems due to lack of early socialization. Proper socialization is making sure your dog or puppy has a positive experience with every new person, place or thing he encounters. Easiest way to do that is through the use of food. Pair the new experience with some yummy food your dog loves.
Early and ongoing positive training. Dogs do what works for them. Plain and simple. If we don’t teach our dogs how to navigate in our weird human world, then they’ll go about their own dog-dog business. However, with a little knowledge on your part, which can be learned in a group manners class, you can help drive your dog’s behavior toward things you want him to do and he’ll get rewarded for it, thereby reinforcing more of what you want. You’ll enjoy it, your dog will enjoy it, you’ll have FUN and your relationship with your dog grows by leaps and bounds.
Exercise and mental stimulation. Ever get cranky when you don’t get enough exercise or can’t get out of doors enough? Your dog does too. Dogs need daily, off leash physical exercise, as well a chance to use their minds. Merely opening the door and letting your dog into your fenced backyard is akin to opening the gym door for a person. There’s no guarantee you’ll really get the proper exercise in the proper way. Spend time playing WITH your dog. Throw a ball, play Frisbee, play hide and seek (yes dogs love it). Get involved in a dog sport such as Agility for Fun, Rally Obedience, Dock Diving or enjoy a little SUP with Your PUP (Standup Paddle Boarding). There are a plethora of fun and interesting puzzle toys on the market today to help provide mental stimulation. Our own dogs enjoy the Zanies wooden puzzle toy, though there are literally hundreds of great options. Nina Ottosson has some lovely options as does Kyjen. It’s amazing how brain work can tire your dog as much as physical exercise, so grab a puzzle, watch your dog problem solve while having fun and enjoy the benefits of a tired dog!
Commonsense precautions. Supervise children when they’re around a dog. All dogs, even YOUR dog. Don’t let your kids climb on, hug or kiss your dog. A dog may learn to tolerate or even like a hug or kiss from a well know family member, but little people are another thing. They move funny, they sound funny and well-meaning kids can wreak havoc with a good dog. Colleen Pelar has a great book filled with solid tips and techniques for families with dogs, Living with Kids and Dogs Without Losing Your Mind.” Another valuable resource is www.doggonesafe.com.
Pack Management. The more dogs you have, the more training each dog needs. Training one dog at a time, then in pairs, then triplets, and so on is good practice. Just as teenagers make unwise decision when thrown together without supervision, multiple dogs when left on their own out of doors on unfenced acreage and unsupervised is a recipe for trouble. It’s very rural here in western North Carolina and while there’s plenty of land and fewer roads, it’s not safe for any dog to roam free, much less a pack of dogs roaming free. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. has a fantastic book Feeling Outnumbered? which has excellent training techniques for multi-dog households. Containing your dog within traditional fencing bring about incredible peace of mind!
Learn to read dog body language. You owe this to your dog. If you learn to understand their subtle and not so subtle body language, you’ll be able to eliminate or minimize the stress in your dog’s life. Stress affects a dog’s physical and mental well being just as it does us. Too many layers of stress, the dog moves over the growl or bite threshold. Those of us at Cold Nose College love sharing information about dog body language and stress signals. Give us a call and we’ll be happy to speak at your Rotary Club, your company lunch & learn session or other community group meetings.
Join me in making a pledge to be a part of the solution in preventing dog bites. You’ll find further information and a list of resources here: Dog Bite Prevention Awareness & Resources.
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Professional Dog Walking Academy Instructor, a Peaceable Paws Canine Behavior & Training Academy Instructor and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com