Category: behavior

How Much Do You Know About Dog Bite Prevention? Take Our Quiz.

It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week.  Each year the American Veterinary Medical Association partners with a coalition of companies and non-profits to present information about dog bites in the US and ways to prevent them. Because any dog may bite, and too many of them do.

How big is the problem of dog bites in the US?   The answers may surprise you.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week: How Much Do You Know About Dog Bites?

Take our quiz to learn more.  

Now that you know the basics, keep reading to learn more about ways you can help prevent dog bites.

Respect your dog as a dog

All dogs have the potential to be dangerous by virtue of their instincts as a predatory species. For this reason, you should never assume that any dog will not bite.  Dog breeds involved in fatal dog attacks in the US include those with a positive reputation as excellent family pets.

Although our dogs are beloved family members, it is important to remember that they are not human.  Dog parents should respect their dog’s natural tendencies.  Aggression is a natural and context-dependent behavior, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (ASVAB).  Whether and how a dog expresses aggression is influenced by early environment, genetics, learning, and physical and mental health.

Understand your dog’s breed characteristics

Since 1998, dog bite reports do not not include breed information for many reasons including the difficulty of accurate breed identification.  However, this does not mean that breed-specific behaviors are not important.  Humans have bred dogs through many generations for specific character traits.  Working breeds such as border collies and German shepherds often strongly express such traits. Therefore it is important to know what types of behaviors your dog may express as result of her breed.  For instance, herding dogs have a strong tendency to chase moving objects.  Bites, especially to the lower legs, can be a result of overzealous herding behavior.  Learn more about the tendencies of specific dog breeds at the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Know your dog’s triggers

Dogs are individuals, and you will quickly learn your own dog’s triggers for aggression. Even if your dog does not generally express aggression, it is important to remember that any dog may lash out when pushed too far. There are certain triggers common to most dogs.  These include resource guarding (think food bowl, toys, and territory) and response to sudden or fast movements.  Consequently, people running, biking, or skating may trigger aggression. Dogs may learn other triggers as a result of adverse experiences.  For instance, a dog that has been punished by hitting may learn to snap at an outreached hand.

The key to preventing dog bites is to avoid these triggers.  Don’t become too complacent if your dog is very well-behaved.  Always be observant and react quickly if a situation arises.  For those living in apartments or dense urban housing communities, avoiding triggers may be especially important.  Check out our post on dealing with reactive dogs for some helpful tips to keep your dog safe.

Socialize early and often

For those of you lucky enough to have a puppy at home, the importance of proper socialization cannot be overemphasized.  Take your puppy to as many places as you can.  Find a puppy class near you.  Expose her to new situations. Join a social group.  In the Kansas City area, the KC Dog Club and the Bar K Dog Bar offer opportunities for socialization.

Most dog bites can be prevented by taking common-sense precautions.

Preventing dog bites doesn’t have to be difficult.  In most, but not all, dog-attack incidents, pet parents failed to follow basic, common sense rules for dog safety.

Always supervise your dog when small children are present.

Unfortunately, small children are often the victims of dog aggression.  Never leave a baby or small child alone with any dog. Period.  However, even a well supervised dog may bite.  If your dog stiffens, closes her mouth, or licks her lips, she may not be happy with her situation.  Learn how to recognize the signs of stress in your dog at the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Always supervise your dog closely in novel situations.

Dogs are creatures of habit, and they like their routines.  Exposure to new places, people, or experiences can make dogs fearful.  When dogs are fearful, their threshold for aggressive response to triggers may be lower.

Do not chain or tie your dog outside.

Avoid chaining any dog, for many reasons.  A chained or tied-up dog can easily become protective of her limited territory. Chained dogs may also become frustrated and irritable.  Additionally, a chained dog is usually easily accessible from the street or sidewalk.  Therefore, a chained dog can easily become a recipe for disaster when a passer-by approaches the dog and is taken by surprise.  One thing is very clear.  Dogs that are kept outside (or inside) with minimal human interaction are more likely to express aggression.  Simply by making your dog an important member of your household you have taken an important step in minimizing dog bites or attacks.

Do not let your dog run free.

Your dog is your responsibility.  A dog left to his own devices can easily become dangerous, either to himself, local wildlife, or other people.  Always supervise your dog as you would your child.

Use an appropriate muzzle when needed

Don’t underestimate the value of a muzzle in preventing dog bites, especially if you know your dog may snap in certain situations.  You will find a good guide to types of muzzles and when to use them at the AKC.  Muzzles are always a temporary solution, and are no substitute for training and desensitization.

Seek professional help if your dog is aggressive

Finally, seek the help of a professional right away if your dog is aggressive.  All too often, dogs involved in bites or attacks have a history of aggressive behavior that their pet parents did not address. Don’t simply tolerate aggressive behavior.  Treat it before it becomes a problem. Dog aggression is a complex behavior, and professional help is almost always necessary to correct it.  Using the wrong techniques can cause the behavior to worsen, or may lead your dog to become aggressive to you.

You can learn more about National Dog Bite Prevention Week at the AVMA.

 

Image: Shutterstock.com

Is Your Dog a Canine Good Citizen?

Do you think your dog has what it takes to be a  Canine Good Citizen?

The American Kennel Club (AKC) certifies dogs as Canine Good Citizens (CGCs) through a training program and practical examination.  It’s not easy to be become a CGC!

The Test

The practical exam is non-competitive and consists of 10 parts. The examination items cited below are listed on the AKC CGC webpage.

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger.  Your dog will allow a stranger to approach and engage in friendly conversation with you.
  2. Sitting politely for petting:  Your dog allows a friendly stranger to pet her.
  3. Appearance and grooming: Your dog will permit someone other than you to check his front feet.
  4. Walking on a loose lead
  5. Walking through a crowd:  Your dog must demonstrate the ability to move comfortably on a leash through a crowded space with you.  You will move close to at least three different people, demonstrating that your dog is  under control at all times.
  6. Sit and down on command and stay in place.  You may choose whether your dog stays in “sit” or “down” position.
  7. Coming when called:  Your dog will come when called.  This will be a long-leash exercise and your dog will return from 10 feet away.
  8. Reaction to another dog:  Your dog will sit quietly when a person and another dog stop to engage you in friendly conversation.
  9. Reaction to distraction: The examiner will create two different distractions such as a dropped chair.  Your dog must remain calm and under control.
  10. Supervised separation:  This demonstrates that you are able to leave your dog with a caregiver.  You will give your dog’s leash to the evaluator and go out of sight for three minutes.  Your dog must not bark, whine, or show anything other than mild agitation or nervousness.

The Pledge

You will also be asked to take a pledge to commit to proper veterinary care, exercise, training, grooming, hygiene, and safety.  The aim of the pledge is to ensure that dog owners understand their dog’s needs and are dedicated to being good dog parents.

Training for the Test

Classes often start with basic obedience, and dogs progress to CDC qualification.  It’s easy to find an AKC training club through the AKC locator.  Even if there are no AKC clubs offering training classes in your area, there are probably local certified evaluators who can point you to a trainer.  We found several certified evaluators in the Kansas City area, and many trainers that offer classes.  You can find a list on our Resources page.

The Benefits

Why should you consider Canine Good Citizen training for your dog?  It’s a prerequisite for many therapy dog programs.  Certification is sometimes required to keep a dog in a rental property.  And getting your dog certified may make homeowner’s or renters insurance pet riders easier to get.  For owners of certain breeds, certification may be the difference between having and not having liability insurance for your dog.

And best of all, perhaps, when your dog is certified s/he gets to proudly claim the title CGC.

Kids at Dog Parks?

Dog parks are meant to be safe spaces for dogs to play and exercise off-leash.  They are less safe for children.  This includes indoor dog play spaces and anywhere else that dogs are running free, being dogs.  In fact, many dog parks have rules against children younger than a certain age, usually 8 -10 years.  Here are some reasons why cities and private dog park owners may ban young children.

Disease risk

It’s a singularly bad idea to let small children crawl or sit on the ground at a dog park.  Although we like to think that all dogs playing at a park are well vaccinated and properly dewormed, this is not always the case.  Dog urine and dog feces can transmit diseases and parasites to people.  Even after the waste is removed, the disease agents may still be present on the grass and in the soil.  And while the floors of indoor dog parks can be cleaned, disinfection is never perfect.

Bite risk

Not all dogs are familiar with children.  Many dogs have not been socialized to kids.  Children can trigger biting by reaching for an unfamiliar dog. And even when dogs are well-socialized to children, the presence of a running child can trigger chasing or hunting behavior.  Yelling and screaming may agitate some dogs and can lead to fear-aggressive behaviors, including snapping. Strollers, baby packs, and even babies in their parents’ arms may be threatening to some dogs.  Finally, children may inadvertently end up in the middle of a dog fight and be bitten by mistake.  This is especially true if kids bring food or dog treats into the park.

Risk of other injury

Anyone who has been to a dog park knows that they are frequently the scene of high-speed chases.  A dog running at full speed can collide with a person unintentionally.  For an adult, this usually means a fall and possible knee injury.  For a small child, being hit by a dog could lead to much more serious injury.  Pet parents know to watch out for running dogs, but small children most likely will not.

Overexuberant friendly dogs may injure children by jumping on them. Young children getting absolutely mobbed by friendly dogs at a dog park may look cute, but it’s not all tail wags and face licks.  Kids can be knocked over or scratched by these dogs.

General Safety Rules

Remember that dogs will be dogs, especially at the dog park.  Everyone is safer when humans respect the natural behaviors of dogs.  If you choose to bring children to the dog park, following some basic rules will help keep both children and dogs safe.

  • Know the rules at your dog park.  Don’t bring babies or toddlers if they aren’t allowed.
  • Toddlers and babies should be in arms if you choose to bring them.
  • Leave your strollers outside the park
  • All children should be supervised closely while in the dog park.
  • Never let any child play on the grass or dirt in a dog park.
  • Make sure your child knows that she must always ask permission  before touching an unfamiliar dog.
  • Children should be quiet while in the dog park and avoid sudden movements.
  • Keep your children close to you at all times.
  • Don’t bring people food or treats into the park.

Do Dogs Feel Guilt?

Do dogs feel guilt?  If you own a dog, chances are you have seen the look.  When your dog greets you with head down, eyes averted, and crouching, you look around for the mess. You probably find garbage on the floor. But is the guilty response a reaction to a guilty conscience, or to you?  A new article in The Atlantic questions the widely-held belief that dogs can harbor a guilty conscience.

Popular culture and dog shaming

Whether or not dogs actually experience guilt in the same way as humans, people have capitalized on the guilty behaviors of their canine friends.  Dog shaming is a popular internet meme in which owners post images of their dogs with a sign detailing some recent misbehavior.  And it’s true.  Many of the dogs in these images look properly abashed.  Some trainers instruct dog parents to scold their dog even when they don’t catch him in the act.  Popular culture assigns the full range of human emotions and logical reasoning ability to our canine companions.

Admittedly, dogs do an impressive job of convincing us that they feel guilty or remorseful.  But does science provide any evidence?

Is there scientific evidence that dogs feel guilt?

In addition to our own intuition that dogs indeed experience basic human emotions like, joy, fear, anger, and disgust, there is reasonable evidence that this is the case.  There is less behavioral evidence to suggest that dogs feel more complex human emotions such as jealousy or guilt.  Much research has been conducted around the ways dogs relate to human emotions, but behavioral science has not prioritized studies to demonstrate whether or not dogs experience emotions.  However, the topic of dog guilt has been evaluated in some excellent and convincing studies over the past decade.

Horowitz, 2009:

Researcher Alexandra Horowitz studied 14 dog-human pairs and investigated the context of the so called “guilty look.”  In a series of trials, the dogs were shown a treat and instructed by their owners not to eat it.  The owner left the room and the dog was either allowed by the experimenter to eat or not eat the treat.  The owner was called into the room and told whether or not her dog ate the treat.

In two of the trials, the owners were deliberately given the wrong information.  The experimenter videotaped the entire trial and the dog’s responses were analyzed.  This study showed that dogs expressed the guilty look equally whether or not they had eaten the treat.  However, dogs that were scolded were much more likely to express the guilty behavior.  Interestingly, dogs that did not eat the treat but were scolded were more likely to look guilty.  The results of this study suggest that expression of guilt was associated with perception of the dog’s guilt by the owner.  It should also be noted that the three dogs whose owners routinely used physical means to scold them were three of the four dogs with the highest number of guilty behaviors.

Hecht, 2012:

A follow-up study with a similar design demonstrated that owners were able to correctly determine whether or not their dog ate the treat by how the dog behaved.  However, the study was set up in such a way that in a baseline trial owners were allowed to see whether or not their dog ate the treat.  These owners were allowed to scold the dog if she ate the treat during the baseline.  It is reasonable to think that these owners were likely biased by knowing their pet ate or didn’t eat the treat at the first trial.  This study also did not include experimental manipulation of owners’ knowledge about their dogs guilt.

Ostojic, 2015:

In this study, investigators repeated key feature of the Horowitz and Hecht experiments.  However, they controlled the baseline period in such a way that testing began only after all dogs learned not to take the treat while owners were in the room.  Similar to the Howoritz study, owners were sometimes intentionally given the wrong verbal and visual information about whether their dog ate the treat or not.  Ninety-six dog/human pairs were tested in this study.  The study showed that the owners were not able to detect whether or not their dog had eaten the treat based on their dog’s behavior more than they would have by chance alone.  This study also suggests that dog’s guilty behavior is more to do with our behavior than it is a guilty conscience.

These studies were not designed to determine whether or not dogs feel guilt.  Rather, they were designed to examine whether the guilty look expressed by dogs is related to our human behaviors.  Dogs may feel guilt.  Unfortunately, there is not yet good evidence that they do so.   There is good evidence that the behavior we think expresses guilt is more an indicator of our dog’s response to us.  This makes good sense in light of the ways in which dogs have evolved to read and react to human emotions.

Let’s come back to the garbage on the floor.  Your dog probably comes to the door with a guilty look, even before you have seen the mess.  Isn’t that an indication of guilt?  Perhaps.  But it may also be a reaction to a memory of the last time you scolded him for garbage on the floor.  He’s smart, and he has a good memory.  He can also, it seems, put two and two together.

bad dog good dog, border collie, black and white, dog sign, dog shaming, guilt
Bad dog or good dog? Dogs may express guilty behavior even when they are not guilty.

Hecht, J. et al, Behavioral assessment and owner perceptions of behaviors associated with guilt in dogs, Applied Animal Behav Science, 2012; 139: 134-142

Horowitz, Disambiguating the “guiltylook”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour, Behavioural Processes, 2009; 81: 447-452.

Ostojic et al, Are owners’ reports of their dogs “guilty look”influenced by the dogs’ action and evidence of the misdeed? Behavioural Processes, 2015; 111:97-100