Dog attacks / Put teeth into the law and train the owners

“Tightening laws and regulations may help, but a more feasible way of managing and preventing dog attacks is enforcing the education of dog owners,” says dog trainer HEIKE HAHNER

Breeders carry a large part of the responsibility of dogs inheriting aggressive tendencies especially towards people.

THE recent savage dog attack on a policewoman in Canberra has raised again the serious questions on how to reduce the incidence of these attacks and how to regulate dog ownership.

Heike Hahner.

Blaming the dog and its breed is often the first reason put forward as the cause of the attack. Certain breeds such as terriers or guard dogs certainly have inherited a heightened level of aggression, but not all bite people.

Breeders carry a large part of the responsibility of dogs inheriting aggressive tendencies especially towards people. You hear rarely, for example, of greyhounds biting people, because they have been bred for decades for low aggression towards humans.

Owners certainly carry some responsibility if their dog bites someone. Mishandling, either via abuse or by spoiling, as we often see with little biters such as chihuahuas, can lead dogs to biting people. But again, there are severely abused dogs that don’t bite and those that need little encouragement to sink their teeth into a person.

But is it the person at fault who gets attacked? Theoretically, you should have a fair amount of control over a dog attacking you or not before the attack.

Placating visual signals can be given to the dog to keep aggression low. Avoiding eye contact, looking bored, turning side on to the dog, behaving in a calm, friendly and positive manner giving the dog plenty of space can all prevent a dog from attacking.

However, once an attack has started it can be difficult to disengage from the dog. The literature recommends protecting vital body parts such as hands and face and front of the body by pressing against a solid object like a wall or tree, if those are not available to curl into a ball, lie still and avoid screaming to not agitate the dog further.

So what can be done to prevent future dog attacks? Tightening laws and regulations may help, but in my view a more feasible way of managing and preventing dog attacks is enforcing the education of dog owners, the public and those working in areas where they will encounter strange dogs.

Also it’s essential that dog owners, especially those who own dogs over a certain weight or belong to particular breeds, go to training.

Unfortunately, many people think that puppy classes at the vet’s is all the training their dog needs.

Going to a dog club or a qualified dog trainer is the best choice to train dogs effectively and for the long term. Most dogs will benefit substantially by being regularly trained for the first two to three years of their lives. This applies especially to breeds such as working, guard and many hunting dogs. Going to a dog club is great for participating in dog sports and social activities, but they may be less helpful with aggression issues.

Private trainers will provide individual attention and are often more inclined to take on more serious issues such as aggression or fear-based problems.

Heike Hahner is a dog and pet training and psychology consultant, hhahner@bigpond.com

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