Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tip of the Day: Talk to Your Child After a Dog Bite - It is NOT the Child's Fault

It is Child Mental Health Week and Dog Bite Prevention Week, so we are starting off our series of daily tips on the topic of emotional support for children after a dog bite.

Children who are bitten by a dog often experience significant stress that can persist long after the incident. The may feel betrayed if their own dog bit them, guilt if the dog is put down or sent away, anxiety due to the distress that this has caused their parents and fear of some or all dogs. Signs that your child is experiencing emotional distress or even post traumatic stress include, nightmares, social withdrawal, fear of going outside or other changes in behavior that surface after the incident.

Please remember that no matter what, it is NOT YOUR CHILD'S FAULT that they were bitten by a dog. If the dog was supervised and secure the child would not have encountered the dog. Be sure to reassure your child that it is not his fault and avoid using language that might add to a child's guilt ("you should have..." or "why didn't you..." or "if only you had..." or "I told you not to..."). In many cases neither the child nor the supervising adult, nor the dog owner realized that there was a danger of a bite because the dog was a generally friendly family pet. In other cases the child encountered a strange dog running loose, a situation that should have been prevented by the dog owner. Learning about dog body language and how to read the signs from a dog will help prevent these types of bites in the future and will be empowering for the child. We do not blame the victim, but we do encourage education for children just as we would for any hazard. The more they know, the less likely they are to be hurt.

Child psychiatrist Dr. R. Larry Schmitt recommends that parents repeatedly encourage and allow their child to talk about the incident and their feelings.

Read an article by Dr. Schmitt about why it is important to keep encouraging your child to talk about the bite or attack and more importantly to listen to your child.

Find out more and read answers by Dr. Schmitt to frequently asked questions from parents.

Dr. Schmitt will be giving a lecture for parents about how to help a child after a dog bite. This will be held at the San Diego Humane Society on May 22 from 6:30-8:00 PM. If your child has been bitten, be sure to attend so that you know how to prevent lasting emotional effects.

Click here for more information or to register. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tip of the Day: Learn to Tell the Tale From the Tail

Dogs Talk with Their Tails - But Can We Understand?

One of the biggest misconceptions that we hear about dog body language is that “ the dog must be happy, he is wagging his tail”. In actuality a wagging tail is one of least reliable indicators about how a dog is feeling, unless you know what to look for. There are many different types of wag and there is only one type that indicates a safe dog for children to pet. Let’s start with that one!

The Calm Wag

The calm wag is a loosely wagging tail, with the tail held below the level of the dog’s back. For breeds that naturally curl their tail over their backs, the tail will be held high, but the wag is loose. The whole dog may wag to some degree, but it is not a frantic type of wag. The calm wag, accompanied by a smiling panting face indicates a relaxed dog who may want to meet or interact with a child. If the dog stops panting and wagging, or stops panting and commences a stiffer type of wagging then this is a warning to back off. The dog has become uncomfortable with your approach. The best way to interact with the happy, panting and wagging dog is to invite him over to see you, rather than moving into his space. 

Watch this video to see the difference between a high, stiff wag (as discussed below) and a calm wag. Notice that the white dog holds his tail very high and stiff while he is meeting and sizing up the other dogs, but when he interacts with the child he holds his tail lower and wags loosely. This is an excellent demonstration of what we mean by loose versus stiff. The dog is loose with the child and stiff with the other dogs. His interaction with child is entirely appropriate and this is the type of wag we want to see in all dogs who interact with children. If you don’t see this, then intervene and redirect the dog and child to other activities.

The Propeller Wag

In the propeller wag, the whole tail goes all the way around like a propeller. This is usually reserved for greetings to special people that the dog is particularly happy to see. This dog wants to greet you and this is fine if you are adult. The level of excitement here may be too much for a child and the dog may jump, scratch or knock a small child over by mistake. It is best to wait for the dog to calm down before he is allowed to greet children.

The Whole Body Wag

Sometimes a dog is so happy and excited that the whole dog wags in a frenzy of activity. Again a dog this excited should not be allowed to interact with children until he calms down.

The High Tail

If a dog holds his tail high over his back, whether wagging stiffly or held still, this is a warning to back off. This dog is assessing the situation and is not likely to be welcoming of any invasion of his space. If your dog puts his tail up to you or your children, this could be a sign of impending trouble. He could be issuing a challenge (as seen in the photo) and may bite if further provoked. Find a behavior consultant who will use positive reinforcement-based training to help you make sure that your dog develops a more cooperative relationship with the family. Teach your children to Be a Tree right away if any dog puts his tail up to them, even if it is their own dog or a dog they know.

The Slow Wag

The slow wag, if accompanied by a generally stiff body is also a sign of danger. This dog is making a decision and he may decide that he does not want to meet you.

The Low Wag

Sometimes a dog will hold his tail very low, or between his legs and may even wag just the end of his tail. This dog is feeling very uncertain or even afraid and would prefer to be left alone.

Learn more with our online course: Basic Dog Body Language (CEUs from many different dog training and vet tech organizations)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tip of the Day: Get off Your Bike if a Dog Chases You

Making it Worse?

We are asked this question quite frequently: What should I do if a dog chases me or my kids while we are riding our bikes? Most adults assume that if they have good speed they can outride a dog. A cyclist in our area was badly injured when dog ran down a farm lane barking at him. He sped up to try to get away from the dog, lost control on the gravel shoulder and fell off his bike. The dog sniffed him and walked away.

Avoid a Chase

Kids on bikes should never assume that they can ride faster than a dog can run, because most likely they can't. If confronted by a dog while riding a bike, the best thing to do is to stop and if there is time get off the bike so that the bike is between you and the dog.

The main motivation for the dog is the chase and when there is nothing to chase the dog will lose interest. If the dog does catch a moving cyclist this could result in serious injuries both from the fall and from the dog, whose natural instinct is to bite and shake prey that it has caught. It is best to defuse the situation by removing the dog's motivation to chase.

Some people have been told that they should get off the bike, but keep moving so as to keep the bike between them and the dog. This movement will just keep the dog interested longer. It is best to stand still even if the dog circles around the bike to investigate and even if the dog is barking and acting aggressively.

A Note to Cyclists on Busy Trails

If you see a person walking a dog on a leash ahead of you, make some noise to warn the dog handler so that they can move over to give you room to pass. They will be more than happy to do this. If there is only a narrow passing area, please slow down, or even better, get off your bike and walk past (with your bike between you and the dog, just in case). If the dog handler looks like they are having trouble with the dog, or they have multiple dogs, you are advised to walk your bike past. Blasting past pedestrians with a few inches to spare is not cool (dog or no dog) and could result in a surprised dog pulling loose and chasing you. In some mixed use trails, there could be loose dogs, be ready to stop if the dog looks like it might give chase. You may be fast, but a large breed dog in peak condition is faster.

Here is a video that shows the wrong thing to do if a dog chases you while you are riding a bike. Notice that when the cyclist moves the bike to try to keep the dog on the other side of it, this just makes the dog more interested in him. As soon as he stops moving the dog loses interest.

Here is a video that shows the right thing to do. Notice how much less interested the dog is when the cyclist stands still, compared to the previous video, when he kept moving around.