Stop bites before they start
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is a follow-up to last week’s Petscene piece on preventing dog bites from adult dogs.SILVERTHORNE – A cute, cuddly puppy is just about the last thing that would instill fear in a person. But a healthy appreciation for dog bites needs to start early in a canine’s life so that Fido is sweet, not scary, as he grows older.”Dogs obviously bite – they’re carnivores,” said Louise Ehrich of Two Shepherds Dog Training in Silverthorne. “People need to realize, when they get a puppy, they need to start working on future problems now. If the situation is not handled properly, you can end up with a dog who is not a good canine citizen. It is (the owners’) responsibility to other people and to their new family member to socialize their puppy to many new situations, people and experiences before that pup reaches four months of age.”According to Ehrich, dogs are neophobic, meaning they fear foreign environments, faces and circumstances. And when a dog is afraid, its “flight or fight” instincts kick in. The less often a dog encounters an unfamiliar situation as an adult, the less prone it will be to bite.
“Make sure you take a puppy around to meet lots and lots and lots of kids. Maybe you have two kids. But the dog needs to meet bigger kids, littler kids, lots of kids in one place,” Ehrich said. “Just make sure the kids don’t overwhelm the dog. You need to supervise kids and dogs all the time.”Ehrich suggests tugging at puppies’ tails and ears to accustom them to the ways children might treat them.”Don’t hurt the dog, but start out softly and get a little rougher.”Getting dogs accustomed to having food or favorite toys taken away is also a good technique. Have a child take away a puppy’s food bowl and return it with a treat. Or have the child steal a toy and give it back with a smear of liver oil on it. Such exercises will encourage the dog not to be alarmed or aggressive when a child does take things from it.
Encouraging children to feed a new puppy reinforces the lesson.”Feed the dog its entire dinner by putting handfuls of food at a time into the bowl. You want the dog to view human hands around the food dish as a good thing. Dogs learn by association that you feed them and that you don’t take food away,” Ehrich said.Another important tactic to preventing dog bites is teaching puppies to use a “soft mouth.” An adult owner should let the puppy chew on his or her hand and gradually wean out the hard bites, thus giving the dog an appreciation for the sensitivity of human skin.”When bites are harder, squeal like another puppy so the dog learns not to do that. They’ll get to a point where they’re really gentle, and then you can teach them not to put their teeth on people at all,” Ehrich said.Some owners will punish a dog for growling, but Ehrich warns against it.
“If they learn not to growl, you’ve taken away the first warning signal that something’s going to happen. If your dog growls at a kid, punishment is not the way to go. You solve an underlying aggression problem with professional help,” Ehrich said.Lastly, Ehrich encourages owners to get their puppies comfortable with a leash.”A lot of people have that ‘I want my dog to be free’ feeling, but you need to realize that your leash is more like a line of communication with your dog. And it’s your safety factor,” Ehrich said.Ehrich can be reached at (970) 468-8919.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at email@example.com.
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