Don’t Let A Fun Time With Your Dog End in Disaster – By: Eugenie Bucher, VMD
Don’t Let A Fun Time With Your Dog End in Disaster – By: Eugenie Bucher, VMDDate: November 1, 2014
As a veterinary emergency doctor, there’s hardly a weekend goes by that I am not in surgery repairing injuries sustained from a dog attack or a dog fight. Sometimes the fight is between housemates, but the majority of the time it is outside the home and involves the dog park, beach or walking around the neighborhood.
In a perfect world everyone would have their dogs trained and they would listen to every word and command without hesitation. But this is not a perfect world and all too often a fun outing turns into a disaster and unfortunately some end in tragic death. Let’s face it, there are varying degrees to which a dog and their owner are trained. You have the ones that have had their dog in obedience school, the agility trained group, the non-professionally trained family dog, many of the proceeding are formerly rescue dogs, you get the picture. You put them all together at the beach or dog park or walking in the same neighborhood and confusion seems to run amok.
Given the attitude today of too many people, it’s not hard to see why these incidents occur. Self -important, self-involved, entitled and inconsiderate describe too many individuals these days. The mind set of-if they can do no wrong certainly their dog(s) can do no wrong creates more problems than should exist. Another side to this is the distracted, careless, oblivious owner that is doing everything but paying attention to their dog. They can’t even sense a problem arising until it is too late.
I speak harshly on this topic because not only do I witness the horrors in the emergency room, I experience problems daily in my own neighborhood.
So for you canine parents who are planning your next walk or your next outing with your 4-legged children, I would like to share some knowledge and suggest some safety tips I have learned from a certified behaviorist and my own experiences.
The two areas I will speak to will be walks and then social gatherings.
The most important thing is safety. This is not only true for where and when you walk but the equipment being used. Know your neighborhood or where you will walk. Be aware of the location of the trouble spots and try to avoid them.
1) The house(s) where the dog is let outside to do its business and the front door opens without warning and the dog(s) come running out without a person or leash. It spots you and comes charging.
2) The house with the chainlike fence where the dog(s) inside frantically bark and run the fence line barking and snapping.
3) The owner that refuses to walk their dog on a leash and allows it to approach ,bark, growl and generally invade your space without correcting or saying a word to it.
These are only a few of the potential problems and every neighborhood will have their own unique issues.
To be safe and prepared for any of these situations always use the proper equipment and keep it maintained.
-Avoid using plastic snap buckles because they break.
-Retractable leads are a disaster waiting to happen. They are used quite often and some people love them. But if a dog is pulling it won’t retract by pushing the button. Your instinct is to grab at the line to bring your dog back and it can cause severe burns and lacerations not to mention tripping and tangling.
-Regular collars and harnesses can slip off. Try using a martingale collar or double leashing or snapping a leash to 2 collars/harnesses.
It’s a good idea to carry an item called Spray Shie on your walks. This is condensed air and citronella. It is non-toxic and will spray about 10 – 15 feet. The behaviorist who recommended this product actually sprayed themselves in the face to make sure it was harmless. I was told it startles you and the smell is aversive but it is not harmful. The nice thing about the spray is it just clips on your pants.
You would use this in the following manner:
You spray at a dog running towards you and the dog initially stops. Then the dog may approach and you need to spray a second time. But after that the dog almost always turns the other way. Do not run away from a loose dog either, that attracts attention.
While on your walk, if you see someone having problems with their dog or dogs, loose the superiority attitude, don’t criticize or blame and make the situation worse by just going about your business with no regard to them. Don’t keep coming at them if you are what the dogs are reacting to. Is it really that hard or off-putting to turn down another street or turn around and go the other way? Do you really have to pass by them and see a show and possibly cause that owner or one of the dogs to get hurt? This lack of compassion or consideration is all too common.
And for heaven’s sake-pick up that poop
This next section will touch on social gatherings.
If you chose to take your dog(s) to the Dog Park or beach or anywhere multiple dogs will be interacting, you will encounter many different people, the kind I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Knowing this and that you may be faced with the other dogs acting inappropriately, a few key signals will help you recognize if play is turning into something serious and you can remove yourselves and your dogs from danger.
1) It’s called role reversal.
For example; 2 dogs are playing and they will change their role in play. They take turns chasing each other. They take turns being on the top and the bottom when they are wrestling.
2) Self Handicapping.
This is when a dog will inhibit their behavior to avoid injuring the other dog or to give the other dog the advantage.
– Play biting is an example of bite inhibition, there is never any yelping or blood.
– Another example is when a very large dog lies on the ground to give a very small dog the advantage in the game.
3) Bouncy movements are always used in play. There is no bounce to the gait of dogs in a serious fight. Bouncy = inefficiency in that case.
4) Play bows, loose and wiggly bodies, relaxed faces, soft eyes and nice big open mouths are all signs of play.
5) Dog’s listen to each other. If one communicates he’s had enough, the other will back off and leave him alone.
6) Vocalizations tend to remain the same pitch and intensity.
7) There will be frequent pauses in play. The dogs will be moving around widely and then suddenly stop and freeze for a few seconds. Suddenly they will begin to play again. The purpose of these pauses is to break up the arousal and excitement level, giving the dogs a break and preventing their arousal from crossing the line into aggression.
If you are witnessing the above, relax and enjoy.
There’s always one in the crowd.
Not necessarily but if you are witnessing any of the following and no attempt is being made by the owner to correct their dog, it’s time to get your dog and leave the area.
1) One dog continually chases or gets on top of another without ever changing roles.
2) One dog bites too hard, hurting or injuring the other dog.
– A very large dog does not control it’s movements around a very small dog.
3) There is no bounciness. Movements are stiff and straight forward.
4) The dogs are facing each other, staring at one another with their mouths closed and they look stiff.
5) When one dog asks to be left alone, the other dog continues the interaction.
6) When one dog attempts to escape from the location.
7) Vocalizations begin to change. They may get louder, higher or lower in pitch, or more frequent.
8) The dogs begin to spend a lot of time up on their rear legs instead of on all fours.
9) There are no breaks or pauses, thereby continually escalating the arousal levels which can then cross the line into aggression.
Lastly, avoid bringing toys and treats. Even throwing tennis balls attracts the attention of multiple dogs and has a high risk of causing a fight.
We are all so very lucky in that we are able to enjoy the love and company of our dogs. If everyone would just use common sense and have common courtesy for each other I think a great deal of these negative encounters could be avoided.