We seem to have a big uptick in dog bites recently and it’s not clear why. I get all the reports of bite incidents in our city and the increase in the last few weeks is notable. Everything from a classic bite to a mail carrier (that is one of the highest injury risks in that profession), to the more typical bite that occurs when owners are trying to break up a dog fight (tip – pick up the attacking dog from the back legs, like a wheelbarrow, to get him to release his bite hold and not redirect on you.) In reading through incident after incident a couple things become apparent and a few simple modifications to your home could prevent this type of situation from ever happening in the first place.
Over and over the stories begin with a dog escaping through the front door or out the gate to charge at someone, usually walking their dog past the house. Sometimes it’s just a young, enthusiastic dog wanting to say hi but even so, being surprised by a dog coming full force at you is frightening. Many dogs, that are normally dog friendly, react out of surprise or fear with a negative greeting and so it escalates into a fight. Dogs on a leash are at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to dog-to-dog greetings. They are restricted in their movement and limited in how they can respond so sometimes that gets in the way of how the two dogs would deal with each other. It doesn’t help that the person on the other end of the leash is probably reacting hysterically too!
Of course changing how the charging dog greets others would be helpful. Training is always a good idea but it takes time and sometimes a dog just is dog aggressive and that behavior can’t be changed. Then it’s up to the owner to manage the environment to prevent a meeting from happening. We require a few simple modifications to the home for anyone who’s dog is deemed Potentially Dangerous or Dangerous but why wait for that to happen? If everyone was proactively careful, the world and our pets would be a lot safer.
For example, all gates should have a spring-loaded closer on them. That way it can’t accidentally be left open. And it doesn’t hurt to keep a lock on it to prevent the wind or children from opening it when it shouldn’t. That one thing alone will cut the number of lost pets and bite situations dramatically. So many lost pet reports come in with the same reason – kids left the gate open, the gardeners left the gate open, the wind accidentally blew our gate open and so on. How do you ensure that your gate is not left open? An automatic closer. They're available at most hardware stores for just $10-$15.
The second way dogs escape the home is by charging out the front door. You may not realize that another dog is being walked by when you open the door to leave your home but trust me, your dog already knows he is there! A simple way to prevent that problem would be to install a screen door, or if your dog is large and strong, a security screen door. Having a double door system not only allows you an opportunity to see what is outside so you are prepared but it gives you the extra time needed to restrain your dog from charging out. This is especially valuable when you have children going in and out or someone who is slow-moving in the household. There are lots of other safety reasons to have a second door but we’re just focusing on your pets’ safety right now and it works well for that!
While you are busy sprucing up your yard and doing your spring cleaning around your house, it would be the perfect time to install these two safety devices. Let’s see if we can’t reduce our bite incidents and keep our pets and neighbors safe!
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.