Dogs have a ruff life sometimes.  Because despite being a sweet, loyal and playful sort, they often get a bad reputation of being a vicious species on account of a few bad apples.  Barely a day goes by that a local news station does not report a small child or little old lady being mauled by an agitated dog.  According to reports from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year (to further put these numbers in perspective, a little over 800,000 of these incidents are serious enough to warrant medical care).  This week, Wisconsin Pet Care will be highlighting some helpful tips to keep both man and dog living in perfect harmony.

Why do dogs bite?

There are many reasons why your perfect pup can be a cuddly cutie one moment and a scary sight the next.  One of the most common explanations is fear.  If a dog is feeling threatened, he will act on that emotion.  It’s important to never startle a dog and to always make sure he feels comfortable in unfamiliar situations.  For example, the veterinarian office can be a frightening place for any animal.  However, you can help ease the tension by bringing your fur baby in for a “practice visit”.  This way he can meet the doctor, get a sniff of the surroundings and bask in the excitement of a few treats and attention from the staff along the way.  If one pre-visit doesn’t help, try it again.  By the time the “real” visit happens, his anxiety will be at a manageable level.

The prey-drive is another motivator. You may think that children are mostly affected by dog bites in this capacity, but it can really happen to anyone.  Just jogging or riding a bicycle past a stray dog may get him to “hunt” you.  If you find that you are being chased by a dog, the best practice is to stop where you are at and stay still – it is likely that he will sniff you and move along.  However, if he does attack, you will want to roll into a ball and protect your face and neck – remain as still as possible.

Possessiveness is another factor to consider – “guard dogs” being the most likely offenders.  However, any dog can be affected and so it is recommended to train your dog out of this trait.  Food, toys, people, and property – all can be a catalyst.  Another consideration are mothers – they are possessive over their puppies and will attack at all costs to protect them.  DO NOT touch a stray dog’s puppies UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

How do you, the savvy pet parent, lower the risk of your own dog becoming a biter?

*Play – exercise helps lower anxiety, boredom and aggression.  It also reinforces the human-dog bond, creating a non-threatening relationship.

*Train – responsible dog owners train their animals.  The fact is, basic commands (sit, stay, and leave it, for example) are not difficult to teach, and your pup WANTS to learn.  Keep his mind active and yours at ease.

*Socialize – The more the merrier!  Surrounding your dog with people (and other dogs) will help build comfort in social situations – creating less anxiety.  Take it slow though, you do not want to overwhelm him. There are wonderful classes at the Zoom Room on Brady St. in Milwaukee to take Fido to become his suave self.

*Spay or Neuter – pets who are spayed or neutered tend to be less aggressive in nature.

*Kids – If you have children, be sure to teach them how to interact with animals.  To that end, it’s also important not to leave babies or toddlers alone with a dog.

Teach your children to respect your animals and not use them as a means for hitting or striking….even a golden can have it “up to here” and snap!