[Dog Bite Prevention Week] I Love My Dog, But She Will Bite

National Dog Bite Prevention Week

My dog will bite you. My dog will bite me. She’ll bite my husband and my children.

I don’t live in a delusional fantasy land where dogs don’t bite when they’re scared, stressed or hurt. For everyone’s safety, I treat my dog as though she will bite even though she’s generally a pile of cuddly mush.

It’s my job to intervene when I feel that Bailey is stressed, over-aroused or scared because these are the instinctual emotions that she will feel before she harms someone.

Dogs rarely bite “out of nowhere.” Dogs usually exhibit signs that they are uncomfortable, but those signs are often ignored by their owners. In some cases, these signs are trained out by their owners, like when a dog is punished every time she growls. Soon, the dog learns that growling leads to punishment and you’ve lost one of your signals that your dog is uncomfortable. So your dog didn’t bite out of nowhere. You trained her not to tell you she’s about to bite.

I never punish Bailey for growling and I work fast to mediate whatever situation is causing her stress. I want Bailey to growl because that’s how I know I need to intervene before things become dangerous.

Kids and Dogs

More often than not, that adorable photo of the baby and the dog currently circulating the interwebs is a nightmare waiting to happen. Some dogs are perfectly comfortable with their tiny human companions while others are forced to interact because their owner thinks it’s cute. If you really scrutinize a photo involving a child and a dog, you’ll find that oftentimes the dog is exhibiting some signs of stress: Their ears could be pulled back, their eyes are white and shifty, they have a furrowed brow, and their body is stiff. This dog is not happy. This is a dog that could bite.

Preventing a child from being bitten is why I’ve been learning about dog body language since Bailey entered our life. I watch videos, study pictures and read articles from animal behavioral experts all in hopes that I can prevent a bite.

Ultimately, though, if my child does get bitten, it’s my fault. I did not do my job as a human and pet parent to ensure that Bailey and our child were interacting in a safe manner. Maybe I was exhausted. Maybe it was hard to tell how she was feeling. Maybe I made a mistake. No matter what, it’s my fault and I will never blame Bailey.

Bailey is a fun, sweet, well-behaved pup. She lives for belly rubs and slobbery kisses. She’s been a wonderful playmate for children before and I believe she will make an awesome companion for our child.

I'll never say, "My dog won't bite." // After the Knot

I’ll never say, “My dog won’t bite.” // After the Knot

But she’s a dog. She’s an animal. Animals are instinctual and somewhat unpredictable. I love my dog with all of my heart and soul, but she will bite me if she felt she had to.

And I’m OK with that.

Dog Bite Facts from AVMA

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

Resources

Knowledge is the best way to prevent dog bites. Here are some of my favorite resources.

American Veterinary Medical Association: The sponsors behind Dog Bite Prevention Week

Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services: The Facebook page for this consulting business is AMAZING and has wonderful, wonderful examples of why that adorable viral dog video is not adorable and is actually very dangerous.

Family Paws Parent Education: Great for families with dogs

Lili Chin: Her illustrations are a MUST VIEW for anyone attempting to learn how to decode dog body language. They continue to be a constant help for me.

Dr. Sophia Yin: While Dr. Yin, sadly, committed suicide late last year, her work remains instrumental to fostering a positive bond between pets and their owners. Her entire site is a wealth of information.

Victoria Stillwell Positively: Generally speaking, I try to stay away from any “expert” that has a TV show, but if you’re going to go the way of the TV trainer, Victoria Stillwell is the one to give your support. Unlike He Who Shall Not Be Named, Stillwell uses proven science-based training techniques and actually has an understanding of dog behavior.

 

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Adventures in Dog Training: Preparing for the Not-Yet-Conceived Baby

I’m just going to come right out and say it:

My dog fucking rocks. She’s awesome. She really is the best dog on the face of the Earth.

But, she’s far from perfect.

She’s really great with a lot of her basic skills, like Sit, Stay, Leave-It, etc. She’s less great with more complicated skills like recall. When she sees people she wants to say hello to she charges forward and barks like a maniac. It’s incredibly disturbing to anyone that doesn’t know her. We’re slowly working on this one.

The stress of a foster kitten has made her a little food aggressive toward the cats so I enlisted the help of our trainer for some advice.

I mentioned that I also wanted to teach Bailey how to stop barking on cue because I know the skill will come in handy once we have a baby.

Our trainer suggested also working on some other skills are great for when a baby is around, like not rushing to the front door and learning to stay out of a room when asked.

Setting Barriers

One of the first things I learned about training a dog is that they need boundaries. Now, not only are we teaching boundaries, but we’re setting barriers.

We’re teaching Bailey the cue Wait which in effect means, “don’t move forward. There is a line and you cannot cross it.” I could use this cue when I’m putting Future Baby in her crib and I don’t want Bailey following me into her room. I would ask Bailey to wait in the doorway and she would not follow me in. If she wants to leave, that’s fine, but she can’t move forward.

We practice Wait at every doorway, including this one from the hallway to the kitchen. / After the Knot

We practice Wait at every doorway, including this one from the hallway to the kitchen. / After the Knot

Wait is different than stay which is, stay here until I tell you to move. I guess you could argue they should be the other way around, but she’s a dog. I could use the word shishkabob and it wouldn’t matter.

Door Manners

I started teaching Bailey door manners a while back, but even though it should have been a high-priority, I was never consistent with her training.

We’re now trying to teach Bailey to stay on her bed when we answer the door. The same skills for wait apply here.

A note letting people know that it might take a minute to answer the door. We're not trying to be rude, we're just trying to train our dog. / After the Knot

A note letting people know that it might take a minute to answer the door. We’re not trying to be rude, we’re just trying to train our dog. / After the Knot

While you can use audio files of door bells and door knocks to practice, we practice this every day when we come home.

(Our trainer suggested we do this. It’s so common sense, I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it earlier.)

For example, when I come home from work, or anywhere, I don’t go to the side door anymore. Like a guest would, I go to the front door. I ring the bell and watch C work to get Bailey on her bed.  Right now, we release her almost immediately, slowly building up her ability to stay.

This enables us to practice this skill every day without needing people to come over regularly.

We’re hoping that by the time Future Baby arrives, guests will be able to enter the house without pushing by a very excited Lab.

This video from trainer Victoria Stillwell shows the process that we’re using teach Bailey this skill.

Quiet

With at least half a dozen dogs outdoor dogs near my house, it’s very easy for the howls to start. Someone coming home from work down the street could trigger the chorus of the barking dogs. Naturally, Bailey has to get in on this action.

Power of Barking

As Puppy Bailey has taught me, I’m not very functional without sleep. I cry. A lot. I also get angry really easily.

At some point, we’ll have a baby and I fully intend to attempt to sleep while Future Baby sleeps. If a chorus of barking dogs causes Bailey to bark and wake up Future Baby and the precious moments of sleep I have are gone, I’m going to flip. the. fuck. out.

So, I figured if we started now we’d have at least a year and a half to teach Bailey to STFU when we ask her.

Training quiet has been a little more difficult, just because it’s unpredictable. This involves rewarding Bailey the moment she stops barking, knowing she would likely start up again almost immediately. This skill will take a long time to learn, which is why we wanted a good amount of time before we’d have to apply it.

Since working on this though, I’ve noticed Bailey does settle down a little bit more quickly, but we have a long way to go.

Our Trainer

Words can’t describe how excited I am to have found Kassondra from Always Pawsitive. It’s been really hard to find a positive reinforcement trainer that doesn’t use “positive training” as a marketing buzzword. If you live in southeastern Wake County or northwestern Johnston County, I hope you’ll look her up.

 

What did you do to prepare you dog for a new little human? 

Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions Post

As 2014 came to a close, I’m likely one of many people that reflected on the promised improvements they made this time last year.

For me, New Year’s resolutions have always been kind of useless. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really achieved any of the goals I set for myself. I do like considering the New Year as a blank slate, though. I think dwelling on the mistakes of your past can be destructive, but setting broad goals without any sort of infrastructure to help achieve them defeats the purpose.

What good is “lose 60 pounds” if I don’t also include the steps I’ll need to actually lose that much weight? Case in point, losing 60 pounds has been my New Year’s resolution for a good two years, but not only did I not achieve that goal each year, I put on more weight.

Finally shedding 18 pounds wasn’t due to multiple resolutions; my weight loss was due to accomplishing small goals and changes throughout the year (and yes, weight loss medication my doctor prescribed).

It was setting a goal to work out four times a week and including two vegetables with dinner (something we still struggle with). It was trying desperately to avoid eating carbs for lunch and dinner. It was signing up for three 5Ks with a goal to do them without walking. It was striving to go to yoga once a week. Those little goals had more of an impact on my success than the bold statement of “lose 60 pounds.”

So, this year I’m taking a different approach to New Year’s resolutions.

In that vein, here are some small goals to get 2015 started:

Finances

Our paltry savings were wiped out when we moved to Raleigh more than four years ago. Consistent financial insecurity has caused us to put any potential savings toward chipping away at debt (medical, credit card and student loan).

someecards.com

someecards.com

While that hasn’t changed, I decided to build up our savings again by automatically drafting $20 from each paycheck. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to transfer those accrued savings, but in my savings account is where they should stay.

Fitness

The past year, I’ve focused mainly on cardio because I only have time to do one workout each day and the dog can’t lift weights. This year, I want to do at least two days of strength training per week.

I’m not giving up running (or “running”), though. As I’ve written about before, now that I’ve reached my distance goal, I’ll be working on speed to bring down my mile time. Like last year, I’ll sign up for a few races to keep me focused and motivated.

earthporm.com

earthporm.com

I want to continue going to yoga at least once a week, kicking it up to two when it works with my weekend schedule. At the very least, I plan on incorporating yoga into my strength training routine. Sun salutations are like yoga burpees, I assure you.

(They look easy, but do 10 rounds and tell me how your arms feel the next day)

Food

We’ve been half-assing an attempt to include more produce into our diet for a while now. Most of it goes in the compost pile unused and rotten. This year, on top of wasting less, I want to start thinking about our meals a little differently.

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

We generally focus on protein and build dinner around that.

Example: We have chicken. What can we make with chicken? Chicken cutlets. OK. What else are we having with it?

Instead, I’d like to focus on a particular vegetable and build the dinner around it, even if it’s still the side dish.

Example: We have spinach. What can we make with spinach? Sautéed spinach. OK. What else are we having with it?

I have no idea if this mental change will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Dog Training

My dog is freaking awesome, but she’s far from perfect. Her recall only works in my yard and she gets so excited when she sees people or dogs that are obviously her new best friend, she lunges and barks until her harness gets twisted and people stare at me with their judgey eyes. This is Bailey’s terrifying way of saying, “I love you and I’m so happy to see you.”

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I'll never see her again. / After the Knot

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I’ll never see her again. / After the Knot

We’ve already started learning a new cue, “touch,” to help bring her focus back on me. We’re also working on “focus” to keep her attention there. This year we’ll continue working on these cues, along with practicing recall in the front yard, outside the boundaries of our fence.

 

And that’s it. I’m leaving it at that.

I’d like to get more organized, learn how to sew, learn a new crochet stitch, read more books, go hiking more regularly, go kayaking, and paint the hallways in my house. And if I do all that, awesome. But if I don’t, it’ll be OK.

Here’s to 2015, a blank slate.

What My Dog Tells Me About Future Parenthood

OK. I confess. This isn’t a totally original post. About seven months ago, I posted something similar to my Tumblr, which focuses on my life as a new dog mom. I wanted to share it here with a few updates. 

There’s some emerging research that suggests that women, in particular, love their dogs like children. Well, yes. Shocker. The research says that our brains respond to our dogs the way we would respond to our children.

Well, if that’s the case, Bailey has given me a pretty clear picture of how I’ll be as a parent.

My kids will be spoiled: I really hope I can keep this from happening, but considering the fact that every time I go to the pet store, I come home with a new toy for Bailey, it’s highly unlikely.

 

After bath bully stick? Sure.

After bath bully stick? Don’t mind if I do. 

I won’t trust anyone: There is a small handful of people that I trust to care for Bailey for more than an afternoon. Daycare for a human child is going to be a nightmare. On top of that, the look Bailey gives me as I drive away from the house breaks my heart.

I will be slightly paranoid: I really don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but I did buy my dog a light so I could keep an eye on her when she’s in the yard at night. That’s really one step away from implanting a GPS chip in your child.

If using this light makes you feel better, momma, sure. I'll wear it.

If using this light makes you feel better, momma, sure. I’ll wear it.

I won’t be a cry-it-out parent: The first night of Bailey’s crate training, I gave in to her wails and howls, and I let her out. We slept on the floor together next to her crate. A week later, we brought her into our room, and she slept on the floor next to our bed for the next couple of months.

And, in case you’re wondering, this system actually worked out just fine for us. Bailey was housebroken very quickly. She was crated during the day and while she never learned to absolutely love her crate, she was just fine in it. 

I will give in to sharing the bed: Originally, I didn’t want Bailey sleeping in our bed. It’s just too small for two people, two cats and a 60-pound dog. This went to hell when we brought her home from the vet after being spayed. She was unusually whiny so we let her up in our room for the first time. After 45 minutes of trying to get her to stay in her own bed, she spent the night in ours. For a few months, Bailey slept with us all night. Thankfully, without any real formal training, Bailey spends most of the night in her own.

If my kid has a nightmare, you can sure bet I’ll let her sleep in my bed.

Training tip: I always make sure I reward Bailey when she goes on her bed voluntarily. I keep a bag of treats in my nightstand so when she hops off our bed and into hers, I toss her a treat. She started this behavior on her own, but now I’m working on reinforcing it. 

Your bed is much more comfortable that my bed.

Your bed is much more comfortable that my bed.

I won’t handle the exhaustion well. At all:  I’m told that the first month with an 8-week-old puppy is much like the first few weeks of parenthood. I didn’t sleep at all and could barely function at work. I was so tired I cried all the time. I felt emotionally broken and thought about taking her to a shelter every day*. I’m really looking forward to that, said no one ever.

*Obviously I didn’t, and my life would actually be a giant mess without this dog, so clearly we got through it. 

Maybe I won’t suck at parenting: I would never equate raising a dog to raising a child, but I was pretty damn terrified to raise a dog. I never had a dog and I had an overwhelming fear that I was going to turn her into this aggressive, misbehaved monster. I was sure that I was going to seriously screw Bailey up.

Bailey is by no means perfect, but she’s pretty awesome. People often remark how well behaved she is, especially for her age. So maybe I won’t royally suck at parenting. Maybe I won’t screw up my kids’ lives all that much. Maybe they’ll turn out fairly normal.

Now can I have it?

Now can I have it?

Hopefully.

 

Did your pets teach you anything about parenting? Leave me a note in the comments.