RSS

Tag Archives: dogs

The end of the road: contemplating euthanasia.

I’ve been watching my young dog grow old for a while now, and I hate it. Luce was the first young dog I ever owned as an adult. I picked her out of the shelter based on her ridiculous ears and her serious expression. We took her into the “Getting to Know You” room and she dove snorting into my lap and then covered my face with kisses. I did not need to look further– I had found my dog.

She was never an easy dog. She was reactive, dog-aggressive, and incredibly energetic and athletic. If you turned her loose in a fenced yard, the first thing she’d do was check the fence for any sign of weakness, any loose boards. She was extremely smart and she used that power for naughtiness.

Escape artist

Escape artist

She was the first dog I ever trained, and she taught me so much. She taught me to think outside the box. She taught me that rewarding is more powerful than punishing. She taught me that even a crazy dog like her could learn to behave in public, even around other dogs.

She was the first dog I ever competed with, starting in Rally Obedience where she was on leash the entire time (and I very clearly remember telling my obedience instructor at the time that they could have my leash when they could pry it from my cold, dead hand). We quickly progressed to off-leash levels, and she kicked butt. She finished her career with a laundry list of titles after her name and a very proud mama.

That was years ago.

Now she’s twelve, arthritic, and senile.

Both of her knees are crunchy with arthritis and it’s hard for her to go up and down the stairs. She needs a boost to get into the car or onto my bed. But arthritis is something we can deal with, you know? There are plenty of medication options. There are joint supplements. And if those aren’t enough, there are things like cold laser therapy and acupuncture that might help. We have so many options for treating pain in dogs, so when our first medication choice didn’t do enough, we were able to switch to a second one that might work better.

But the senile part, that’s what I feel so helpless about. She barks and barks at me and I can’t figure out what she wants. She gets up and pees on the floor with no warning instead of asking to go out (and she doesn’t have an infection). She barks about everything. She never used to bark at all, even when the doorbell rang.

She goes off by herself when she used to be my shadow. She lays on the couch and doesn’t move all day.

I have no idea why I'm barking but I'm barking!

I have no idea why I’m barking but I’m barking!

And I question myself about whether she’s happy, about whether this is a good quality of life for her.

I think she is happy, or at least content. She’s old and snoring the day away on a comfortable couch isn’t a bad deal. She loves her food and is happy to spend her time licking canned dog food out of a Kong. She can’t hear, but she can still snag a french fry out of the air without hesitation. She can’t handle hiking anymore, but she loves to go for car rides. She sits up all proud of herself in the front seat and knows that she’s important.

But I see the decline and it worries me whether or not I’ll be able to let go when it’s time, whatever that means. She’s my best friend and more than anything, I don’t want her to suffer. But nor can I imagine life without her. She has slept next to me in bed for 11 years. She has been my constant.

There are lots of suggestions on the internet about how to determine whether it is time to put your dog to sleep. Pick three things that your dog loves, and when she can’t do those things anymore, it’s time. But the things that Luce used to love to do have simply been replaced by things that she loves to do now. So how does that work? Some suggest that when your dog has more bad days than good days, it’s time. But what’s good and what’s bad and where do they equal out?

It’s so hard. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want her to suffer. But I don’t want to let her go before she’s ready.

Dr. Ron always says “decision of least regret”. And I believe that too early is better than too late. But why does it have to be so complicated?

Why does love have to be this hard?

The word “euthanasia” literally means “good death” and I am so grateful that we are able to give our pets this one last kindness. I am grateful that we can end suffering.

Comfortable old dog.

Comfortable old dog.

If you’re struggling with this with your own pet, please feel free to give us a call. Any of the staff would be happy to talk to you, and if you need more advice than what we can provide over the phone, we can always schedule your pet for a doctor visit. Sometimes a simple physical can lead to a clearer picture– if you’re thinking about putting your old dog to sleep because she is having trouble getting up, maybe pain medication will improve her quality of life. If your old cat is skinny and vomiting all over the place, perhaps he has a medical condition that we can treat. Or maybe it really is just time.

Every path is unique. Everybody’s answer is going to be different.

But we’re all doing it because we love them.

I know I’m not the only one out there who struggles with this– what has been helpful to you in making this hard decision? What are your tips?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Cats, Dogs, Health

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Rescue vs breeder: which is right for you?

There are a million places to get a new dog if you’re in the market for one. Some, like petstores or huge kennels, are never a good idea. But when it comes down to the simple question of do I get a puppy from a breeder or do I get an adult dog from a shelter or rescue, there are definite pros and cons to consider so that you can make the best choice for your household. Pros and cons are not universal— some people are more flexible and have a less specific vision of what works for them while others need predictability; some people do not want to deal with puppyhood while others can’t imagine bringing home anything but a puppy.

Sometimes there is no clear-cut answer, but lets lay out some of the pros and cons.

First let’s look at breeders. There is a world of variation in quality of breeders out there, but for the purposes of this post, let’s just talk about people who are breeding with quality in mind– people who afrank081209bre health-testing their dogs before breeding them (hip certifications, eye certifications– whatever is appropriate to the breed), who are doing their research before breeding and who care where their pups are going and what happens to them.

The pros of buying a puppy from a breeder:

  • You’ll have an idea of the genetic lines behind your dog including temperament and health. If you’re looking for a mellow house-dog Golden Retriever, you probably don’t want to buy a pup from somebody breeding high-energy hunting dogs. And you always, always want to know the family of dogs that your pup is coming from are healthy.
  • While genetics are always a bit of a wildcard, you’re doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. If you breed a dog with good hips to a dog with good hips, chances are pretty good that you’re going to get dogs with good hips. If you’re buying a pup of a breed that is prone to seizures, knowing that none of his immediate relatives have had seizures is a big plus. Nothing is absolute, but the odds are with you.
  • You’ll get a lifetime of support. A good breeder is invaluable in the assistance and knowledge they can provide. Plus, it’s nice to have a cheerleader sometimes, especially through those teenage months.
  • You get a health guarantee. Good breeders stand behind the pups that they’re producing. But be careful to read the fine print to see what exactly the guarantee is.
  • A good breeder will have already started the oh so important process of socialization. Pups will have been exposed to different sounds, different textures, different people. Some will have already been started on crate training. They’ll be on their way to being well-adjusted, happy dogs.
  • A good breeder will take back a dog at any time, no matter what. Your pup will always have a safe place to land if something happens that you can no longer keep him, or even if he is simply not a good match for your family.

So what about the cons?puppy4

  • Good breeders don’t breed often (a litter or two a year) so you will likely have to wait.
  • It takes time and effort on your part to find and reach out to breeders to find one who is a good match for you and your family.
  • Good breeders can be hard to find, especially if you don’t have connections in The Dog World.
  • The pricetag. No getting around it. It costs money to do things right, so your pup will cost a bit more. Although the purchase price is still a drop in the bucket compared to the price of caring for a dog for his lifetime, the initial layout of cash can still feel a bit painful.

On the flip side, there are tons of good dogs out there in shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. It’s a common myth that dogs in shelters are there because of behavior problems, but in this day and age, money, housing, and job changes are huge reasons for dogs not staying in their homes.

What are some benefits of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue?

  • Adult rescues are often very “what you see is what you get”, especially if they’ve been in foster care. You can get a good idea of what kind of dog you are bringing home, which takes some of the mystery out of adopting. You’ll know simple things such as size and coat type (it can be so hard to predict what mixed-breed pups are going to turn into when they grow up), but you’ll also get a good idea of temperament– is this dog good with other dogs? cats? kids?
  • Many dogs in shelters have already lived in somebody’s home and are housebroken and come with some basic skills. Training a new dog is important regardless because it is such a huge relationship-builder, but I’m always a big fan of pre-housebroken dogs, myself.
  • Most rescues will take back dogs that they’ve placed, again, for any reason, so if something should happen, the dog has a safe place to go.
  • You’re saving a life. Whether you adopt from a shelter that does put dogs to sleep due to overpopulation or you adopt from a no-kill rescue, you’re opening up a spot for another dog in need. Plus, there are simply some great dogs in shelters, and one of them might just be The Dog for you.

But there are also cbaltoons to adopting:

  • There are a lot of unknowns. You have no idea what kind of health issues the parents and grandparents of your new dog may have had. You get no health guarantee, and there’s no accountability.
  • With a puppy, you’re bringing home a complete wildcard. You might adopt a “Chihuahua mix” puppy and have it grow into a 30 pound dog. For some people, that’s part of the fun. For others, not so much.
  • You’re not getting a blank slate. When you bring home an adult dog, you’re bringing his history home with him. While a lot of behavior issues will be readily apparent before your pooch comes home, some are not. While a dog may not show issues in a highly structured foster home, for example, he may have some issues in your more relaxed home environment.
  • It can be a lot easier to teach manners to a puppy than to an 80 pound adolescent Labrador. Bad habits can be hard to break; it depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it.
  • Some rescues can be very inflexible in their screening. They want the best homes possible for the dogs in their care, and they have a very concrete vision of what that is. It can take some time to find a rescue that you mesh with. (Shelters tend to be much more flexible, but you lose the benefits of seeing what a dog is like in a foster home environment.)
  • If you have your heart set on a certain breed or type of dog, you may need to be very patient and persistent in your search. Some breeds are a dime a dozen in rescue, others are in much higher demand. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What dog breed is right for you?

Unfortunately for dogs (and for people!), one of the most common reasons for dogs being relinquished to shelters or rescues is not because there is anything wrong with the dog (or with the people), but simply because there is a mismatch between dog and human. A busy household that brings home a high energy breed and then doesn’t have the time to exercise it, resulting in a dog who destroys the house while everyone is away for the day is a good example. Or an elderly man whose well-intentioned child buys him a boisterous large breed puppy as a companion only to have the pup turn into a boisterous LARGE puppy, resulting in a dangerous situation for all. Or someone who depends on dog-park play as a way to exercise her dog bringing home a pit bull only to find out she doesn’t play well with other dogs.

All of these situations can end up extremely frustrating and potentially heart-breaking for the owners, and for dogs who get turned over to shelters, possibly life-threatening. And many of them can be avoided by being realistic about the type of dog who will fit into your lifestyle, as well as the traits that certain breeds are prone to.

So how do you avoid them?

1. Start with a list: What traits do you want in a dog? Do you want a couch-potato or do you want a marathon runner? Do you want a dog who is friendly with strangers or who is a one-person dog? Here’s the most important part: BE REALISTIC. Look at what your lifestyle really is. Even if the Border Collie you grew up with on the farm as a kid was the perfect dog, it doesn’t mean one will fit well into your 40-hour-work-week, small-apartment-with-no-yard adult lifestyle.

Do you legitimately have time to exercise that Labrador Retriever? Do you really want a protective dog when you have young children and their friends running through the house? When you say you want a smart dog, do you want a dog whose mind has to be occupied all the time or he’ll get into trouble occupying himself, or do you actually want a dog who is laid back and easy to train? Do you need a dog who plays well with other dogs?

Do you really want this?

Do you really want this?

Or would this be a better match?

Or would this be a better match?

2. Then make another list: What can you not live with? Again, be unflinchingly honest. Is an alarm bark when the mail drops through the slot ok but a dog who likes to announce every bird who flies past the house more than you can tolerate? How much fur are you willing to vacuum off the couch in an average week? Is it going to aggravate you having to scrub slobber off the walls? Can you afford to pay for a groomer every 6-8 weeks? Do you need a dog who is going to be good with kids and is it a deal-breaker if he is not?

Let me sing you the song of my people.

Let me sing you the song of my people.

3. Try a breed selector. There are a number of them available online, and some are better than others. Animal Planet has a nice one. So does Iams and Dogtime. The results you get are not written in stone, and you may get different results from one quiz to the next, but they can at least give you a jumping-off place and some different breeds to further explore to see if they are a good match for your lifestyle.

It is also important to keep in mind that while breed traits were developed with predictability in mind, all dogs are individuals. If you fell in love with your friend’s German Shepherd who has never met a stranger and loves everyone, keep in mind, that is not typical of the breed and that the pup you pick out may be suspicious and standoffish with strangers. It is really important to do your homework, especially if you are going to be getting a puppy.

Awww puppies!

Awww puppies!

There are some great websites out there that give you the basics on each breed. I really like the one on Vetstreet. But nothing is going to be a better educator than spending some time around dogs of that breed. This can be tricky if you’ve fallen for an unusual or rare breed (like the Cirneco D’Elletna that I’ve recently been eyeballing), so seeking them out at dog shows and talking to people in the breed might be extremely important. What looks good on paper may not translate into a good match in the house.

It might also be important to let go of preconceived notions. Not all Labs make great family dogs. In fact, many of them don’t. Dalmatians look great on the movie screen, but they were bred to run next to a carriage all day long and thus are extremely high energy. Bedlington Terriers might look like cute little lambs, but they can be very serious vermin-hunting terriers. Not all pit bulls are dog-aggressive but it needs to always be in your awareness (and it’s not all in how you raise them.

And not all Border Collies are dog-friendly.

And not all Border Collies are dog-friendly

To this end, it might be worth considering looking for an adult dog, whether a retired (or failed) show dog from a breeder or a pure or mixed-breed dog from a (breed-specific or all-breed) rescue or shelter. Adult dogs tend to be fairly “what you see is what you get”, and especially if you have a complicated, busy family (multiple dogs, kids, cats, whatever), finding the specific “right” dog for you- regardless of breed- is really what is going to make things work best in the end.

A good match makes all the difference.

A good match makes all the difference.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Dogs, Puppies

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Take a hike! (But safely!)

Hiking is a great way to take a breather with your dogs.

Hiking is a great way to take a breather with your dogs.

We have had some beautiful days this summer (and some miserable ones), and we are fortunate to live in an area with a lot of great places to hike. Hiking with your dog can be a wonderfully rewarding (and tiring! A tired dog is a good dog.) way to get some exercise and get a mental break from the endless hubbub of modern life. Unfortunately, hiking without being prepared can result in some scary situations. Fortunately, some sensible and easy steps and planning can help you make the most of your outdoor experience with your pup.

Here are some ways to avoid trouble in the outdoors:

1. Consider your dog’s fitness level. Before tackling a long hike, make sure your dog is physically capable of it. Is he overweight? Is he a smush-nosed (brachycephalic) breed? Does he have arthritis? Maybe it is best not to take him along, but instead stick to shorter walks that are more manageable for him until he’s in better shape and the weather is cooler. Dogs with short snouts are especially sensitive to the heat, and can overheat quickly even on days that don’t seem like they’re that hot.

If you’re thinking about having your dog carry a backpack, make sure it fits him well. Get him used to carrying weight gradually– don’t load him up if he’s not used to it- it’s a lot more work to hike while carrying a pack! A dog should never carry more than 10% of his weight in a pack, and you should be careful to balance it from side to side so as not to put unequal stress on his body.

2. Make sure your dog is vaccinated. Rabies is the most important, of course, because it’s deadly and can be transmitted to humans. Rabies is alive and well in Pennsylvania, and a chance encounter with a sick raccoon could end in disaster. It is simply not worth the risk to your pet or to your family. (It is also state law that all dogs be regularly vaccinated against rabies, both for their own good and for the safety of the public.)

Other vaccines may also be appropriate, depending on where you’re hiking. We see a lot of Lyme disease in this area (especially Mt. Gretna and Cornwall). Fortunately, there is a fairly effective vaccine that protects against it. Leptospirosis is another disease for which we can vaccinate. Lepto is uncommon around here, but it is out there and it can be passed from dog to human.

3. In line with the Lyme vaccine, please use a flea and tick preventative! Whether you choose a topical product such as Frontline Plus or an oral flea and tick preventative such as Nexgard, it is always going to be your dog’s first defense against Lyme and other tick-borne nasties. Be sure to reapply monthly so that your dog gets the best protection possible.

Baby Bean's first hike.

Baby Bean’s first hike.

4. Be sure to carry plenty of water and a bowl for your dog! There are plenty of options out there for lightweight and collapsible bowls that are easy to pack (or even clip on to a backpack). Make sure you have enough water (more than you think you’ll need) for both the humans and the canines. Dehydration can be very dangerous, especially with some of the horribly sticky days we’ve been having. Yes it’s heavy to carry, but it is the most important thing to take with you.

5. Tag that dog! An easily visible and up-to-date id tag (or embroidered collar) is the best way to get your dog home in the case that he gets lost in the woods. Make sure the phone number is current. Microchips make for an awesome backup to an id tag. They cannot be lost or removed, but they do require someone with a scanner in order to get your dog back to you, whereas with an id tag, you eliminate that “middle man”.

6. Carry a first aid kit! This is always a good idea whether you take your dog with you or not. There are a wide assortment of first aid kits available, whether dog or human-specific. You can also make your own. There’s a wonderful post about how to make a tiny first aid kit on the Team Unruly website. I like to make sure I’m carrying Vetwrap (a flexible bandaging material that sticks to itself), a rubber glove, disinfecting wipes, and some kind of non-stick sterile pads. I also carry a bandana with me, which can be useful for everything from bandaging up a wound to muzzling an injured dog who is scared and trying to bite. It can also be soaked in cold water and used to help cool off a hot dog (or human).

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 24, 2014 in Dogs, Health, Safety

 

Tags: , , , ,

Scary thunderstorms and how to help your phobic dog.

It’s that time of year– hot sticky days that end in frequent thunderstorms rolling through the area. As much as I enjoy thunderstorms, my dog is terrified by them. He hides, he shakes, he wants to cling to me, he drools. It’s really not a great time for either of us. And unfortunately, my dog is not alone. There are many many dogs of all shapes and sizes who are stressed to varying degrees by thunderstorms (or fireworks or gunshots).

I’m lucky in that my dog reacts by hiding and clinging. Other dogs react by being destructive or, worse, by trying to escape the house. It is not unheard of for a dog to jump out an upper floor window to escape something scary and injure himself in doing so. We need to be proactive about these fears and phobias before they get worse and potentially endanger the lives of our dogs.

Thunderstorm phobia is not always a sound-based phobia. Dogs are extremely sensitive to the environment. They can react to pressure changes in the absence of thunder. They may be reacting to the change of the scent in the air. It has also been questioned whether the static charge in the air during a storm bothers them. Some dogs are upset by the flashing of lightning. Regardless, it is not simply a matter of hearing. (Deaf dogs can react to thunderstorms as well).

Storms are scary.

Storms are scary.

It is also important to note that you are not going to reinforce your dog’s fear/phobia by offering him moral support, by talking to him quietly and soothingly, or by feeding him treats. If you’re terrified of snakes and you end up trapped in a room full of snakes, and a friend comes in and puts her arm around you and starts telling you that it’s ok, calm down, we’ll find a way to get through this safely, is it going to make you more afraid of snakes?

Reknowned behaviorist Patricia McConnell has some wonderful blog posts on this subject: You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms, and Reinforcing Fear II and Thunderphobia III. Both are excellent reads.

Many dogs, especially when they are puppies, will benefit from some preventative maintenance when it comes to storms. It is important to do your best if you are nervous about storms to remain calm and not pass that anxiety along to your dog. Turn thunderstorm time into a party! Pop some popcorn and toss some in your pup’s direction with each rumble of thunder. Does your pooch have a favorite toy or game? Break that out and have a good time together. Anything you can do to build a positive association toward storms will work in your favor.

If your dog will not accept his normal treats or show interest in his regular toys, this means he’s stressed. You can try upping the ante– offering really delicious treats like cheese or hotdogs (or a bullystick to chew on).

Some dogs, no matter what you do to storm-proof them, are going to end up scared, unfortunately. Breed does appear to play some sort of a role– Border Collies, for example, are especially prone to storm phobia and other sound sensitivities. However, it can happen to any dog of any breed or mix, and it can appear at any time in life– sometimes not until old age.

Fortunately, there are many different options out there to try to help your dog be more comfortable. A lot of dogs prefer to be able to hide during storms. They may be more comfortable in a closet or a basement, for example. Many dogs are attracted to bathrooms during storms. If it’s going to storm and you’re not going to be home, making sure your dog has access to his hiding spots is important. Playing music or leaving the television on can help drown out some of the noise, and closing curtains can block the flashing lightning.

Steve makes his Thundershirt look good.

Steve makes his Thundershirt look good.

There are also many commercially available products which may be of some help. A lot of these products seem to be hit-or-miss. They work amazingly for some dogs, and not at all for others, so you have to experiment a bit. The Thundershirt is one of the most popular available items. It is an adjustable, snugly fitting shirt that provides comforting pressure that may help relieve anxiety (think swaddling an infant). The manufacturer does offer a money-back guarantee if the shirt does not help and you return it within 45 days.

Another interesting product available is the Storm Defender Cape. This cape-type blanket is lined with a special material that cuts down on the static that can build up during a thunderstorm, and prevent the reaction and anxiety that it can produce in some dogs.

Dog Appeasing Pheromones, also known as DAP, can comfort a dog who is stressed. DAP is available in a spray, a collar, or a plug-in diffuser. This is a product that is userful for a dog who is generally anxious, but the spray especially can be helpful for an especially stressful event like a storm.

If all else fails and your dog continues to be terrified of thunderstorms, there are also medications available to help. The downside of medication is that it works best when given an hour or so before a storm hits, so the timing can be tricky (plus you have to be there). However, if you think that is the best option for your dog to get through this summer that has so-far been heavy with storms, give us a call. It’s no fun to be terrified, and if we can help alleviate that terror, we want to do so.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leptospirosis: Is your dog at risk?

Leptospirosis is a type of bacteria that dogs can pick up from wet, marshy areas or standing water and from eating rodents. The bacteria can either be ingested (from drinking it, from licking paws, from eating infected critters) or it can be transmitted through some type of wound (a small, unnoticed cut on a paw, for example). It results in a disease that causes liver and kidney failure.

It can also be transmitted from dog to human through blood or urine. In humans, the most common symptoms are fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, and in the most severe cases, liver and kidney failure.

In the past, we have included the vaccine for leptospirosis in our distemper combination vaccine (the L in DHLPP). This has never provided great protection, but lepto is one of those diseases that doesn’t get that much attention. There are a bunch of different variations of it (similar to the flu) and the vaccine only works against specific strains. It also, in combination form, only lasts for about six months. We prefer to vaccinate dogs with the DHLPP vaccine every three years, so we have really not been protecting our at-risk patients.

Fortunately, the vaccine has been improving over the years.

steveswim

Pond-swimming is fun.

Because of this, we are now able to offer vaccine protection that lasts a full year. But this means giving it as a separate vaccine, which is why we are changing our protocol a bit.

Instead of vaccinating all dogs (except those who are sensitive to it– leptospirosis is the most common offender with regards to vaccine reactions) regardless of risk and not protecting them for very long, we will now only be vaccinating dogs who are at risk of contracting the disease.

These are dogs who are exposed to wet or marshy areas, ponds, standing water. Dogs who live on farms, who hike frequently, hunt, or camp are at increased risk. Dogs who have a lot of exposure to areas where wildlife is, especially if it’s a wet area, are at increased risk. Dogs who live in a highly urban environment where rats or other rodents may be a problem are at increased risk. These are the dogs who should be vaccinated against the disease.

Dogs who live a comfortable suburban life, whose life consists of a manicured lawn and walks on sidewalks are at a much lesser risk, and probably do not need to be vaccinated.

The new vaccine is given annually, and separate from the distemper combo. If your dog has previously been vaccinated with the lepto componenent in the combination vaccine, the new vaccine will not need to be boostered. For pups who have never been vaccinated against lepto, they will need to have the vaccine boostered in 3-4 weeks, and then it will become an annual vaccine.

It gets to be a lot, all of these separate vaccines, but we are trying our best to tailor our healthcare to the specific needs of your individual pet. We don’t want to be given vaccines that aren’t needed, but we want to protect those pets who are at risk. If we can prevent a serious disease, especially one that can be transmitted from dog to human, we want to do that. If we can avoid giving unnecessary vaccines to dogs who really don’t need them, we want to do that too. We want to provide the care that best fits your pet and his lifestyle.

Concerned that your dog should be vaccinated against leptospirosis? Give us a call at 665-2338 and any of our staff members would be happy to talk to you about the risk factors and help you make the right choice for your pet.

For more information, check out these handy websites:
Interactive map of Leptospirosis cases
A very nice risk-assessment test tool

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 2: Bite-proofing your child

A dog can be a boy's best friend.

A dog can be a boy’s best friend.

Every year, 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs. 50% of these bites are to children 12 and under, with the highest rate among children between the ages of five and nine years old. Fortunately, of all dog bites treated in emergency rooms, 96% are treated and released (source).

While few of these bites are serious, dog bites to children are a serious and scary problem. Thankfully, there are many steps a parent and a child can take to lower his risk.

The first, and I think the most important, is for parents to closely supervise their childrens’ interactions with dogs. This is especially important with new or strange dogs, but it is also important with the family dog. Dogs are animals. Sometimes they lose their patience. Sometimes their warnings go unheeded and they end up warning more strongly than tender human flesh can tolerate. Sometimes they’re in pain.

The best way to counteract this unpredictability is to learn to read and understand the dog’s body language and comfort level. While some dogs will tolerate a child climbing all over them, but for most dogs it is very stressful. So even though the dog is putting up with it, he might be trying very hard to communicate how uncomfortable he is with the situation.

We have fallen into the habit of “Disney-fying” dogs. Yes, dogs can be man’s best friend, but they are still living, breathing, feeling animals who don’t always respond in the ways we want or expect.

Here is an excellent guide to understanding how to read stress signals from your dog. Often the easiest to see are yawning, tucked tail, pinned-back ears, nose-licking, and trying to avoid the situation. All of these need to be cues to parents that it is time to intervene now because the risk of something bad happening is steadily increasing.

Children, especially older ones, can be taught to recognize friendly vs stressed vs go away messages from dogs. Doggone Safe’s Learn to be a Dog Detective is a terrific child-oriented webpage for helping kids understand what a dog is feeling at any given time and what the best response is.

Teach your child that if he is approached by a strange, loose dog, do not run but instead Be a Tree. Running or screaming makes a child more interesting and a more appealing target. Being still and quiet is boring, and less interesting to a dog.

It is also vitally important to teach children not to approach strange dogs without the owner present. Statistically, dogs who are chained, kenneled, or contained in a backyard are a high bite risk. They are often poorly socialized with people and protective of their space. This can be a recipe for disaster if a child approaches. Between 1976 and 2001, at least 98 people were killed by chained dogs. 92 were children.

If an owner is present, the child must know to ask first before trying to pet the dog. Not all dogs are comfortable with children, and some dogs, such as service dogs, should not be interrupted from their work. If the owner says it is ok, the child should be taught to extend a fist for the dog to sniff and to let the dog come to him. If the dog wants to say hi, he will!

Let sleeping dogs lie! Teach your child that if the dog is sleeping, chewing a bone, or otherwise occupied by himself, it is best to leave him alone.

Give your dog a safe place to go when he wants to be left alone, and teach your child to respect that. I cringe when I see pictures of kids in crates with dogs. If things were to go bad, they could go very bad very quickly with neither dog nor child able to quickly escape.

Teach your child to never try to take something from a dog that the dog will not willingly give up. A hard stare, a stiff body, crouching over the item, and growling are all signs that your child needs to back off and go to an adult if the dog has something that he shouldn’t. Also, a wagging tail is not necessarily a sign of a happy dog! A loose, full-body wave is a sign of happiness. A stiff or slow wag is not.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Some older children can be taught to “trade”. Trading is taking something that the dog values highly (food, a favorite toy), and offering it to the dog in exchange for whatever he is guarding. If the dog shows desire for the trade object, toss it several feet away so that you are able to retrieve the item while the dog is occupied away from it.

Resource guarding can become very dangerous, so getting in contact with a trainer or behaviorist as soon as possible is highly recommended.

Last but not least, please do not ever leave an infant alone with a dog, even if the baby is in a crib. Babies smell funny, they sound funny, and they move funny. All of this has the potential to trigger prey drive in a dog who would never hurt someone he recognized as a human.

With all of these things in mind, it is possible to minimize the risk of your child being bitten either by a strange dog or the family dog. Kids and dogs can make a great combination, but keeping safety in mind is a must!

Other resources:
Doggone Safe!
Be a Tree!
And for all things dog-bite-statistics, The National Canine Research Council

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Dogs, Safety

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,