Close encounters of the canine kind

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Would you know what measures to take to prevent or lessen the severity of a dog attack?

Better yet, do you, as a dog owner, understand the temperament of your animal and what you can do to ensure your pet isn’t a threat?

In the wake of recent warnings about a dangerous pack of wild dogs west of Ahoskie, as well as last week’s incident in Ahoskie where a woman and her tiny Dachshund had to seek medical attention after a confrontation with a “bully breed,” it is prudent to learn to recognize warning signs of aggressive dog behavior and how to minimize injury or even stop an attack.

Nearly 5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year, with almost 1 million of those requiring medical care. About 90 percent of those bites are inflicted by male dogs that have not been fixed. Most dog bite deaths are children under 15 years of age. The majority of the deaths are caused by dogs running loose on or off the owners’ property, and one quarter of fatal bites are by dogs kept on chains or tie outs.

A dog allowed to run at large may perceive the entire neighborhood as his territory, and may attack you or your pet in order to “protect” that territory. Dogs kept on chains or tie outs feel more stressed, vulnerable, and threatened, and are nearly three times more likely to bite than ones that are not restrained in those ways.

According to information provided by Hertford County PAWS, a dog attack can occur when least expected, as it did on Sunday, April 1 when Ruby Baker of Ahoskie was out for her daily stroll with her pet Dachshund, “Snoopy.”

Fifty-eight different breeds have been involved in bites, and you should not take for granted that only the larger, stronger breeds may attack.

“It is important to be aware of your surroundings and to learn the difference between playful, normal dog behavior and aggressive behavior,” said Julie Dilday of Hertford County PAWS.  “If a dog is running toward you with head held high, tail wagging, with a loping gait, he/she is being playful and curious about you. If he/she is coming toward you at a steady run with a level head, they could be aggressive and you need to use caution.”

Dilday added that if a dog threatens you, your pet, or your child, your reaction can mean the difference between minor injury, serious injury, or even death.

“As difficult as it may be, it is imperative that you remain calm if a dog approaches you in an aggressive manner,” Dilday stressed. “Dogs can sense fear and may perceive it as threatening, or may become more self-assured to attack.”

She said dogs are normally submissive toward humans. If one approaches in a threatening manner, take control of the situation and use a calm commanding voice to say, “NO” or “GO HOME.”

“This may slow the dog down and buy you enough time to move away from the area,” Dilday said. “Do not face the dog head-on. Do not make eye contact or smile at the dog. If you do the dog may see you as one ‘ready for attack’ and be more likely to bite. In the dogs’ world, eye contact is a dominant, threatening gesture, and smiling is like another dog baring its teeth. It is safer to stand sideways and watch the dog from your peripheral vision.”

If you are attacked and you have an object like an umbrella or walking stick, Dilday suggested using it to block the dog from making contact.

“The dog will see the object as an extension of you and will be more likely to grab it rather than your arm or leg. Use it to keep his teeth from making contact with your skin,” Dilday said.

Another key to lessen the severity of an attack is not to run from a dog.

“This may trigger his instinct to chase prey and you will not be able to outrun him,” Dilday said. “Stand still; clench your fists to protect your fingers. If you have a child or small pet with you, make no sudden movements. Pick up the child or pet, and do not make eye contact with the dog. Tell the child to look at you. The dog may eventually lose interest and move on.”

Dilday suggested that if the dog attacks your pet or child, pick the dog up by its hind legs and hold it in the air. If it has locked on this action may cause him to let go or prevent him from doing more damage by shaking. She said other techniques are to spray him with a jet of water, citronella spray or pepper spray.  Placing a cloth over his head may make him let go.  You might also use an object to hit the dog across the back of the neck or on its nose.

“Do not strike a very large dog in the head as this may make the situation worse,” Dilday noted. “And never pull a pet, child, or adult away from an actively biting dog as this may cause torn and open wounds.

“If the dog is biting you do not pull away for the same reason just stated,” she added. “He may shake his head and cause severe damage, so stay still and protect your face, throat and chest. If you are able, use your knees, elbows and your entire body weight on the dogs ribs or throat, being careful to keep your face from getting to close to his teeth.”

If you are approached by an aggressive pack of dogs, Dilday said you need to understand that they will attack as a pack and they will stop an attack as a pack. The best method to use is to discourage aggression by throwing rocks or other objects at the pack. Do not strike out or kick at the dogs if they have not attacked and do not run. If you are being bitten by a pack of dogs, fight back by striking at the eyes, nose and legs.  If one of the aggressive dogs becomes discouraged and stops, they may all stop.


Tips to prevent your dog from becoming aggressive

Dilday said there are several things a dog owner can do to lessen the chance of their pet becoming aggressive. Topping that list is getting your male dogs “fixed.”

“Male dogs are less aggressive if they have been neutered,” Dilday said. “They are also less likely to roam. Female dogs in heat or a nursing mother are more dangerous than spayed female dogs.”

Keep your dog confined on your property. It’s best to keep the dog in the house. If you keep the dog outside, keep them in a fence.

“If you keep your dog outside, please consider not using a chain for restraint as this increases the dog’s stress level and makes them more likely to bite,” Dilday said. “We would recommend keeping a dog within a fenced-in area. Small pens are not useful in raising a balanced dog.”

Adult supervision is needed of a dog while in the presence of children. Dilday stated that nearly 90 percent of toddlers killed by dogs had been left alone with the dog.

“We would also recommend that dog owners need to train their pets,” Dilday said. “There are many good books and websites with instructions on how to train basic obedience. It is even better to seek out a professional trainer to teach you how to understand and properly socialize and train your puppy or dog.”

One such professional trainer is Rhoda Tucker of Chesapeake, VA. She and her husband own a doggie day care facility that offers training and grooming.

“Aggression is not a personality trait in any dog,” she said. “Aggression is a behavior. Aggressive behavior can be controlled or avoided completely through training.”

Tucker said irresponsible owners that don’t adhere to leash laws, that chain their dogs or leave them isolated and bored in the yard for the whole of their lives are issues that lead to aggressive behavior.

She also offered suggestions of how to ward off a strange dog that is acting in an aggressive manner.

“Mrs. Baker would probably have been able to scare the dog away that day if she had been carrying a stadium horn that she could have blown as soon as the dog started toward her, then turn or back away slowly,” Tucker said. “Another deterrent is food. Carry treats when you walk; if a dog is coming toward you throw food in the dog’s direction or off to the side, then leave.”

Tucker agreed with Dilday’s advice about an owner picking up a smaller dog if a larger one was advancing toward them, but offered a warning with that scenario.

“It is very dangerous for the owner if the dog in their arms is squirming, fighting to get down or barking when a strange dog comes up to investigate,” Tucker stressed. “Keep in mind if you cannot keep the small dog quiet, picking it up may cause you to be hurt if the strange dog tries to get to the small dog.”

As far as the incident involving Baker and Snoopy, Tucker said despite not actually witnessing that event she can envision what led to the altercation.

“Both Dachshunds and Bully Breeds tend to have dominant personalities and dominant personalities are more likely to fight,” she said. “From personal experience, Mrs. Baker was probably allowing her dog to walk in front of her, to both her dog and the approaching dog that made the Dachshund the leader of her pack. When Mrs. Baker saw the larger dog she probably became anxious or even fearful. Her dog would have picked up on that immediately, he would have responded as he should, being the leader, he would have begun to protect her or attempted to warn off the other dog by barking and lunging. The other dog would have taken this as a challenge. More submissive dogs may have backed off. Once the fight ensued Snoopy didn’t have a chance against the much larger and more powerful dog.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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