By Jim Tedford, Director of Animal Welfare Initiatives
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love summer! I love longer days, short sleeves, flip flops, snow cones, swimming…everything. And, one of the best parts of the season is spending more and more quality outdoor time with our canine companions. I find that my dogs shake off winter much as I do. Cabin fever seems to take an even greater toll on them. Henry, my now one-year-old Jack Russell has discovered butterflies and has made a career of chasing them around our woods. My older, more refined Labs, Bodie and Sam have discovered the healing powers of stretching out on a warm slab of concrete in the sunshine. And, my ancient corgi, Lila, seems to appreciate the end to cold nights and mornings more than any of us.
I hate to interrupt this stream of consciousness with a harsh reality check, but warm weather also brings a few less-than-pleasant images. More quality time spent playing outdoors with our dogs also means an increased risk of dog bites. Even the most docile of canines presents certain risks. Like most people, most dogs have a boiling point…an invisible threshold beyond which they should not be pushed. For some, the bar is set so high that we are unlikely to ever experience a problem. But, others require very little stimulation to be pushed to the brink.
There are a few simple steps we can—and should—take to protect ourselves and our neighbors from potential close encounters of the dog bite kind:
1) Safe Confinement – Remember the old public service announcement – “It’s ten o’clock, do you know where your children are?” No matter what time of the day it is, it is up to us as pet parents to know where our dogs are. Think of them as toddlers who never grow up. They have the capacity to get themselves into major trouble so it’s up to us to do the thinking for them. This morning as I drove down the rural back roads toward my office I was chased by not one, but THREE groups of free-roaming dogs. Had I been on foot or on a bicycle, chances are one of them would have crossed the line and I would have been bitten.
2) Training – Pet owners have a responsibility to provide ALL the basic needs to our animal companions. We give them nutritious food, fresh water, shelter and love. And, we also have a responsibility to teach them how to behave (and how NOT to behave). Jumping up and nipping may seem cute when our dogs are puppies, but as they get older and larger, those behaviors can escalate into aggression. Nipping undesirable behavior in the bud early and redirecting that energy into something positive will go a long way toward making our pets model members of society rather than threatening menaces to our neighborhoods.
3) Public Education – Kids (and, frankly some adults) need to learn basic manners and how to read canine body language. First, it is never a good idea to approach a dog you don’t know without the owner’s consent. And, even when you have consent, approach slowly and offer your hand (palm up) so the dog can sniff and get used to the idea of having you in his personal space. A nip on the hand is not pleasant, but probably better than a nip on the face. Second, pay attention to the signs. Even if the owner is telling you a dog is “fine” and would “never bite”, it’s more important to listen to what the dog has to say. If he is actively trying to move away from you, don’t pursue him. If he is snarling, assume he is not glad to see you. Very rarely does a dog bite without issuing a series of warnings ahead of time. And, finally, if you do feel threatened by a dog, don’t run! Keep in mind that a dog has four legs to your two and will outrun you every time. And running might trigger a predator/prey response. It’s best to remain still, avoid direct eye contact and back slowly out of the dog’s territory. If a bite does occur, wash the wound thoroughly with soapy water and seek immediate medical attention. Call animal control and try to make sure someone keeps an eye on the dog until authorities arrive. Rabies in dogs is pretty rare in the US, but it can and does happen. Quarantine is necessary in most jurisdictions.
Most encounters with man’s best friend are positive and enjoyable. Following some good common sense advice can ensure you and your dogs enjoy all that summer has to offer. So, grab a leash and a snow cone and head out to the park for some good old fashioned butterfly chasing!