The Humane Society has stated that dog bites have become an epidemic. While I agree that the more than five million bites recorded annually are of epidemic proportions, it doesn’t make sense to classify dog bites themselves as an epidemic. They are not a contagious disease that has been allowed to run rampant and there is no connection between one dog bite and another.
Furthermore, I reject the premise that dog bites are always a deliberate action on the part of dogs. Rather, most dog bites are a reaction to some external stimulus. I’m not suggesting that biting is a justifiable reaction, just that the reaction is often explainable. There are reasons why dogs become aggressive and violent.
I recognize that sometimes dogs attack without any apparent provocation, but somehow the public gets the message that all dog bites are of this variety. It seems that the media’s thirst for sensationalism has caused them to focus more on extreme examples of dog misbehavior rather than presenting the whole story.
A more balanced representation of attacks both provoked and unprovoked by the media would be much fairer for this noble animal. Additionally, this approach could help educate the public on how to avoid being bitten by a dog rather than causing them to panic every time they see a canine unleashed.
Sadly, the result of the one-sided press is often less public tolerance and ultimately unspeakable slaughter for a species of animal whose history has been one of service and companionship to us. For every dog bite there are a million wagging tails and careless kisses that go unreported. However, every day in our country, many dogs are euthanized simply because they exhibited aggressive behavior.
When men commit unspeakable acts of violence and murder, we imprison them, but we provide them with shelter, food, medical benefits, and educational opportunities at virtually no cost to them. But let the family pet fend off a neighborhood teenager who hits it with a stick and that animal is quickly snatched away, taken to the nearest shelter and scheduled for destruction.
I’m not saying we should give badly behaved animals a free pass. Rather I am saying that with a little more awareness and effort, most dogs can be trained not to be aggressive and the public can be aware of how to avoid being bitten.
If you have a dog, there are certain things you need to do to ensure that your animal does not develop aggressive behavior. He / she can display good behavior in your presence, but you need to make sure that he / she acts the same way when you are not around. There are certain steps that every responsible dog owner should take to help their best friend develop properly. Here’s an acronym to help you remember several critical points to make sure your dog is a “good boy / girl.” The word is STOP (as in “keep them from biting”).
S: spay or neuter. Only about 25% of dog bites come from dogs that have been spayed or neutered. There are different opinions on why this is so, but whatever the reason, it works. Aside from the other benefits of performing this procedure, give your best friend a head start on good behavior by spaying or neutering him.
T – Training. Formal and professional training is best, but if you prefer to do the work yourself, consult with experts or read featured books on the subject. Make sure your dog responds not only to your commands, but also to those of your immediate family. Train them to be sociable with members of your household and with visitors. Don’t isolate them in the backyard with a chain. This almost guarantees behavior problems. Rather, teach people in positive situations and teach them to be comfortable with them.
O – Watch. If possible, observe how your dog behaves around other people without them knowing you are looking at him. Also, consider installing a video camera in the house while you are away for a few hours to see how they react to outside noise, ringtones, deliveries, other pets, etc. This may seem like an extreme measure, but you might be surprised at what you find. If you discover problems, go back to the “T” above to correct them.
P – Play. Playing is important to an animal, as it is to people. As silly as this may sound, they need a distraction from their leisure life, a time to get excited and burn off energy. Play with them. Run through the forest with them. Go swim with them. Avoid anything that can promote aggressive behavior, such as saying “sic em” when you see a bird or squirrel, but get them to expend their energy in a positive way.
Balls were made for children and dogs. Use them, use them. Make them have a good time and they will be happy. The worst thing I’ve ever seen make a dog happy was drool over someone. That may make them feel challenged by their manners, but it doesn’t make them a bad dog. Make sure your pet knows the difference between being good and being bad. If they are properly trained and socialized, they should be able to understand the difference.
Now this takes care of your dog, but what about other people’s dogs? What can you do to protect yourself and your family from a dog that has not been properly trained and socialized when it displays aggressive and threatening behavior? Let’s use another acronym. The word this time is SCARS (as in how to avoid getting them from an aggressive dog).
S – Strangers. You must be very careful when approaching or being approached by a strange dog. Of course, the danger is relative according to the size of the dog. I don’t think an angry Chihuahua is a threat to someone like an angry Doberman, for example; so exercise due caution. Remember that the dog doesn’t know you either and, to them, you are big and threatening in your own right. You make them feel uncomfortable.
C – Control. When you find yourself in a situation where a strange dog shows aggressive behavior towards you, try to control the way it reacts. The old axiom that animals can smell fear is probably best expressed in the sense that they can “see” fear. If a dog growls at you and you start yelling and running like a cartoon character on a Saturday morning, the dog is likely chasing you.
Every situation is different, but in general, it is a good idea not to turn around and run, not yell, and not make eye contact with the animal. If the dog approaches you, it is recommended that you keep your arms, legs and hands close to your body. Staying in control is important. It is similar to not splashing in the water when a shark is nearby. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
A – Consciousness. Don’t surprise a sleeping dog. Let them know that you are there. They can be scared like people and their initial reaction will be to run away with their tails between their legs or to stand up and defend themselves. The former is preferred over the latter, but there is no guarantee that this is how they will react when disturbed.
Therefore, when approaching a sleeping dog, or one that is concerned and does not see your approach, be sure to inform him of your presence well before you are close enough to scare him away. Often they will only give an initial shallow bark and then go about their business.
R – Respect. If possible, adhering to the old cliché “let sleeping dogs lie down” is a good rule of thumb to follow. Some dogs wake up as grumpy as people and are best left to sleep. Also, dogs that are eating, feeling sick, pregnant, or nursing a litter require a bit more respect than the dog wagging its tail toward you. Just as we covet our personal space, they want theirs too. Respect their needs and you will have fewer problems.
S – Substitute. If all else fails and you are sure an attack is imminent, be prepared to substitute a piece of clothing or something you are wearing in place of your body. We have all seen the nature documentary where a hiker throws his backpack at a carrying bear. The bear stops to investigate this “present,” giving the hiker valuable time to escape. Dogs are curious creatures too. If you throw your bag, shirt or shoe in their path, they will most likely stop to investigate. You can always come back later and collect your belongings.
In short, most dog attacks don’t have to happen. They can be avoided. It just takes a little effort on the part of dog owners and common sense on the part of the rest of us.