Experts Weigh In On Dog Safety

Although having a canine companion is an incredibly rewarding endeavor, it also comes with a great deal of responsibility. Training, socialization, housebreaking, puppy-proofing your home, and teaching walking manners are just a few things on the docket for humans on the other end of the leash. If a dog isn’t properly trained, he can be a danger to not only to his owner, but also to pedestrians and other dogs.

We’ve contacted some of the most preeminent dog trainers from around the world to get their thoughts on their #1 safety tip, some of the most outlandish excuses they have heard people give for their dog’s bad behavior, and how nature vs nurture affects canine behavior.

If you could only give one piece of advice to dog owners to prevent their dogs from harming other dogs/people, what would it be?

Laurie Luck | Smart Dog University@smartdogu
LaurieLuck“Keep your dog on a leash in public. Use a physical fence in your yard (not invisible, underground fencing). Advocate for your dog: don’t be afraid to tell someone how to pet your dog (or that they can’t pet your dog). Some owners sacrifice their dog in the name of good manners — they feel bad telling someone not to pet their dog, but in the end, that could have been the kindest thing (for both the dog and the person who gets bitten).”

 

Nick Jones | Alpha Dog Behavior Ltd.@ukdogtrainer
NickJones“To ensure that the dog is given adequate socialization and training from the outset. This assumes that the owner acquired the puppy at 8 weeks, otherwise if acquiring a dog via a shelter for example and the dog is known to have issues, then seeking the help of a qualified and reputable behaviorist is the next step.
Don’t be frightened to introduce and use a muzzle if and when necessary. This combined with a long line in open spaces can make all the difference and create a safe dog.”

Amber Burckhalter CNWI, CDBC | The Association of Professional Dog Trainers@K9Amber
AmberBurckhalter“Know your dog’s limits to what they can handle appropriately and stay within those boundaries by setting your dog up for success.”

 

Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., CAAB, CVJ | Behavior Education Network
Suzanne Hetts“With regarding to dogs – don’t allow on leash greetings between dogs.  It’s a set up for conflict and aggression. With regard to people do not force your dog to interact with someone – especially a child – when your dog’s preference is to move away and avoid contact. And above all, learn to read your dog’s body language — especially signs of fear, anxiety, and stress.”

 

Jeff Grill | Dog Health Guide
JeffGrill“Know the signs of a coming dog bite situation. If you see your dog warning you that he or she might bite (ears back, fur standing up, enlarged eyes), address the situation to remove whatever is causing the stressful situation.”

 

Janice DeMadona | Dog Training With Janice@Janice234
JaniceDeMadona“My one piece of advice for owners to help prevent their dog from biting would be to take the time to learn and understand how to read the body language signals their dog displays.”

 

Joy Greer-Walker | The Rex Center@therexcenter
JoyGreer“Know your dog. Pay attention to their moods and how they are feeling. They have good days and bad days just like us. As often as you can, put them in situations where they will succeed.”

Dr. Joanne Righetti | Pet Problem Solved@JoanneRighetti
JoanneRighetti“The advice I would give is to socialize their puppy. This means controlled, positive introductions to people and animals when their dog is young. Even prior to acquiring the pup, the breeders should be doing this. Acceptance of all types of people means the dog is less likely to feel afraid throughout life. Fearful dogs can end up biting.”

Sarah Hodgson | When Dogs Talk@WhenDogsTalk
SarahHodgson“Discourage your dog from staring”

 

Joan Mayer, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA | The Inquisitive Canine@joanthedogcoach
JoanMayer“Education and training — for both the humans and the dogs, using force-free techniques.”

 

Eryka Kahunanui, KPA CTP, ABCDT, OSCT | Kahuna’s K9s | @KahunasK9s
ErykaKahunanui“Enroll in classes with a trainer that is skilled and knowledgable, specifically on the subjects of dog body language and force-free training. EVERY dog owner should enroll their dog in at least one class. Even Olympians need coaches; even the most experienced dog owner can benefit from the coaching of a certified positive reinforcement dog trainer.

 

Drayton Michaels, CTC | Pit Bull Guru@PitBullGuru
DraytonMichaels“Do Not use force based “training” like shock and choke, hire a legitimate positive dog trainer, and keep them on leash or in a safely fenced area.”

 

Darlene Arden | www.darlenearden.com@petxpert
DarleneArden“Using positive reinforcement, operant conditioning (clicker training) begin to train your dog within 72 hours after bringing him home. It’s easy enough for children to do so be sure the whole family is on the same page and never leave your dog unsupervised around any children, including your own.”

 

What is the most outrageous excuse you have heard a dog owner give for their dog’s bad behavior?

Laurie Luck | Smart Dog University@smartdogu
LaurieLuck“He was just playing!” “He is protective of me/my kids.” “He plays rough like that — it’s who he is.”

 
 

Nick Jones | Alpha Dog Behavior Ltd.@ukdogtrainer
NickJones“Maybe a few along the lines of: I don’t have time to train him. This is how dogs behave, isn’t it? We never socialized him in the park; he lives with another dog at home.”

 

Amber Burckhalter CNWI, CDBC | The Association of Professional Dog Trainers@K9Amber
AmberBurckhalter“He didn’t mean it.”

 

Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., CAAB, CVJ | Behavior Education Network
Suzanne Hetts“There are so many – “He’s protecting me” (even though there has clearly been no threat to the owner)  “He’s having a bad day”, “He didn’t mean to do that”,  “He’s trying to get back at me/being spiteful/ revengeful”, “He’s being dominant/alpha.”

 

Jeff Grill | Dog Health Guide
JeffGrill“Not sure if it is outrageous, but I used to have an owner with a large Rhodesian Ridgeback that would jump up on me (I am 6 feet tall) and be as tall as me, knocking me down. The owner would say he was excited to see me instead of realizing it is the result of a lack of behavior modification training.”

 

Janice DeMadona | Dog Training With Janice@Janice234
JaniceDeMadona“The most outrageous excuse I’ve heard recently is at the dog park when the owner was sitting on a bench and the dog would lunge and snap at any and all dogs that came within six feet of them. The owner’s response to everyone was “don’t worry, he won’t bite, it’s all only noise he makes and it’s a game for him.”

 

Joy Greer-Walker | The Rex Center@therexcenter
JoyGreer“He never acts like this – it must be thous new liver treats. I am going to throw then out as soon as I get home.”

 

Dr. Joanne Righetti | Pet Problem Solved@JoanneRighetti
JoanneRighetti“Oh we all do it – give excuses! “He didn’t mean to hurt me/knock you over/kill the cat. She’s just very young/strong/over-excited”. A minor, annoying behavior can be excused the first time (or all the time, if the owner wants to put up with it!) but a major, potentially dangerous behavior cannot be excused. This is a warning to do something about the unwanted behavior. (I tend not to call behavior ‘bad’, just unwanted.)”

Sarah Hodgson | When Dogs Talk@WhenDogsTalk
SarahHodgson“He’s smiling (when growling); he’s really friendly (when the poor dog is frozen or turning away).”

 

Joan Mayer, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA | The Inquisitive Canine@joanthedogcoach
JoanMayer“Claiming that s/he is a rescue, or blaming it on breed alone.”

 

Eryka Kahunanui, KPA CTP, ABCDT, OSCT | Kahuna’s K9s | @KahunasK9s
ErykaKahunanui“Not necessarily an excuse, but dog owners frequently place far too much of the responsibility on their dog. You are your dog’s advocate. You are responsible. The dog didn’t bite because the dog is “mean”. Dogs more often bite because the owner didn’t understand body language and put the dog in a situation in which they had to defend themselves. Dogs are not “stubborn” – they’re most likely in a situation for which they were not prepared through proper training and conditioning.”

Drayton Michaels, CTC | Pit Bull Guru@PitBullGuru
DraytonMichaels“Sadly it is a common meme that the dog is “trying to gain rank and dominate the home” due to the dog behavior in a way the humans would rather it not. It is not possible, as dogs do not have the sufficient cognition to formulate a moral imperative. Dogs are not pack animals, dogs are not trying to dominate. Dogs learn through associations and consequences – they want safety first and do many things because dogs like to bark, chew, jump, run, and generally have poor impulse control.”

Darlene Arden | www.darlenearden.com@petxpert
DarleneArden“When the dog is humping a human’s leg and the human stupidly says, “He likes you!”  Dogs hump for many reasons but it’s not because he likes the newcomer.”

 

What do you think is the ratio of nature to nurture in a dog’s behavior?

Laurie Luck | Smart Dog University@smartdogu
LaurieLuck“It is hard to generalize, as both play a role in the development of the dog. Both contribute to the “whole dog,” and in any given instance it’s difficult to put one over the other. ”

 

Nick Jones | Alpha Dog Behavior Ltd.@ukdogtrainer
NickJones“This is a hotly debated question, but based on my experiences over the years I would lean well into nurture by about 80% and nature by 20%, though this really does vary from litter to litter and depends on the genetics of the parents and the ability of the owner to nurture desirable traits and behavior.”

 

Amber Burckhalter CNWI, CDBC | The Association of Professional Dog Trainers@K9Amber
AmberBurckhalter“50/50”

 

Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., CAAB, CVJ | Behavior Education Network
Suzanne Hetts“ALL behavior is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors and ANYONE who tries to give you a percentage does NOT know what they are talking about and does not understand the science of animal behavior or behavior genetics.”

 

Jeff Grill | Dog Health Guide
JeffGrill“Depends on the breed, but overall I believe that nurture can account for 75% of behavior with behavioral modification. Some breeds are more nature than others, such as guard dogs that have a disposition to protect and defend people, places, or even food. This is the nature part of the equation. Nurture, or training can overcome this behavior by teaching the dog how to obey certain commands, such as lie down, before coming in contact with those things that cause the behavior such as food. ”

Janice DeMadona | Dog Training With Janice@Janice234
JaniceDeMadona“25% nature, 75% nurture.”

 

Joy Greer-Walker | The Rex Center@therexcenter
JoyGreer“An aggressive dog with good handling can be fine, but it is vary rare that a good dog can make up for bad handling. 90% nurture.”

 

Dr. Joanne Righetti | Pet Problem Solved@JoanneRighetti
JoanneRighetti“I wish I knew! Behaviours are genetically programmed but their expression depends on the dog’s environment. Rather than ratios, I tend to look at consequences of trying to change behaviours. For instance, a dog may be genetically inclined to dig. We cannot remove their digging instinct (this is 100% innate and will take generations of breeding to remove) but its expression can be altered. Instead of digging up your precious lawn, they can dig at the beach or in a doggy sandpit – 100% environmental solution.”

Sarah Hodgson | When Dogs Talk@WhenDogsTalk
SarahHodgson“40/60”

 

Joan Mayer, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA | The Inquisitive Canine@joanthedogcoach
JoanMayer“Tough to answer. It is always the study of one. In my opinion, with the right teacher, techniques, patience, and motivation, you can teach any animal anything they are mentally and physically capable of doing.”

 

Eryka Kahunanui, KPA CTP, ABCDT, OSCT | Kahuna’s K9s | @KahunasK9s
ErykaKahunanui“It’s not a sexy answer but there is no exact number. Dogs are as much individuals as you or I. We try to define the reason for everything, categorize things, because that’s the nature of our species. But there is no “secret recipe” to the perfect dog. It’s best to learn all that you can and apply your knowledge to the raising of each of your dogs as an individual.”

 

Drayton Michaels, CTC | Pit Bull Guru@PitBullGuru
DraytonMichaels“This is another meme. Obviously dogs need to be nurtured, who doesn’t? “Nature” or more accurately behavior is the environment not “in the dog”, this is from Dr. Susan Friedman, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, et al and any other legit behavioral scientist. It is the environment that shapes the dog’s overall behavior. Furthermore, breeding is a crap shoot. Many variables both prenatal and post. Humans by and large are responsible for the environments dogs are in, including the internal environment of dogs with litters, i.e. how the mother dog is nurtured when she is pregnant with puppies. All mitochondrial DNA comes from the mother, which is why it is crucial the mother be in tip top health and be cared for and nurtured when pregnant.”

Darlene Arden | www.darlenearden.com@petxpert
DarleneArden“Unless the puppy has been whelped by a mother with a bad temperament and exposed to it, I’d say it’s at least 50/50 but I think I would lean more toward nurture. However, you must consider what the dog was originally bred to do because they are hard-wired to do that.  For example, if you have a herding breed and don’t get that dog involved in herding or a similar dog sport  (Treibbal, for example), you can count on the dog herding your children and anyone else who is in the house, or even outside the house in what the dog considers his territory. Don’t just get a puppy because it’s “cute.” They’re all cute but they’re all bred for a purpose. Even dogs of mixed heritage will exhibit characteristics of dogs in its background. Not enough people spend enough time considering this, plus their lifestyle and activity level when choosing a new family member. They spend more time choosing a car or a refrigerator.”

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