I decided to write this post after seeing a flurry of dog attacks on humans that were recently reported in the media. This post isn't about the attacks but more of a "let's prevent this from happening". This post doesn't include all things that could make a dog dangerous (I'd be writing for a long time), doesn't list them in order from most to least dangerous, and it doesn't cover the topic of how genetics can shape behavior and can cause some dogs to just not be "wired right". I'll save that for another day.
This post isn't to criticize dog owners or to make anyone feel bad about how they are raising their dogs. If by chance you find yourself doing any of these with your dogs, congratulations, you're human! Now, let's work on what we can fix, because when you know better, you do better. I was once where others were before I started studying Canine Behavior. I used to physically punish my dog, my first American Pitbull Terrier, my heart dog, whenever he did something I didn't like because that's what I saw others doing. Little did I know the fallout that could happen from it. One day I'll write more about that, if I ever work up the courage. Until then, here's what NOT to do with your dogs and the links to the research behind it is below.
Don't skip out on Critical Socialization:
The critical Socialization age in puppies is the first three and a half months of a dog's life. It's of upmost importance to expose your puppy to new people of all ethnicities, dogs (they do not have to play with them to get socialization), places and things. Experts typically recommend 100 new things in the first 100 days. Not doing this can have dire consequences: the number one reason dogs are surrendered to shelters is due to behavioral issues. The leading cause of death for dogs under three years of age is euthanasia stemming from behavioral problems. Not socializing your dog can possibly create a dangerous one. It's important to remember that this is not always the case, but better to be safe than sorry. For proper puppy socialization tips, read here: https://drsophiayin.com/app/uploads/2015/12/Socialization_Checklist.pdf
Say NO to Alpha Rolls:
This is a very outdated training method which can have really bad consequences. Wolves don't alpha roll other wolves and even if wolves did do this (they DONT!), dogs aren't wolves. Doing this can create an extreme fear response in dogs and cause them to bite; at the very least, they are probably going to be terrified. Dogs aren't seeking to be "dominant" or to become "alpha", so regardless of what you see on television, avoid this one like the plague. Let's turn the tables a bit: if someone did this to you, what would your reaction be? We can't expect dogs to not have the same reaction. Contact a Qualified Force Free Trainer for help, if needed.
Use Humane training methods instead of Punishment Based:
I've written blog posts on the fallout of shock collars. Aversive equipment can ruin the bond between you and your dog, but it can also have long-lasting damaging side effects. For more info, you can check out my blog post on the dangers of shock collars here:
Don't hold your dogs mouth closed to correct them:
As a dog trainer, I see this one a lot with new clients. Holding a dog's mouth closed to prevent them from doing X behavior, or to reprimand them can bring on negative associations (dog's mouth being forcefully closed while they are looking at a person, dog could associate this with the person) as well as redirected aggression (dog tries to bite person holding their mouth closed). This also can ruin the Dog-Human bond and lead the dog to become afraid of you. I know that if anyone ever tried to forcefully hold my mouth shut, I'd go nuts- I'm pretty sure most people feel this way. Teach your dog what to do instead, and contact a Qualified Force Free Trainer if you need help.
Avoid physical punishment:
Not only can this ruin the dog-human bond by teaching the dog to be afraid of the person, the dog may attempt to lunge/bite back. Instead of spanking, teach your dog what you want them to do instead. If you need help, contact a qualified Force Free trainer in your area. Use Humane training methods instead of Punishment Based: I've written blog posts on the fallout of shock collars. Aversive equipment can ruin the bond between you and your dog, but it can also have long-lasting damaging side effects. For more info, you can check out my blog post on the dangers of shock collars here: https://www.jaimedoolittle.com/single-post/2017/05/28/Untitled
Don't leave your dog chained outside:
This may sound like a no-brainer, but dogs that are deprived of human and animal interaction and are restricted in their movement can not only be incredibly fearful, but dangerous as well. According to the CDC, dogs that have been chained are 2.8 times more likely to bite. Multiple statements were issued by government and professional organizations warning of the dangers of chaining dogs. Dogs are social animals, so don't chain them up. Don't suppress warning signals:Dogs give stress signals and warning signs before they go on to attack. If a dog is growling, they are literally saying "I don't like what you are doing, please stop". Ignoring these warnings, or even worse, punishing them, can have dire consequences.Punishing warnings can lead to a dog suppressing them and going straight to biting. Imagine if humans were not allowed to say if they were uncomfortable with something, and when they did, they were punished for it. That could the be recipe for a ticking time bomb. Respect what your dog is telling you, and if needed, contact a Qualified Force Free Trainer for help.
Don't suppress warning signals:
Dogs give stress signals and warning signs before they go on to attack. If a dog is growling, they are literally saying "I don't like what you are doing, please stop". Ignoring these warnings, or even worse, punishing them, can have dire consequences.
Punishing warnings can lead to a dog suppressing them and going straight to biting. Imagine if humans were not allowed to say if they were uncomfortable with something, and when they did, they were punished for it. That could the be recipe for a ticking time bomb. Respect what your dog is telling you, and if needed, contact a Qualified Force Free Trainer for help
Don't take away your dog's belongings unless it's a life or death emergency:
What I mean by this is, if you give your dog a bone, toy, etc. don't take it from them without exchanging for a high value treat. I've worked my fair share of Resource Guarding cases-It's pretty safe to say that pretty much all of these could have been prevented if not for human error. A common myth many people believe is to take a puppy's bone and put your hand in their food while they are eating to prevent this very thing from happening. This is so incredibly false. I can tell you right now if anyone tries to take my Taco Bell from me while i'm devouring all of its deliciousness (don't judge me!), it's ON! Why should dogs be any different? Always set your dog up to succeed. If for whatever reason you need to take their bone from them, teach them to drop it with a verbal cue (https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/take-it-drop-it/) and exchange it with your high value treat. When walking by your dog that's eating out of their food bowl, from a position few feet away toss them an awesome treat. After a few days of doing this, see if your dog starts anticipating you walking to their food bowl by happily wagging their tail and with loose, relaxed body language. If so, you've now created a Conditioned Emotional Response (fancy, huh?!) and taught them that your presence means awesome things are about to happen for them. Learn more about that, here: http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/resource-guarding-treatment-and-prevention
****Qualified Force Free Trainer Help- www.PetprofessionalGuild.com
Photo credit: Mnn.com
Jaime Devereaux owns Jaime Doolittle Dog Training, in Palm Beach County, Florida. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed and trains in the following cities:
Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Wellington, West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee, Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach and Jupiter. 786-521-5023 www.JaimeDoolittle.com