May 15 through 21st is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, established by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to help stop the nearly 5 million dog bites that happen every year. Although dog bites clearly always an issue, a lot of articles have come out on the subject the last few days.
At the Houston, Texas, kick-off for 2011’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week®, the USPS announced the top-10 cities in which letter carriers were attacked most often. Seattle ranked #10 with 28 bites last year.
I also came across an eye-opening but entertaining post by blogger Ryan Bradford who is a mailman in San Diego. The post was titled “All the Dogs Want to Kill Me”. He took photos of aggressive dog’s he encountered on his mail route. The post goes on to say that owners often joke with him about their dog’s aggression saying “don’t worry, he is really harmless. He would probably just lick you to death”. You can see by the photos, big and small dogs alike can look very threatening.
Do strangers really know or trust that your dog will only lick them though? Do owners really know that is how a dog would treat strangers “trying to break into their house” by putting mail in the box? Sure, your dog may bark and carry on when you are around and calm down when they see you welcome the stranger but what if you are not home and they can’t go off your behavior cues?
All of this reminds me of something funny that happened last week. It may be funny but it proves a point. We ordered a pizza and when the delivery man came to the door Chester went nuts as usual. I scooped him up and answered the door. The pizza man looked at me in honest amazement and said “THAT is the dog that was doing all the barking?”He of course couldn’t see Chester behind the door and obviously assumed by his “large” bark that he was a big dog that would have eaten his face off.
All of the articles I have come across recently seem to focus on mail carriers. However, dog aggression, or perceived dog aggression, doesn’t stop with the mailman. Another thing I was reminded of this week was of a poster I saw taped to the message board at a trailhead. I wasn’t a blogger then so I wasn’t busily snapping photos of absolutely everything. I wish I could find it or would have taken a picture because it was so great.
All I can do is describe it in words. There were two simple, similar sketches with one major difference. One was titled “How You See Your Dog” and had a man standing there with a happy dog on a leash. The dog was sitting with it’s tongue hanging out, a smile on its face and a happily wagging tail. The other sketch was titled “How Others See Your Dog” and had a man standing there with a dog off leash in a forward lunging position. The dog back hair was raised and it was bearing it’s teeth. It’s true that people don’t always see fluffy the way you do.
I don’t know if there is a solution to the mailman issue because every dog I know, even the best trained ones, will bark when a stranger approaches the door. However, there are many dogs out there that need to learn some manners with people and other dogs. I get questions all the time through my dachshund group about how one tames their aggressive dog that doesn’t play well with others.
I think the first key is socialization. Dogs who are not socialized, tethererd or are confined for long periods of time are more likely to attack or use their protective instincts since they are not familiar with humans or human contact. So get your dog out to meet with other dogs and teach him or her the kind of behavior you expect. Start will small bits of contact with new situations and then work your way up to more challenging situations and longer periods of time.
Almost all dog trainers have some sort of program to address the reactive or aggressive dog. If you can’t afford a trainer you can also look online for many do-it-yourself tips like with Cesar Milan or Victoria Stilwell (who don’t asgree on methods by the way but one of them will work with your dog).
Remember, bites are real and can sometimes be very serious. Don’t let your dog become a statistic.