Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dog Bite Prevention - Leash Laws are Good

In this 4th installment for Dog Bite Prevention Week, we address the issue of leash laws.  In a recent article from the LA Weekly, State Farm Insurance has ranked California as the leading state for dog bite claims.  State Farm cites it dealt with 449 claims in 2013 from California, which accounted for $14.7 million in canine-attack payouts by State Farm.   Los Angeles accounted for 61 attacks on Postal employees.  Although, the statistics do not seem to take into account pet population or housing density, these statistics do raise the issue of why the dogs are not behind secure fences, indoors or on leash.

There seems to be a growing trend for people to disregard leash laws and allow their dogs to walk off leash or roam their neighborhoods unattended. Several incidents have happened in recent months which motivated me to write a blog about leash laws.  I have had several clients involved in incidents with off-leash dogs during neighborhood walks.  In some cases, the off-leash dog and their dog got into an altercation.  I have also worked with clients who have come to me after their dog had been attacked by an off-leash dog.  In such cases, the dog is often traumatized and shows aggression to other dogs after the attack.

While it may be a sign of pride that your dog can walk off-leash or it may be based on the notion, that the dog is happier off-leash, leash laws serve several very important functions which help protect both the public and the animals living within city limits.

First, leashes help keep the dog within the owner's control.  The leash will prevent your dog from getting into an altercation with another dog.  Even though you think your dog is friendly, the other dog may not be friendly or may be very fearful.  In addition, your dog may not like every dog he/she encounters. Leashes help prevent serious injuries from such encounters.

Second, not every human likes dogs.  There are some people who are very frightened of dogs and being confronted by an off-leash dog (even if friendly), can be traumatic.  In addition, children can be knocked over by a large, enthusiastic dog.  Keeping your dog on leash respects other people's space and possible discomfort towards your pet.

Third, many people are working with reactive and/or leash aggressive dogs.  Running into an off-leash dog can not only trigger an aggressive encounter, but can also set that person's training backwards.  Many of these dogs are fearful and having a predictable environment helps the dog overcome that fear.  Running into off-leash dogs when outside the safety of that dog's home can reinforce aggressive and fearful behavior.  Many of my clients who are working with their reactive dogs have had runs with off-leash dogs and it is unfortunate that these run-ins can have such a negative impact on someone's training program.

Fourth, your dog may not respond to your verbal cues 100% of the time and there is always a possibility that your dog will chase somebody's cat and do harm to that animal.  In a similar vein, your dog may chase another animal into oncoming traffic and run the risk of being hit by a car.

For people who allow their dogs to roam the neighborhood unattended (and yes, I see these dogs all the time), the same arguments apply.  Your dog may be hit by a car or may wander into someone else's property where there is a territorial resident dog.     Not only are there penalties for free-roaming dogs but there are issues of liability if that dog harms another person or animal or damages someone else's property.

So while many people have idealized notions of walking their dog off-leash, this is not practical or safe for a busy and crowded city streets like Los Angeles. There are designated beaches, hiking areas and parks where dogs can safely be off-leash.  Leashes are not only for your protection but for the protection of other people and their dogs as well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dog Bite Prevention - Children and Dogs

I am sure my parents thought this was cute
but the look on my face is not too happy. A friend
pointed out that the dogs are also stealing food off my
tray.  Hey mom and dad, a little management please.
Fortunately, no harm came to this baby.
One of my earliest childhood memories of a dog showing aggression towards me was when I was probably about 3-4 years old and I was with my 4-5 year old toy poodle (we had 3 of them at the time). I had a fisher-price type train toy and I decided to play choo-choo train and my dog was going to be the caboose.  I tied the string of the toy around my dog and then my dog growled at me. Add to the fact that this young dog was completely blind and he did not do more is quite tolerant.  At some point one of my parents came in, untied the dog and got mad at me for bothering the dog.  Needless to say, I never teased or mistreated my dog for the rest of his long life.

Sadly, small children under 12 years old are one of the most frequent recipients of dog bites. According to the AVMA, children between the ages of 5-9 are at greater risk of being bitten and seriously injured by that dog bite. Approximately 400,000 children receive medical attention every year. Most of the injuries inflicted on children are from everyday interactions with familiar or family pets. Children move faster than adults and toddlers move in a manner that seems erratic and odd to dogs.  This video from Dr. Sophia Lin and illustrated by Lili Chin (the artist who did the doggy drawings on my website), really captures what a small child seems like from a dog's perspective:

This video highlights the importance of supervision and management when young children and dogs are in the same room or area. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
Be vigilant of stress signals - If a dog is showing stress, increase distance between the dog and the child.  If you are in a house, separate the children and dogs using baby gates, crates or separate rooms.  The following video is a summary of the major signals dogs exhibit when stressed:

Most dogs do not like hugs (or kisses) - there is a tendency for young children to want to hug, kiss or grab dogs much like a stuffed animal and this runs the risk of a bite to the face. Unlike primates, most dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed on the face so it is wise to make it a practice not to do this with your own dog so your child will not assume that it is o.k. to do it to other dogs.  Teaching gentle petting is a better alternative.  As I was contemplating this article I looked through all my childhood photos of me and my dogs and sadly in almost all of them, I have my dog in a tight choke hold.  Another interaction that can provoke a dog is putting your face too close to a dog's face. Many children want to do this and try to kiss the dog.

Not digging on the hug 
Notice the flattened ears and head tilting away from the person. 
My dog is shy and is uncomfortable being grabbed or hugged by people.

Tolerating the Hug
This dog (who is blind) is tolerating the hug. 
Notice the tense mouth and expression. 

Tolerating the hug better
My dog is more relaxed,
I am not grabbing around the neck
but over the back

Here is a happy dog. 
Face relaxed, mouth relaxed, perky expression
Apparently my dad had better manners than me.
But then, they are in Hawaii so who wouldn't be happy. 
Teach your child the appropriate way to approach an unfamiliar dog - it is important to supervise your child around other animals. Teach your child to never touch another person's pet without permission and that you must be present.  Here is a summary and video:
  • Instruct your children that a parent needs to be with them before approaching a dog.
  • Stand 6 feet away from the dog
  • Ask the owner for permission
  • Look for stress signals (see video above)
  • Stand still, let the dog come to you, do not go to the dog or hover over the dog. If the dog does not want to come, leave the dog alone.
  • Let the dog smell your closed hand
  • Remember - dogs don't like hugs.  Gentle petting if the dog shows you he/she is receptive
  • If the dog shows stress signals or growls, stop what you are doing and slowly back away (don't run or yell).  See my article on what to do if your dog growls at you.

Running or Loose dogs:  Children should not yell or run away from dogs that are loose.  This can cause the dog to chase and knock down the child. It is better for the child to stand still (like a tree) and stay still until the dog loses interest and goes away. Here is a video from Doggone Safe that demonstrates this concept:

Read this article by Joan Orr for a more detailed description of how to stand like a tree

Parents should never leave a dog unattended with a child under the age of 12 years old no matter how gentle your dog seems.  A few months ago an infant was killed by the family golden retriever/lab mix.  The child was left in a swing while the father fell asleep in another room.  There are many stories like this every year and children left alone in baby swings is a common theme.  Moreover, any breed is capable of harming a child. Do not assume that your nice family dog is not going to react to a child teasing him/her.  As my story with the choo-choo train illustrates, toddlers and kids can do some pretty crazy things.

Respect a dog's boundaries. Teach children not to touch or poke dogs when they are sleeping, in a crate, eating or behind a fence.    If you have resident dogs, you may want to create a "safe zone" where dogs can eat in peace and rest when things get really active around the house.  Crate training is also a helpful tool.  Dogs behind a barrier can get frustrated and dogs behind other people's fences can be territorial so teaching children not to bother dogs behind barriers is also important. Barriers include crates, gates, fences and the inside of a car. Riding a dog like a horse will provoke a dog to bite and can harm the dog physically. 

It is important to teach children not to
bother dogs when they are sleeping.  It is also important to
teach children not to put their face in a dog's face

Dogs can get defensive behind boundaries or areas where they sleep. 
Instruct children to leave dogs alone when they are in these areas. 
Note:  Yawning can be a stress is a stress signal

For dog owners - many dogs are afraid of young children. As highlighted in my earlier post, most dog bites inflicted on people are on children and senior citizens.  For this reason, early socialization and puppy classes are important for puppy owners. Many people think puppy socialization means socializing with other dogs.  This is only one facet of a dog's social development. Socialization includes socialization with different people including children and senior citizens.  Dog training classes also help build a dog's confidence and teach your dog some basic training skills and manners which will help your dog behave more acceptably in public.

If you have a dog that is afraid of children or certain people, follow the tips addressed in my previous article on how to greet a dog.  This includes recognizing signs of stress in your dog, managing your dog's space, providing a safe place for your dog and working with a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement-based approaches to address this type of behavior.  With children, very strict supervision and management is required. Instruct guests and children how to interact with your dog and always supervise. If your dog is very stressed when children are at the house or if you are too busy or distracted to supervise, it is better to put your dog in a "safe place" until the children leave.  Children and strangers should not hug or grab your dog, hover over your dog or rub the dog's belly because your dog may act defensively. 

Fortunately, for me, my little blind poodle was very tolerant and was my best friend for many years until he died at the age of 17. Despite his early onset blindness, he could find his way around a two story house and hang out in the back yard with no problem.  Does anyone else have any fond memories of their childhood dog?

Los Angeles Dog Training:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dog Bite Prevention

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week and here are a few tips to minimize the risk of dog bites:

Learn a dog's stress signals

In my last blog on Canine Body Language I go over some of the common postures and stress signals that dogs exhibit.  Here are a few stress signals to be on the look out for:  frequent yawning, licking lips, ears pulled back, pacing, panting.  If your dog is stressed, do not force them to meet someone they are afraid of.  In a similar vein, learn your dog's aggressive stances.  This could include stiff body, very still body, ears forward, body leaning forward, hackles raised, tight/closed mouth, hard stare, curled lip, growling and snarling.  Here is a video showing some common stress signals:

Respect these signals and remove your dog from the situation that is causing stress by increasing the distance.  Don't worry about offending a stranger.  Your dog's well-being is more important.  If your dog is frequently afraid of strangers, work with a dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a behavior modification program to help your dog feel more at ease around strangers.  It is important to choose a professional who focuses on positive reinforcement methods.  If you meet someone else's dog exhibiting these signals when you approach them, stop and slowly back off to give the dog more space. 

Appropriate Greetings and Interactions

Besides being able to read a dog's body language or stress signals, another factor that can reduce the incidence of dog bites is knowing how to greet a dog in a manner that will put the dog at ease.  Here are a few tips:

1) Stop 5-6 feet in front of the dog.  This is usually the distance that a dog is comfortable with and is also the length of most leashes if the dog is on a walk.

2)   Ask the owner if you can pet the dog.  If the owner hesitates or says the dog is not always friendly, move on.  If you are the owner and you notice that your dog is fearful or showing stress signals, ask the person to stop moving forward and refrain from reaching towards your dog.

3)  Turn your side to the dog  - dogs are often more comfortable when your side is facing them rather than facing them head on.   By turning your side to the dog, it makes them more comfortable to approach you.

4)Let the dog approach you - rather than going towards the dog and invading their space, let them approach you.  If the dog does not want to approach you or shows you the stress signals mentioned above, then leave the dog be and do not try to pet the dog. 

5)  Pet the side of the body or neck - avoid blind spots like the top of the head. Fearful dogs do not like to be petted on top of the head and do not like people hovering over them. 
Here is a video showing the steps:


Sadly, small children under 9 years old are one of the most frequent recipients of dog bites.  Children move faster than adults and toddlers move in a manner that seems erratic and odd to dogs.  This video from Dr. Sophia Lin and illustrated by Lili Chin (the artist who did the doggie drawings on my website), really captures what a small child seems like from a dog's perspective:

This video highlights the importance of supervision and management when young children and dogs are in the same room or area. There is a tendency for young children to want to hug, kiss or grab dogs much like a stuffed animal and this runs the risk of a bite to the face. It is therefore important to teach children how to appropriately greet a dog.  Most dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed on the face and make it practice not to do this with your own dog. Be vigilant of stress signals and teach your child the appropriate way to approach and handle a dog

This dog is tolerating the hug but is shying away from close contact with the person's face. Notice the flattened ears and head tilting away from the person.  Teach your children appropriate ways to interact with a dog that helps put the dog at ease.

Runners and Bicycles

If you have a dog that reacts to fast moving objects, be vigilant and aware of oncoming runners and cyclists.  Make a point of teaching your dog to sit and stay so that you can step out of the path and give enough space to allow the person to go by.  If you have a dog, that lunges and goes after runners or cyclists, consult with a trainer to help your dog learn to handle people and bicycles moving quickly by them.   When I run or jog behind a person with a dog, I try to give them a heads up several seconds before I approach them to give them a chance to move out of the way and not surprise them.

These are a few tips to help you understand canine body language and how to approach a dog safely.