The Cub Scout troops gathered together for their Pack Meeting on April 24 at Woods Road Elementary School. Their special treat for the evening was a presentation by Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, on Pet Safety with regard to dogs.
The presentation covered how to determine whether or not a dog is friendly based on body language; how to safely approach and pet a dog; and how to avoid being bitten if a dog is overly excited or in an aggressive state.
Dr. Martins explained that the number one reason dogs end up at shelters is because of behavior problems. However, the behavior problems originate from lack of proper training and puppy socialization. Learning how to properly train the dog and establishing proper communication is an essential step in living harmoniously and safely with your pet.
Following were topics covered during the presentation:
1. Why dogs bite – Dogs can bite because they are nervous, scared, in pain, surprised, or just protecting their house, car, toy, bed, etc. Dogs see your actions and can smell your anxiety or fear which can stimulate them to a heightened level of arousal.
Yelling or reacting to a dog’s inappropriate behavior can sometimes be interpreted by the dog as attention or a threat. We often simply watch our dogs at home and react to their behaviors rather than training the dog to behave in an appropriate manner. If a dog learns that jumping or using his teeth gets him attention or a reaction, that can lead to really bad habits.
Pet parents need to be proactive rather than reactive to their dog’s behavior. Practicing and rewarding calm behaviors and jobs like “sit and stay” can lead to really good manners and habits. Using treats and practicing positive reinforcement as often as you can on a daily basis are key.
It’s also important to practice skills like “sit and stay” not just in the kitchen but in all areas of your home and outside as well.
Dogs respond to body language. If a dog is misreading your actions, they will try to protect themselves. Loud noises and fast movements can excite or scare dogs.
When a dog is in pain either from illness or injury, they don’t understand where the pain is coming from. If you touch them, that sensation might create more pain for them, and they could respond by biting. Many dogs are quiet even when in pain. If you suspect your dog is in pain, simply leave it alone and rely on your veterinarian’s advice on how to best handle the dog.
2. Always ask the owner’s permission before you pet a dog – Move slowly and quietly. Let the dog come to you. Don’t stare at the dog; staring can feel threatening to the dog. Reaching out to a dog can also make them feel threatened.
You can invite them with a nice voice by patting your legs and seeing if they come to you. With a reserved dog, you can squat down to see if they come to you. You can turn your body to the side and ask them to make the first contact. With really shy dogs, you might pretend to ignore them until they discover you are safe to greet.
Avoid hovering over the dog when greeting him or her. If a dog starts running up to you and you don’t know what might happen, the worst thing you can do is scream. The best thing to do is stand still, turn to the side, and again pretend that you don’t even see them.
3. How to pet a dog once you know it is safe – A good way to pet a dog is casually coming in from the sides rather than from above. Offering your hand with the palm down without suddenly reaching is better than the palm up. Every dog is different, but areas that most dogs like are the chest, shoulders, and back of the neck where the collar is.
Don’t pat or thump. Use gentle, slow petting massage strokes in the direction of their fur. Avoid the paws, and never pet their muzzle or the top of their head. Never grab the tail. Do not hover over, kiss, or hug a new dog. If the dog starts walking away while you are trying to pet it, don’t follow the dog. If a pet is sleeping, then leave it alone.
4. If you think a dog is about to bite you, simply freeze – Look only at the ground and not directly at the dog. Move away slowly, sideways or backwards, not forward. If you are on the ground and the dog is on top of you, act like a rock. Roll up into a ball and cover your face with your arms. Go to the doctor as quickly as possible if bitten.
5. Understanding a dog’s body posture is important – Friendly dogs usually approach with ears back slightly and tail in a neutral, medium height position with a wide sweeping wag. The dog may sniff you to gather some information. This is not necessarily the right time to pet them.
If the dog acts jumpy or cautious don’t pet him or her. Just relax, take your time, and get a better idea of what the dog’s body language is saying.
For instance, ears up and tail down may indicate a relaxed, neutral disposition. However, if the dog’s ears are up and forward with tail up and stiff, this indicates aggression. Do not initiate contact.
Ears back can be positive or negative. You must take notice of the body movement combined with the ear position.
6. The best dog training techniques are based on positive behavior reinforcement – Using dominance, or the Alpha Dog approach to training, is no longer considered safe or good in any way. In certain types of dogs, you can actually stimulate fear and aggression.
The best way to become a dog’s friend is to never exert physical dominance or intimidation. It’s always about calm, positive reinforcement.
The night’s presentation ended with questions from the audience.
Dr. Martins offers Behavior Consults for your pets. A behavior consult or newly adopted dog appointment can be particularly beneficial when scheduled immediately after bringing a new pet into your home. The first 2 weeks with a new pet in a new home is the critical time or honeymoon period. Even if your pet has been with you for years, perhaps you wish your pet would stay calm around strangers, not bark out of control or simply listen better. Dr. Martins can help. Feel free to call the Belle Mead Animal Hospital to set up a Behavior Consult in your home.
Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital