The media seems to be covering an awful lot of dog to dog violence in Calgary lately. Unfortunately dogs are animals and sometimes altercations occur and can leave the other dog (or both) seriously injured. Rather than harping about bad owners or potentially dangerous breeds I want to take another approach. There will always be irresponsible owners, accidents and dogs who are aggressive so let’s explore how to protect yourself, your kids and of course your furry family members.
Random, unprovoked dog attacks are rare which is why they make the front page of the paper. Dogs (particularly in dog parks, daycares, etc) have minor conflicts all the time which don’t cause harm. For example I took 10 month old Ari to Southland Off Leash Park on Sunday where not one but two dogs actually bit him (no injury or reaction from Ari but meant as a keep away snip). Both times the owners were oblivious and I had to intervene. Ari is an intact male which causes him to be a victim more often than not and of no fault of his own. I know this and keep my eyes on him AT ALL TIMES.
So what does this tell you? The first is that you need to watch your dog closely and learn what’s appropriate and what’s not. This can be very difficult for a novice dog owner. The best way to learn?
- Attend a dog seminar on behavior
- Purchase a dvd (Sarah Kalnajs has a great one called “The Language of Dogs”)
- Contact the Calgary Humane Society about their body language course
- Go to dog parks and watch dogs closely
Good dog trainers spend a lot of time learning to read dogs but if you use parks then you should be making at least a few hours of time to become familiar.
How do you intervene anyway? I use my voice a lot. Yelling out a “hey stop it” in a firm tone does wonders for most dogs or at the very least wakes the other owner up and they usually grab their dog and flee. I’m not trying to be mean just startle the dogs and change their focus. Clapping hands or stomping feet can work as well. Never reach in and try to pull dogs apart (chances are you’ll increase aggression and get bit yourself).
I always carry an air horn with me on every walk (on leash or off). Air horns are loud and will break up many dog fights. They also work on wildlife like coyotes and bears. They are scary but when you’re faced with an actual fight they can keep you safe and end the altercation. I don’t use an air horn unless there’s an actual fight. Air horns can be purchased at stores like Canadian Tire and come in various sizes.
Other things to have with you? I also carry a spare leash. It’s a slip leash so I can throw it over a dog’s head without touching them. I don’t want to ever grab a dog with my hands. They work for strays as well. A spare leash doesn’t take up much room in your bag or pocket and it’s good to have one. I’ve used mine more times than I can count.
If you notice an inappropriate dog at the park don’t fight with the owner. Just gather your dog up and leave. I’ve witnessed human to human disagreements turn into violent encounters just as often as dog fights.
Inappropriate means a dog that gives you a bad feeling, causes your dog to be uncomfortable or harassed, jumps all over you or your kids, etc. If the dog is out of control no matter the breed then it’s best to leave.
When on walks pay attention to your dog and keep your kids close. Don’t take on more than you can handle. I know that I cannot handle all 4 of my current dogs by myself at a dog park. I don’t have that many eyes. I can however comfortably walk 3 of them by myself. So it’s important to make decisions on what you can manage. This involves evaluating your dog’s obedience level, age, breed, play style and if you’re taking your kids along as well. If you have too much on your plate than ask a friend/spouse to come along or choose to walk the dogs separately. I know that sounds like a lot of work but it’s better to be safe. This can also influence whether you take a dog off leash or not. If I need to walk all 4 dogs at once then I can choose to keep them on leash (or some of them on leash), visit a non-busy park or take them out in shifts. I know that with 2 senior dogs (one is fearful) and a young puppy that having everyone all together by myself would be a disaster. More often than not I take the big boys out together and choose another activity for the small ones.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Avoid busy, peak times at the park
- Try to walk in lit areas once the sun goes down so you can see your surrondings (River Park off leash area has lights throughout)
- Avoid areas/yards where dogs are kept as they could potentially get out
- Avoid dogs/people that seem out of control, inappropriate or threatening (don’t make this assumption based on breed as all dogs can attack and bite)
- Carrying safety equipment including an air horn, spare leash and cellphone
- Familiarize yourself with Calgary bylaws and follow them
- Take your dog to obedience classes so you can at least control your own pet (having a solid recall and stay are paramount for ANY dog)
- Keep your female dog that’s in heat at home or in on leash areas not frequented by off leash dogs
- Keep your kids close by, don’t have them swinging dog toys or sticks around and teach themhow to safely greet dogs (not all dogs like kids NO MATTER what breed)
Now with all that said and down you can’t prevent all situations from happening. Many emergency situations can happen when on a walk so be alert, learn first aid, have emergency numbers on hand and try to be prepared.