My dog, Jack, is the sweetest miniature schnauzer around. I'm his mom, so of course I'm going to say that. But, even though he is as sweet as can be, we often encounter dogs during our walks that seem to have a problem with him.
Recently, it was a particular dog that lunged toward Jack with such anger that I began to think: Is it Jack? Or is that dog aggressive toward all other dogs? What would I have done had that dog's owner not pulled him away by his leash? What if he had escaped his backyard and approached us on the street, with no barrier to protect us from him?
To get some answers to my questions, I turned to Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, director of Animal Behavior Consultations in the Kansas City Metropolitan area. Hunthausen, pet behavior consultant and co-author of AAHA's Pet Behavior Brochures, gave me some valuable insight into how to avoid and handle dog fights.
First, explained Hunthausen, it is important for pet owners to prevent their dogs from becoming aggressive in the first place. There are a few ways to do that:
Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, is director of Animal Behavior Consultations in the Kansas City area. He is the past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and is on the editorial board of several veterinary journals.
Dr. Hunthausen lectures worldwide on the topic of pet behavior and is the co-author/editor of more than 50 books. He is also the 2002 recipient of the American Animal Hospital Association's PetCare behavior award.
- Protect puppies from being attacked by other dogs.
- Provide plenty of socialization in the first 4–6 months of age. A great, safe way to accomplish this is to network with friends who have friendly, vaccinated dogs (never attempt to socialize at a dog park). You can also enroll your dog in puppy and/or obedience classes.
- During walks, teach your dog that it is OK to see other dogs being walked. Every time you see a dog being walked, even if the other dog is a block away, have your dog sit and stay, then give him a treat when he doesn't bark at the other dog.
- Avoid territorial behaviors like barking or growling at other dogs from the yard, or through windows. Close curtains, or buy products, such as a humane barking collar, that help train the dog to refrain from barking. Then, be sure to reinforce good behavior by rewarding your dog with a treat when other dogs pass and he doesn't bark at them.
Of course, even if your dog isn't aggressive, your chances of encountering an aggressive dog during a walk are pretty good. Dr. Hunthausen offers some tips on how to prevent dog fights. “Avoid any dogs off-leash, regardless of their size. If they approach you anyway, raise your arms and yell ‘stop' or ‘go away.' This may help to intimidate the aggressive dog.
“You can also carry products like the Spray Shield—a product that sprays citronella about 6–8 feet. If an aggressive animal is approaching, spray the animal directly in the face. It is packaged like mace, but is fairly benign, and is similar to, but more effective than, spraying water in the animal's face.”
Dr. Hunthausen also recommended using a walking stick, wearing a jacket or carrying a backpack, all of which can be used to defend yourself and your dog from an aggressive animal. Other products that could deter an aggressive dog include a loud air horn, InteroSTOP™ or a hiker's emergency whistle.
“Once you arrive home safely, it's important to take the time to call animal control to report your encounter with the aggressive dog. He could be a risk to other animals, or even children in the neighborhood,” explained Dr.Hunthausen.
“While genetics does play a part in dog behavior, aggressive behavior is typically a people problem, not an animal problem. Past experience, mistreatment and lack of training or socialization are frequently to blame for an aggression issue.”
Thanks to Dr. Hunthausen's advice, I'll feel a lot safer during walks with Jack, and perhaps we can begin working on that territorial behavior of his, too.
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