Don’t Let the Dog Bite

aggressive-dog2No dog owner wishes to consider the embarrassing, potentially costly, and sometimes devastating instance of a dog bite. However, knowing what to do in such an event is crucial to an effective response.

The Environmental Health Department of Benton County is the first necessary call following an instance in which you or someone else has been bit. The proper forms are available on their website, or via a quick phone call. The department advises prompt and thorough cleansing of the affected area, as well as a tetanus/diptheria shot if the victim is not up to date.

Scott Krueger of the Benton County Health Department states that the department’s first step following a bite is to analyze the situation to determine the potential for the dog to repeat its aggressive behavior. They look to factors such as the victim’s proximity to the dog, whether they were approaching the dog or the house in which the dog resides, and the dog’s breed to determine their next steps. The department also questions whether the dog is licensed, as Benton County requires mandatory licensing for dogs over six months. Licensing requires proof of rabies vaccination for public safety. Owners who cannot provide proof are required to quarantine their dogs, as are individuals whose dogs have a documented history of aggressive behavior.

Julie Flanery of Wonder Dogs offers dog training based on the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s concepts. Her business is located in Philomath. “I favor the side of prevention in all aggression cases,” said Flanery, who advises owners to be observant of their dog’s behavior, noting any triggers that might be causing distress.

Flanery suggests owners with puppies or new dogs pay attention to the pet’s reactions to the world around them, introducing new forms of stimulation as slowly as possible. “It is best to get a handle on who this creature is before creating expectations or putting them in situations they are unable to cope with,” she said. Interestingly, that training “occurs whether you are purposeful about it or not.” Flanery’s basic philosophy in training is to “reward the behaviors you want,” while either ignoring or preventing the dog from completing behaviors that concern the owner.

Flanery suggests an owner thinks of their dog as “a perpetual three-year-old.” Flanery added, “Problem behaviors can stem from boredom and lack of enrichment just as much as it can from opportunity and lack of training. It is all about finding a balance in each person’s household.”

In addition to proper exercise that stimulates the mind and body, Flanery suggests that owners come to recognize their own dog’s particular signs of aggression or displeasure. Besides typical indications of stress like growling or barking, Flanery suggests, “There are many more subtle signs we do not read as well.” Among these are fear signals, including ducking or crouching when approached. She insists that dogs not be punished for these behaviors, as they reflect a dog’s fear level. When dogs are taught to avoid these behaviors, they often resort to biting for lack of any other means to signal their fear. In most bite situations, “Most likely warning signs were ignored, not detected, or punished out of the dog,” said Flanery.

Many owners experience stress, financial difficulty, or embarrassment given a loss of control over their animals. Yet the liability of owning a dog who potentially presents a danger to the public is considerable. Dogs are energetic, sociable creatures, and when interacted with properly, can provide joyous companionship. It is the owner’s responsibility to equip their pet with skills needed to thrive in their environment and home life. After all, would you raise a toddler without expecting to teach them how to be a healthy, happy, and polite citizen?

By Ariadne Wolf