A Dog's Eye View: Learn how to prevent dog bites

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Laura Tyler

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.

— A recent incident in which a Denver television reporter was bitten by a dog during an interview has sparked a debate. For some, it is shocking that a dog, having been rescued from certain death, would bite someone showing such adoration. For those of us who understand dog communication signals, all we could do was watch as 9 News host Kyle Dyer attempted to show affection by kissing the dog on his muzzle. The bite was almost inevitable. Here’s why:

■ During the previous 24 hours, the dog was in a life-or-death situation. He had adrenalin and stress hormones coursing through his body. Research has taught us that these stress hormones can stay active in the system for hours or even days after a life-threatening incident. This would leave a human edgy, too.

■ The dog never was socialized to TV cameras, multiple bright lights, strange sounds, smells and all the people who wanted to say “hi” and pet him. In a previous “Dog’s Eye View” column, I talked about how socialization is critical for dogs to adapt comfortably to new and novel situations.

■ The dog’s owner was holding him tightly by his collar giving the dog no chance to move away or create space between himself and Dyer. He displayed cut-off signals to Dyer by attempting to turn his head away and not offering any friendly behaviors. He was tolerant for as long as he was capable.

■ The ultimate affront to the dog happened when Dyer held the dog’s head in her hands and put her face down over the dog. At that point, all options for the dog to get away were off the table.

In addition to the dog, you can imagine the stress hormones rushing through the owner after the events of the previous day and add to that the stress of a live TV interview. Stress from us does not go unnoticed by our dogs.

It’s easy to blame Dyer for putting her face in the face of the dog, but she’s only guilty of loving animals with all her heart and not understanding canine behavior. There’s enough blame to go around here, but blame teaches us nothing. How about a few lessons learned? Never pet a dog that does not willingly approach you, and don’t pet a dog you don’t know on top of its head.

If you’re considering getting a dog, pick one according to your family’s needs and your ability to take time to train it. Temperament training should start as early as possible with a properly managed positive reinforcement puppy training class. You will reap the rewards of that type of teaching and training for the lifetime of your family pet. While puppies are busy learning, owners should do the same by studying dog communication signals and respecting dogs for the wonderful companion animals that they are.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC.

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