Pet column: Careful — someone’s letting the dogs out!
Special to the Tribune
Mild weather means Tahoe’s population starts to swell with second homeowners and visitors, plus locals. Unfortunately, the season change also means more irresponsible pet owners letting their dogs run loose and that means more bites, especially to children. Statistics do not show that any one breed of dog is more likely to bite — breed numbers change with popularity trends — but they do indicate that un-neutered male dogs bite more often. A Centers for Disease Control study concluded that the dogs most likely to attack are male, un-neutered, and chained. California and Nevada are two states with humane laws banning and/or time limiting the chaining or tethering of dogs.
Any animal with teeth can bite, especially when put into a threatening situation, startled or teased or in pain. According to the CDC, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. Almost half are children under 12 years old and those between the ages of 5 and 9 are at greatest risk. Most dog bites happen in the home with a familiar dog. The American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Humane-Canine Interactions explains that children’s natural behaviors, including running, yelling, grabbing, hitting, quick and darting movements, and maintaining eye contact, put them at risk for dog-bite injuries. A child tends to put his or her face next to the dog’s muzzle, increasing the risk of facial injuries.
In observance of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, here are basic guidelines for being a responsible dog owner, staying safe and teaching children how to avoid being bitten:
• Pick a good family lifestyle match. Some dogs are more aggressive than others. Respect that individual dogs may be frightened by children. Canines with high prey drive can be over excited by running, squealing kids. Research breeds with rescue groups, kennel clubs and a veterinarian. Spend time with a shelter adoption counselor.
• Socialize by gradually exposing a puppy to a variety of people and other animals so it feels at ease. Continue this exposure as the dog ages.
• Train for safety and reliability, and to build a bond of communication and trust. Leash in public. Confine at home.
• Keep a dog healthy and pain free. Feed nutritious food and monitor all physical and behavior changes which might indicate problems.
• Vaccinate against rabies (it’s the law) and other diseases to prevent unnecessary medical procedures if the dog should bite and to prevent illness or pain which might cause a bite.
• Neuter the dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to bite.
• Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, not for one second.
• Teach children not to approach a dog unless an adult is present and permission is given by its owner. Then let the dog sniff first, touch the dog gently on the side of the neck or back, avoiding the face, head and tail. Do not approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one tied or confined behind a fence, in a car, or the back of a truck.
• Teach children not to bother a dog if it is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies and teach the difference between child toys and dog toys.
• Teach children not to run past a dog.
• If threatened, remain calm. Stand sideways to the dog. Avoid eye contact. Remain “still like a tree” with hands at sides until the dog leaves, or back away slowly. If knocked down, curl into a ball and use hands to protect face.
If a dog bites, contact the dog’s owner and veterinarian to check rabies vaccination records. Any bite by any animal which draws blood must be reported to animal control authorities.
The Doggone Safe child safety program advises that “Despite 12,000 years of living with dogs, they remain largely misunderstood by humans. When a dog bites we interpret this in human terms. In most cases the bite is a normal dog behavior. The dog that bites is not necessarily a mean dog or a bad dog — he is just a dog. To prevent dog bites we need to understand what motivates the dog to bite and reduce risk through modification of both human and dog behavior.”
— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.
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