From a young age, we teach our children the rules when crossing the street to keep them safe, but it’s as important to teach them safe practices when approaching dogs. An alert system which uses the same color code as traffic lights is easy for children to understand and makes common sense.
When my son was growing up, we owned the friendliest German Shepherd. She loved everyone and had never shown aggression of any kind. Although we’d heard stories, none of our family had ever been exposed to aggression in dogs, so as a result I never made it a point to teach my son how to approach a dog. We loved all dogs and wanted to pet and love all of them! It never occurred to us that an aggressive dog would touch our lives.
Ten years later, we adopted Diesel – a six month old Bull Mastiff. At first, she was scared of everything, but she was very sociable with other dogs and loved to play. Her best playmate was a female Husky Shepherd Cross. They played hard with bones and toys daily, until one day, when Diesel was one year old and 100 pounds, a fight broke out. I managed to separate the dogs, but wondered what had caused the problem. The next time the dogs got together, a fight broke out again and this time, Diesel cut the other dog. When my neighbor took her to the vet, he said that her dog’s anal glands were full and she might have been too sore to play. Diesel may have missed her warning, and it turned into a fight.
From then on, my dog lost her ability to play nicely. If another dog had a toy that she wanted, growled as a warning, or were off leash and ran at her, it turned into a fight. After a few more incidents both on and off leash, and following a number of visits to a dog behaviourist, I found it impossible to trust Diesel, knowing that such a powerful animal can do much damage. My point is, until you have been exposed to an aggressive dog, you don’t know what it’s like. I love my dog and I’m trying to protect both, her and others, so I keep her on leash. She can be great with children and people, but there’s a certain way that she needs to be approached. She’s ‘head shy’ and a little ‘jumpy’ if approached too fast. I love it when parents ask me first, if their children may pet her and then I can ask if the children have been taught how to approach a dog. It’s so nice when they know to come slowly and to put their hand out for her to smell. I hope that upon their next meeting with a dog, they will put what they’ve learned to good use.
I’m not a dog expert and don’t claim to be, but like everyone, I’m tired of hearing on the news that a small child has had part of his face ripped off and that a dog had to be euthanized. I believe that education will decrease the numbers of bad encounters. We invite your comments to improve our program.
Colored bandanas are a simple way to communicate if there are issues as to how to approach an unfamiliar dog, however, children must also be taught that no dog should be approached without the dog owner’s permission! These simple tools will enhance our ability to be responsible for our own dogs and children.
I’m very grateful for the help of my team as we continue to move forward with DEWS in the loving memory of Diesel who passed away in 2013.