Training important for both dogs, people

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By Jenny Hartley

It’s something that should never happen – a child being attacked by a dog.

But it does happen. According to the Centers for Disease Control, dogs bite 4.7 million people a year. Sometimes it’s unprovoked. Witnesses have said the attacks by pit bulls on two 10-year-old boys in Lancaster recently were unprovoked.

Now County Council is looking for ways to reduce dog attacks, especially on children. A few weeks ago, council proposed an ordinance that would have designated all pit bulls, American bulldogs and presa Canarios, or Carnary dogs, as dangerous. Council has since modified its stance and is looking at other proposals to address dangerous dogs.

Local dog experts say it’s more than just breed that influences a dog’s behavior.

Trent Parker, owner of Superior K-9 dog training in Lancaster, says socializing and exercising are key to having a puppy grow up as a well-adjusted, non-aggressive dog.

Parker says children are most often victims of dog bites because they are smaller, make quick movements and high-pitched noises. At the same time, he doesn’t justify a dog attack.

“Dogs are reactive animals,” Parker said. “They don’t like high-pitched noises or fast movements. A dog may misinterpret a child’s actions, but the appropriate response still should not be to attack.”

Parker says dogs such as pit bulls, mastiffs and presa Canarios were bred to fight bears, bulls or other dogs.

“They were bred for conflict,” Parker said. “They don’t give a whole lot of warning. And fast movements trigger their prey drive. You can train environment, but you can’t train genetics.”

Bringing home a new puppy

Dogs are pack animals that follow a leader, Parker says. An adult in the household needs to be a confident leader, or a dog may end up nervous or fearful. A fearful dog is one that’s likely to bite.

Prospective dog owners need to research breeds before deciding on which dog will fit into the household. Dominant dogs, which include working breeds such as German shepherds or Rottweilers and pit bulls, may be suited to an owner with a strong personality. Smaller dogs bred for companionship, such as King Charles spaniels or pugs, may do better with a passive owner.

Before buying a new puppy, you need to decide how much time you have each day to exercise it. Exercise is key to your pet’s well-being, Parker says. If you have to keep a dog outdoors, Parker recommends that it be in a pen, not on a chain, and it still needs walks and regular exercise.

“If you want a well-adjusted dog, you have to exercise it,” Parker said. “A dog’s two responses are fight or flight. With a dog confined on a chain, you’ve taken away its flight. He’s going to come out fighting.”

For a puppy eight to 12 weeks old, it’s important that it be exposed to as many new people and other animals as possible, Parker says. Playtime, lots of exercise and simple obedience, like walking on a leash, are important for puppies this age.

“The big thing is exposure,” Parker said. “They can’t understand it unless they’ve experienced it.”

Keeping children safe

Indian Land resident Doreen Pottle is working with the Lancaster County Humane Society as an educator.

She retired after teaching 30 years in New Hampshire. She then taught pet care to children. One of the most important components Pottle taught was showing children how to behave around dogs and how to avoid being bitten.

Pottle herself was bitten on the face by a German shepherd when she was 3. She hugged the dog around its neck and possibly scared it and it bit her. She was also attacked, unprovoked, by a Rottweiler when she was washing her car.

Pottle will teach Lancaster County children how to avoid dog bites starting in September by visiting schools from Indian Land to Kershaw.

She asks young children to put themselves in the dog’s place. She asks them to imagine if a new student came up to them and took away their snack or a stranger approached the front door while their mother was talking to the neighbor in the backyard.

“Wouldn’t you feel scared?” Pottle asked. “And if the dog’s scared, she might bite.”

Children should be taught not to pet strange dogs. She urges parents to tell their children to ask dog owners first and then the dog should be patted under the chin, not on top of the head. No teasing or chasing, Pottle advises, and don’t run from a dog.

“Education, I think, is the key,” Pottle said.

Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or jhartley@thelancasternews.com