By Teresa Lewin
News story: “…This beautiful dog was out for a leashed walk with her people, was approached by a man who bent down to pet her at the same time she looked up to say hello. Now the man alleges the dog broke his nose.”
The incident progressed to the point in which a court case was pending. The case was considered as a bite, which is a criminal offence according to that town’s dangerous dog law. The dog owner claims that the dog just lifted her head as the stranger bent to pet her on the head. Either way, the result was injury.
I noted the story with great interest. My first initial reaction was: this is not fair. That is not the Law, it is an abuse of the law. At what point do people become responsible for their own actions? Biased first reactions, as we all know in the animal industry, can be dangerous. My first response could have been considered a ‘knee jerk reaction’ so I forced myself to breathe and evaluate this situation from a dog bite prevention specialist/educator’s perspective. So here’s what I come up with:
Dog guardians are completely responsible for their dog’s actions…Reality bites (pun intended). The law is the law, therefore we all must try to stay within its boundaries. However, in some cases By-laws may be outdated and not conducive to modern context. This is usually the point where the alleged violator may seek justice before the courts. A court appointed canine expert witness may be solicited for consult in these cases. Tough job if you ask me. Dog bite prevention educators have an equally tough job at hand as objectivity is paramount when educating the public. Without getting overly analytical about this particular story, and staying objective, we must remind ourselves that we do not have first-hand knowledge of the details that comprise this particular case. We do not know if the dog was actually aggressive, because we were not present when the alleged situation occurred. Remembering this information is KEY when giving an interview on the heels of an alleged dog attack. If the media should become involved and want to interview you for your expert opinion, they could ask questions that may allude to opinions based upon the media’s perception of the case. This is why it’s important to remain objective and steer the conversation towards an objective and general, education. Too many opinions can lead to debate. As an expert dog bite prevention educator, you want to get your message out objectively with no possibility for debate, when you are confident it will work. Hot debates will often over-ride the advice you give, and sadly the primary point may become lost in chaos of ensuing public opinions.
Moving forward, let’s assume that the dog in this case is very friendly, however, a little socially awkward. What can we do as dog bite prevention educators to prevent similar tragedy like the one in this story from happening in the first place? If we could recommend only one exercise to a dog guardian and one exercise to the dog loving public in a 2 minute interview what would we recommend to prevent a dog bite or injury to the public? What information will the lay dog guardian and public likely adopt and accomplish from your advice?
- Be a Tree if a dog should become too excited with your attention.
- Be a Tree if the dog approaching you scares you.
We can take a bite out of the law by teaching our dog one exercise, condition to touch.
This exercise includes but not limited to:
- Accepting attention from all people known to dog.
- Accepting attention from people unknown to dog
- Accepting attention from children known and unknown to the dog.
- Learning to manage approaches from strangers and known people in all situations.
- Accepting all forms of touch from known and unknown people and children under varied situations
- Managing all forms of traffic, sounds, sights, and novel situations that may induce stress.
- Lastly, learn how to condition your dog to the world by visiting your Vet for a referral to a dog trainer in your area.
In doing this exercise we can make sure that situations like this terrible story do not happen to unsuspecting dog lovers, and ensure that dogs remain in their forever homes.
I coined a phrase and it goes like this: “we can’t prepare the world for our dog, however we can prepare our dog for the world.” Teresa Lewin. In this case the world is the man who petted the dog and had his nose broken, and the dog that is conditioned for the world, is the dog who accepts attention from strangers without getting up or jumping up, or causing unintentional accident from occurring. If our doggies are conditioned for the world, at the very least it can reduce risk in the big wide world where the environment is not controlled. I could expand on this thought but that could be a whole new story.
Let’s assume for the purpose of this article that the dog in this story was a happy dog with too much energy and lacked the tools to meet and greet strangers properly. Most of the behavioural issues dog trainers are faced with mirror cases like the one in this story. All dogs should learn to meet and greet in a safe manner to reduce risk of hurting someone. All dog guardians should always be aware of their dogs actions and be prepared for the unexpected. There is a lot to be said about perception, intervention thus prevention.
Sorry all, I’m just too passionate when it comes to dog and stranger safe interactions as it relates to dog bite prevention.
I hope I don’t start heated debate with this article, and it wouldn’t hurt to read it over a couple of times to get the context right. I do hope that all our fans trust that my heart and passion are in the right place. Education is everything.