Dog Bite Prevention Week
Somewhere around 53% of American households have at least 1 canine family member. We love them! Man’s best friend as they say. Through time dogs have been integrated into our lives, with such a tremendous amount of versatility. All dogs are different, size, colors, coat types, some have tremendous power and stature, some are tiny lap companions. The one thing that they all have in common…teeth. Although we would like to think that our pets are the sweetest thing to ever walk the earth it is important to recognize that anything with teeth, can bite. Just under 5 million people yearly are treated for dog bites, and these are only the ones reported or that caused enough damage to pursue care. Some cases are more prominently reported when they cause substantial damage which is why you will hear reports on Pitbull, Rottweilers, Shepherds…. Dogs with considerably more power, way more often than a Chihuahua for instance. This isn’t the topic of discussion but perhaps this is why they are followed with such a stigma.
The vast majority will use the term Aggressive to define most any dog that presents actions that pose a threat to the safety of people and sometimes other animals. Defining aggression in animals breaks down to this “The action of attacking without provocation”. Provocation is an interesting and difficult word. How many times have you accidentally hurt someone’s feelings because you did not know you were approaching a trigger? It doesn’t make you a bad person, it happens simply because we don’t know EVERYTHING. Your unintended action provoked a reaction, whether they shut down, became emotional, yelled at you, it doesn’t matter. Cause and effect. The same can be said for the animals we care for, we don’t necessarily know their triggers until we do. It is our obligation to make sure we provide the resources to some of the most well-known triggers early on in an attempt to make them more comfortable to deal with so that the reaction that occurs does not have to be volatile. So how do we do that starting day one with a new puppy? Socialization via desensitization, it’s important to remember that socialization does not just mean introducing to other dogs. Fear Free Pets has a great resource that illustrates just what I mean.
Our job doesn’t end there though, no less than it does after your child finishes elementary school. Or perhaps you did not start with a puppy. Maybe you were the long-awaited savior of one of the THOUSANDS of dogs in need of rescue today, some of the best dogs I have ever had in my family were rescues… well and/or foster fails that never left! Either way, it becomes our responsibility to help identify triggers that they may yet have had the resources to respond to in a healthy way. For animals, if it works, it works. As an example; A guard dog is generally taught from day one who is important and that outsiders should remain outside, so over the years, its most effective tool against what it has been taught to understand as a provocative scenario has been what others may see as aggression, however, this still falls under the category of a reaction because it was taught it needed to protect against these dangers. This dog has learned over time that it is “extremely effective” to react in this way in order to remain safe. These “effective methods” can evolve into even more volatile situations when they no longer prove to be effective at removing the danger. For a guard dog, this could be that a perimeter he was once able to keep safe has now been breached. The most iconic imagery for this is “dogs hate mail delivery workers” and this is because they must cross the threshold normally safely patrolled for the sake of their families by the dogs. Now let’s say this same dog enters a rescue or shelter how are we to know what those triggers are any more than the cashier at the grocery store. Whether it’s our pets raised from a puppy, a shelter rescue, or the neighbors dog we still can be vigilant about recognizing the body language generally always presented before a reaction. Cattledog Publishing has a great resource helping us learn how to even see the more subtle body language signs that suggest we need to approach the situation more carefully.
Of course as responsible pet owners, if we know our pet’s fear and anxiety triggers we must be proactive with this information letting family, friends, and your veterinary team know of these sensitivities so that we can be respectful and even help work through them. Having a fearful pet does not make you a bad pet parent, knowing their stressors and responsibly being proactive about it makes you an excellent one! During National Dog Bite Prevention Week, our goals should be to be mindful and respect pets, set them up for a successful life, and keep them and others safe from a bite.
Our Fear Free Certified team members are always happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.
To learn more yourself, please visit the links below to begin taking the same steps that changed not just our lives but our pets as well.