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Dogs Attacking Make News but What About Dogs Who Behave Well?

March 19, 2010

Saw this question posted from a reporter. Of course I had to add my two cents…

“There has been a spate of pit bull attacks and mauling’s of children in metro Atlanta. What can dog owners do for ALL dogs to help socialize them and raise them so they are not a threat to children or anyone else? Also looking for any classes or programs to help dog owners.”

It’s unfortunate that pit bulls have received the reputation they have. There are SO many other pure bred and mixed breed dogs that bite, but often get overlooked or go unreported. As a certified professional dog trainer I’ve worked with many dog training students whose dogs were bullied and even bitten by non pit bull canines. I even knew someone whose Manchester Terrier was killed by a Golden Retriever – but you don’t hear about those stories. It would be nice to see more stories about how the sweet pit bull behaves graciously around other animals and children.

Although breeds were bred for specific traits, and certain breeds can do a lot more damage that others, I think it’s unfair that we “profile”. And if we do, then as a society we need to do something to help the situation, not make it worse. Educating the public on dog behavior, more humane training methods that are effective in more ways than just getting the behavior, better monitoring of irresponsible breeding, and the cessation of dog fighting. And this is just a start!
Let it be known that 1) I am not breed biased 2) I adore pit bulls as much as any other breed, pure or mixed…But I’m more attracted to personality, not looks or pedigree. I mean hey, look at me, I myself am a mixed breed and not supermodel material – so you’re looking at someone that has relied more on her personality than anything else…except for my ability to cook ;->

To address this query allow me to say:

  • “What can dog owners do of ALL dogs to help socialize them and raise them so they are not a threat to children or anyone else?” > If the owner(s) begin with a puppy, begin socialization as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean taking their dog to an off-leash dog park when they’re 8 weeks old. But they can certainly introduce the puppy to new sights, smells, sounds, people and activities (car rides to the mall, schools, sitting on a lap in an outdoor cafe area) etc…You can protect the dogs health, while still exposing him or her to their new human surroundings. I understand vets wanting dogs to be protective health wise, but there are still safe measures for allowing dogs to be socialized to all I’ve mentioned above. More dogs are euthanized because of behavioral issues versus dying of health related problems.
  • Make experiences fun and non threatening: understand dog body language – Dogs will let you know if something is causing stress (stop eating is the first). Go slowly to socializing experiences, allowing the dog to build confidence.
  • Train using humane, non-threatening, non-coercive methods. Again, this goes back to “make it fun!” Some of the pop-culture methods involve intimidation and fear invoking methods. No animal responds in a happy way to that. He or she will “behave” out of fear of being hurt. Not a good way to motivate any animal.
  • For adult dogs, still practice taking him or her to various places to help them adapt, but again make it fun – and watch for signs of stress and other triggers that might cause a negative reaction. And if the dog does behave in an undesired way, do NOT punish. If you were upset, yelling at you, smacking you, and telling you were wrong wouldn’t make you less upset, right?
  • “Any classes or programs to help dog owners.” > Being a graduate from the SF SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, as well as other programs that are more science-based, I’d say to for dog owners to begin by looking for classes that are taught by certified professional dog trainers that have the same philosophy and use the same methodology for teaching – both the dogs and the humans.

There are some trainers that use “Positive Reinforcement”, but then they will also recommend choke, prong and electronic collars for “training”. The former is fine, but the latter can actually have the opposite effect and inadvertently train aggression into a dog. The same goes for squirt bottles and Citronella collars. A good site to look for trainers is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

I would also suggest owners contact the person training (or a knowledgeable assistant) and ask questions. Ask if they can observe a class, even for just 10 or 15 minutes (watching an entire class intrudes on those who have paid for the trainers time and information). Ask to talk with other students and get their feedback too.

Just like parents sending a child off to school, it’s important to check the school out and meet the staff and teachers first. Not just show up or ship them off without investigating. Same thing should go for dogs and dog training classes. Word of mouth is also a good way to go, as long as you trust the source.

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