TEACH YOUR CHILDREN HOW TO ACT IF A DOG SEEMS DANGEROUS
Every fall as kids go back to school, we like to remind everyone of the importance of teaching youngsters how to be safe around dogs. And while children are 10 times more likely to be hurt in organized sports than be bitten by a dog, the risks of the latter can and should be minimized.
The experts say the signs are usually there long before a dog attacks. The dog is typically young, male and unneutered. He is usually unsocialized -- a backyard dog with little to no interaction with the family. He is often inadvertently conditioned to be vicious by being kept full-time on a chain or in a small kennel run. While people are wary -- unfairly so, in many cases -- of breeds with bad reputations, it's important to remember that all breeds and mixes can and do bite.
That's why you have to make sure your children know how to behave around dogs to protect themselves. Here's what everyone should know, and what parents need to teach their children:
-- Never approach a loose dog, even if he seems friendly. Dogs who are confined in yards, and especially those dogs on chains, should also be avoided. Many are very serious about protecting their turf. If the dog is with his owner, children should always ask permission before petting him and then begin by offering him the back of a hand for a sniff. Further, they should pat the dog on the neck or chest. The dog may interpret a pat on the head as a challenging gesture. Teach your children to avoid fast or jerky movements around dogs, since these may trigger predatory behavior.
-- "Be a tree" when a dog approaches, standing straight with feet together, fists under the neck and elbows into the chest. Teach your children to make no eye contact, since some dogs view eye contact as a challenge. Running is a normal response to danger, but it's the worst possible thing to do around a dog, because it triggers the animal's instinct to chase and bite. Many dogs will just sniff and leave. Teach your children to stay still until the animal walks away, and then back away slowly out of the area.
-- "Feed" the dog a jacket or backpack if attacked, or use a bike to block the dog. These strategies may keep an attacking dog's teeth from connecting with flesh.
-- Act like a log if knocked down: face down, legs together, curled into a ball with fists covering the back of the neck and forearms over the ears. This position protects vital areas and can keep an attack from turning fatal. Role-play these lessons with your child until they are ingrained. They may save your child's life.
Discuss safe behavior with your children and role-play how to approach dogs, when not to approach, and what to do if confronted or attacked. You don't need to scare your children, but you do need to make sure they're ready, just in case. And going over the "what-ifs" isn't a bad idea for you as well, especially if you enjoy outdoor activities such as jogging or biking.
What if the dog you're worried about is in your own home? Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist sooner rather than later. Aggression doesn't go away on its own: Someone will get hurt, and your dog will likely end up euthanized as a result. Don't take a chance: Get help before someone gets hurt.
To stop begging,
stop giving in
Q: How can I get my dog to stop begging? -- via Facebook
A: If you never want your dog to stick her nose in your plate, put her head on your knee or paw at your arm, then don't ever reward her with food when she does.
What if it's too late for that? With patience and consistency, you can change your dog's behavior by never rewarding the begging again. When your dog finally becomes convinced that she will never again see another piece of food delivered from off your plate, she'll stop asking. You can also have her practice a behavior that's incompatible with having her nose on your knee -- a down-stay on the other side of the room while you're eating.
But be warned: If you're inconsistent, you'll actually make the problem worse. Occasionally rewarding a behavior is called random reinforcement, and it's a powerful motivator. In fact, it's what keeps the gambling industry afloat. Even though gamblers know the house always wins, they keep pulling the handle on those slot machines because they get a little back now and then, and because sometimes they hit the jackpot. Dog trainers use these principles to instill good behaviors in dogs, but many pet lovers inadvertently use them to teach a dog bad habits -- like begging.
Preventing a problem is always easier than fixing one. When you get a dog, think about the house rules you want, and insist on them from day one. If you have a beggar on your hands, realize the fault is yours -- and be determined to be consistent in turning the situation around. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
are YouTube hit
-- The creator of "The Ultimate Dog Tease," the second most-popular video on YouTube last year, has produced a new spot of talking animals for the American Pet Products Assoc.'s Pets Add Life Project. Andrew Grantham's spot is the latest in the popular series, meant to promote and celebrate pets. The Pets Add Life videos are at youtube.com/petsaddlife.
-- With its Ol' Roy long the dominant player in the low-end segment of the pet-food market, Wal-Mart is upping the ante with the introduction of a premium food called Pure Balance. Industry analysts told DVM360.com that the move puts the big-box retailer in a position to challenge PetSmart and Petco for an even bigger share of the $21 billion spent annually on pet food in the United States. Wal-Mart previously moved to draw pet lovers in with the launch of PetArmor, a generic version of the blockbuster flea-and-tick product Frontline.
-- Citing slow donations because of the economy, the American Animal Hospital Association has shut down its Helping Pets fund. The group provided grants to help people struggling to pay veterinary bills for sick or injured pets. The VIN News Service reports that the fund paid $1 million to help more than 4,000 pets over the seven years since its founding.
-- Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.