Friday, January 8, 2010

Teresa's Bad Rules

We haven't talked about the bad rules for a while, so the beginning of a new year seems like a good time. Teresa's bad rules are so named because the kids in her dog obedience class don't really like most of them and some have called them "the bad rules". Most rules have a Do and a Do Not portion. We would like to be able to keep the rules in a positive light, but some kids do need to have everything spelled out and unfortunately are accustomed to being told what not to do.

Here are the rules:

  1. Do not hug a dog, put your face close to his face or lie on him. Do sit beside your dog, rub his chest or scratch him on the side of the neck.

  2. Do not play chase-me games with a dog. Do play hide and seek - where the dog has to find you or an object that you hide.

  3. Do not play tug-of-war games with a dog. Do play fetch with the dog - teach the dog to trade the object for a treat so he won't try to tug.

  4. Do not lean over or step over a dog. Do respect a dog's resting place - go around him or ask an adult to move the dog.

  5. Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, has a toy or bone, is hurt or has puppies. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.

  6. Do not dress a dog up in play clothes. Do dress up your stuffed animals.

  7. Do not hit a dog or poke him with a stick. Do be gentle with dogs.

  8. Do not pull a dog's ears, tail or fur. Do scratch the dog's chest or the side of her neck - most dogs enjoy this.

  9. Do not stick fingers or hands into the dog's crate. Do ask an adult to let the dog out of the crate if you want to pet her.

  10. Do not play in the dog's crate. Do play "in and out of the crate" with the dog - toss a treat in - dog goes in to get it - dog comes back out - toss another treat in etc (with adult supervision).

  11. If your dog does not welcome you with wagging and panting - leave him alone. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.

  12. If your dog gets too rough or excited, be a tree until he gets bored and goes away.

  13. Do not run and shout around a dog that is not in a crate. Do be calm around dogs; involve the dog in an activity such as chewing on a bone or playing fetch so he doesn't feel that he needs to chase you to have fun.

Who is Teresa anyway?

Download a PDF version of the bad rules that you can hand out.

Dog Bite Fatalities from 2009

Please check out this posting from the KC Dog Blog if you are interested in knowing the details (as reported in the media) of the dog bite fatalities in the US in 2009. There were 33 dog bite fatalities in 2009, 20 of them children. Fatal attacks are very rare (considering that there are reportedly 73 million dogs in the US), but the circumstances tend to be reported, providing an opportunity to learn about the conditions that result in dog attacks. It is very likely that many unreported bites also occurred under similar circumstances and that many children are at risk, even if a bite has not yet occurred. The information we gain from the circumstances of the fatal attacks can help us learn what needs to be done to prevent both fatal and non-fatal attacks.

Here are some of the circumstances of the attacks on children:

  • Child left unsupervised with the dog ("for just a moment" in most cases): 11/20
  • Dog chained: 9/20 (we will talk more about this in a future post)
There are doubtless many other factors involved, including training and living conditions of the dogs, which if improved could result in significant risk reduction. However, two recommendations are clearly supported by the available evidence:

We must continue to urge parents never to leave a child unsupervised with a dog even for a moment.

We must continue to educate people on the danger of keeping a dog on a chain and to urge parents to teach children to keep away from chained dogs.

Using the Be a Tree Kit with Private Clients

We designed the Be a Tree teacher kit for use in classrooms so that we would have large photos to use to teach the kids how to interpret dog body language. We used to take our dogs into the classroom, but there were two main problems with this from a point of view of teaching about body language. Most of the time the dogs were happy and content and did not show any of the signs of stress that we wanted to teach the kids to recognize. When they did show signs of being fed up, such as licking their chops and yawning, we would have to contradict our own messages if we let them remain in a situation in which they were becoming uncomfortable. So we stopped taking the dogs into the classroom and started taking the photos. Some Be a Tree presenters also take a stuffed dog, which is a great idea.

Once we realized how effective the photos were as a teaching tool, Teresa (co-creator of the kit) started taking it into dog classes and into private behaviour consults to teach about body language. We have had reports from many other trainers and behaviour consultants who have also used the Be a Tree kit in this way. Here is one such report, from Yamei Ross of Canine SOS in Oshawa ON:

I find the Be a Tree materials invaluable when working with my private clients who have children. Parents often believe their dogs are "really good" with kids because their dog tolerates having his hair and ears pulled, or being pushed or pulled around. When I see this, I immediately turn to my Doggone Safe materials and include a mini-workshop for the parents and children as part of their training package. I bring the kit with me and use the pictures to show them what a safe and un-safe dog looks like. I explain what these signals mean and how their family pet is trying to communicate to them when they are feeling uncomfortable.

I especially love when my clients tell me, "Oh, I have seen that look on my dog before!" and "Now I know what it means!" My clients are always grateful to have been given a window into their dog's culture and language. I talk to them about the difference between their dog "tolerating" and "enjoying" interactions with their children. The parents and the kids love the pictures and I always make sure to leave a Doggone Safe postcard with them so they can refer to it if they are unsure. I plan to incorporate Doggone Safe into my group classes as well, so I can teach all my clients, whether private or group, how to "read dog" and have a safe and happy relationship with their family pooch.

I find I am using the Doggone Safe materials with my private clients a fair bit. I don't know what I would do without it!

Reasons for Fatal Dog Attacks

We'd like to let you know about a book that provides very interesting insight into why dogs attack and gives a well-researched perspective on the historical interpretation of dog bite statistics. The book is called the Pit Bull Placebo and the author is Karen Delise. Karen is an author, survivor of a serious dog attack, dog lover and researcher. She has spent many years investigating the factors involved in fatal dog attacks and her previous book: "Fatal Dog Attacks, the stories behind the statistics" gives details and analysis for many attacks. This book is no longer available, but much of the information from Karen's research is now at the website for the National Canine Research Council.

Here is an excerpt from the Pit Bull Placebo:

Few things in life come without some level of risk. Swimming pools, automobiles, household cleaning products, power tools, bicycles, stairs, and dogs all come with a certain level of potential harm. Our lives are comprised of evaluating risks on a daily basis. From how fast we drive our cars or when to cross a busy street, or cordoning off swimming pools and staircases from unsupervised children, we think about or act on the potential danger of things daily. Why then is it so difficult for so many people to understand that this applies to our dogs as well? While dogs are certainly less of a risk factor than automobiles or swimming pools, nevertheless, the same theory applies—dogs are safe when maintained in a responsible manner and when people show a reasonable level of risk assessment. Terrible, unforeseeable accidents will always occur in life, but the point is to strive to make these incidents as rare as possible.

There are presently 73 million dogs in the United States and approximately two dozen human deaths per year are due to dog attacks. In approximately one half to three-quarters (12–18) of these deaths, the victims are young children. However, over 250 children under the age of five die yearly in swimming pools.

Comparing yearly dog bite fatalities to yearly fatalities associated with automobiles, swimming pools or lightning shows that dogs are incredibly low on the list of potential dangers. While the risk of being killed by a dog is extremely low, serious dog bites and attacks obviously present a likelier risk. Both serious and fatal attacks can be reduced by reasonable risk assessment. Owners can reduce the risk of their dog biting someone through dozens of different methods, from educating themselves about canine behavior and enrolling in dog training classes to properly containing and supervising their dogs. Potential victims can also reduce their risk of dog attacks by learning about canine behaviors and how to respond to an aggressive-looking dog. There are literally hundreds of books written on these topics, as well as information presented on the Internet, television and even radio. For those wishing to educate themselves and lower the potential risk associated with dogs, the information is available and highly accessible.


The answers to severe and fatal canine attacks are not to be found in statistics, or in discussing dog breeds, or in recent accounts of dog attacks found in the media. The answers to canine aggression can only be found beginning with an examination of the relationship (or lack of one) between dogs and owners.

If you are interested in reading the whole book you can download a
free PDF or purchase the printed book from Dogwise.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dogs and Baby Equipment

A baby in a mechanical swing was killed by the family dog in New Orleans in 2005. The coroner suggested that the movement of the baby swing may have triggered a predatory response in the dog. A subsequent fatality in 2008 underscores the need for caution with moving baby equipment, and of course the need for constant supervision of dogs and babies.

Jennifer Shryock of Family Paws gives this advice to expectant parents with respect to baby swings...

It is best to introduce baby swings and all baby equipment to the family dog prior to the arrival of the baby. Baby swings have all sorts of gadgets these days! They vibrate, make music and even rotate. It is important to know your dog's individual sensitivities and prepare him well ahead of time. Some points to consider with baby swings:

1. Once in motion some dogs find the natural desire to chase hard to control around baby swings.

2. The noise of a vibration device in the swing can make an irritating humming noise for some dogs.

3. Spinning objects that are meant to be visually stimulating to an infant may be enticing to a dog to catch.

4. Noises of the music may be irritating to some dogs sensitive ears.

It is important that family dogs learn how to behave calmly around all baby equipment prior to its use with an infant. Practice before your baby is home with a doll in the swing. Teach your dog how you want him to behave and reward positive and appropriate behavior. As always it is NEVER safe to leave a baby and dog unsupervised for any reason at any time. Find out more

This and other advice from Jen, a leading expert in the area of baby safety around dogs, is presented for parents and dog professionals alike in a DVD that is available from Family Paws.

Case File: A Brave Child Saves Himself by Being a Tree

This week's case file was kindly provided by Beth Wheeler of Marblehead MA and originally published in the Feb 2005 issue of the Doggone Safe newsletter

So... Jake, Frank & I were at our nephew's house to visit our newest grandniece - adorable. Our nephew and his sweet wife have a miniature greyhound looking dog (obviously not sure of the breed...). Anyway, Jake was having fun playing with Simon who seemed perfectly happy with the attention. Later in the evening, Simon was sitting with my Niece-in-law and Jake leaned in to kiss Simon on the head - something he does regularly with our dog...

Before the words of caution were out of our mouths... Simon let out a quick yet unfortunately quiet growl which Jake missed followed by a pretty decent nip to Jake's bottom lip. Jake jumped back (the dog followed barking) and Jake snapped into the Tree pose so fast I thought I'd seen him turn to stone. I couldn't believe he actually thought to do it - it had been over a year since we've had time to play Doggone Crazy. The dog immediately stopped barking, jumped back into his blankie and further trouble was thus averted. Jake began listing all of the things he should have noticed about the scene - pretending he was reading off of a Doggone Crazy card... dog in master's lap, ears down, growl...

Jake's lip is just fine. The 'bite' truly looks like a couple of needle pricks yet the boy learned a hugely valuable lesson. I'd bet he'll look A LOT more carefully for the signs next time he tries to cuddle someone else's dog!