Analysis of Dog Attack in Anaheim

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Please note that I am not placing blame on any of the parties involved in this attack. I am solely making observations and interpretations based on the footage and my experience as a canine behaviorist. I am thankful that the mother and child were okay and I hope that this little boy does not grow up with a fear of dogs due to this incident.

Initially both dogs are exhibiting play behaviors with the child. The mother seems at ease as if perhaps these dogs have played with the child before. That information is unknown to me. Then the little boy falls which excites the black dog and sets off trigger number one for him. Trigger number two is set off when the mother picks up the little boy and is swinging him around with his legs dangling down. Trigger stacking commonly occurs with dogs. What this means is that if you are terrified of spiders and one walks in front of you and then one drops out of the sky your fear is going to be uncontrollable. If you were just faced with the one on the floor your fear would be more manageable. In this case if the little boy had gotten back up without the mom picking him up and swinging him around (to get him away from the dogs) the second trigger may not have gone off for the dog. Again, not blaming the mom she is not a canine behaviorist and in the heat of the moment was protecting her child the best way she knew how. After that the trigger stacking just continued with collar grabs and releases, fast movement, swinging of the child, fast body movements, etc. Once the dogs were ignited whether it started out as play or not the situation took a turn for the worse and the only option left was to shield the child just as she did in the video and wait for help.

What could you do if you found yourself in a similar situation?

Try not to pick up your child or small dog, that often incites a reaction in dogs. If you have to pick them up pick them up by leaning to the side not head on with the dog. Try not to swing your body back and forth, less movement is better.

There was a pickup truck in the driveway. If you were to pick up your child put them in the back of the truck and tell them to lay down and be still. Then walk into the dogs and firmly tell them to go home with very little movement from your arms.  This could also be done with your child behind you.

If this does not diffuse the dogs become a turtle with your body acting as shell over the top of your child and your hands clasped behind your neck. You need help to arrive at this point you are not going to get the dogs away from you. This mother did this as it escalated in the video.

I have received several emails regarding this attack and that is why I am addressing it in this newsletter. The mother did what she had to in the heat of the moment and I’m so glad they will be okay. It is good to know what you might do in a similar situation that we hope never happens but if it does you will be prepared.

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Dog to Dog Play What You Need to Know

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You need to know that not all dogs like to play with other dogs. Some dogs prefer humans, some dogs prefer cats and the preferences could go on and on.  With dog parks, dog cafe’s, dog play groups, dog pool parties, dog hiking clubs it has been ingrained in us that dogs are social animals but I’m here to tell you that dogs are just like us.  Some of us love hanging out with a large group of friends while others of us prefer to be in solitude.  Not all dogs like to play with other dogs, and not all dogs are pack animals.  As a dog owner get to know your dog and their preferences.  You are not doing your dog an injustice by not taking them to the dog park, if your dog is happier exploring the neighborhood on walks with just you, listen to your dog.

For those dogs that love to play and play and play with other dogs here are some things to keep in mind:

Dogs do not play silently.  They are noisy and sometimes it can sound like they are fighting. Familiarize yourself with dog to dog play by watching dogs play at a local dog park.  If both dogs are actively participating and no one is getting hurt then this is just dogs being dogs.

Dogs will hump each other occasionally and this can mean many things.  It does not just mean that one dog is trying to dominate or mate with the other dog.

Dogs pin each other on the ground while playing and bite at necks.  As long as both dogs are being pinned at one time or another they are generally fine.  However, if one dog is always on the bottom it is time to break it up.  Generally, the dog on the bottom is being bullied and not having a good time.

Dogs chase each other.  Some dogs like to chase and others like to be chased.  Watch body language if your dogs body is moving fluently and the mouth is open this generally means they are happy.  If the dog being chased has a stiff body, tail between the legs then move in quickly this dog is being bullied and needs to be removed from the situation.

If you are interested in learning more about dog body language I do offer sessions at dog parks for owners and their dogs where I break down the behaviors of your dog and other people’s dog so you too can speak dog.  Also, check out Nicole Wilde’s Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play for an in depth look at dog play and communication.

Recall Tips

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Have you ever:
  • Hidden the leash behind your back at the dog park and pursued your dog until you can grab them and hook the leash up to take them home?
  • Chased your dog down the street and tackled them in the neighbors yard?
  • Opened the front door for a delivery only to have the delivery person knocked off their feet by a blur that ran by and is now running happily down the street?
  • Chased you dog and had them stop and look back at you as if they are grinning and then just as you get close they bolt again?
  • Called Come over and over again and been completely ignored?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar then these tips are for you

  • Never ever call your dog when you know that they will not come, the only thing this does is reinforce your dog for not paying attention to you and you poison the cue.
  • Do call, hook up your dog to their leash and release your dog multiple times in fun zones like the dog park before finally hooking them up to bring them home.
  • Do play hide and seek (hide and call your dog) with your dog frequently. When your dog finds you reward them heavily with both treats and praise.
  • Always reward heavily in the beginning with treats and praise. You have to make yourself interesting to your dog if you want them to pay attention to you.
  • Always reward your dog for coming even if they stick their head down 10 gopher holes on the way to you they still came.
  • Always grab their collar when they come to you.  Collar grabs are the #1 cause of dog bites so prevent this by making sure your dog makes a positive connection with a collar being grabbed equaling lots of treats.

Breed Matters

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Several of my clients have recently tested their dogs DNA using The Wisdom Panel.  As a trainer I do see the personality and behavioral effects that different breed types have on dogs although these personality and behavioral effects do not always follow the breed 100% of the time.  For example I have seen aggressive golden retrievers, labs who hate water, and border collies who are couch potatoes.  However, since our visual accuracy is only correct 25% of the time when determining breeds in mixed breed dogs this test can be of great help to both owners and trainers. They can answer questions such as: Why does my dog nip at my kids? Why does my dog prefer to be with humans than other dogs? Why is my dog still bouncing off the ceiling after a 2 hour walk?  Why does my dog insist on bringing me gophers, squirrels, etc.?

These tests also help in determining if dog owners need to have their dogs tested for MDR1 or Multi-Drug Resistance 1. MRD1 is a genetic mutation. Some dogs, particularly herding breeds or mixed-breed dogs with herding breed ancestry have a mutation in the MDR1 gene that makes them defective in their ability to limit the absorption and distribution of many drugs. These dogs are also slower to eliminate drugs from the body that are transported by P-glycoprotein. As a result, dogs with the MDR1-mutation may have severe adverse reactions to some common drugs, so it is important to test your dog and share your results with your veterinarian.

In the end I think if taken with a grain of salt The Wisdom Panel is worth the money and should be considered by owners of mixed breed dogs.  You will build a better understanding of your dog and form a deeper connection.

Trail Magic for PCT Through Hikers

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Tashi & PCT Hikers at The Town Baker

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Yukon waiting for hikers on the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is 2,650 miles long and usually takes hikers about 5 months to complete it.  Northbound hikers usually start in mid-April to early May while southbound hikers start in late June through early July.  The failure rate is high, about 50% will not complete the journey.  For those who do it is an incredible achievement with a lifetime full of memories.

May 6th, 2015 I was hiking in Wrightwood, CA with my hiking body Yukon (Shepherd Mix).  Yukon is a rescue who came from the streets where we are pretty sure he had no contact with humans, to the shelter at about one year of age, to a rescue and then to me.  When I first met him he would not come to me, he was terrified.  He refused to even walk on a leash and all my dreams of him being a hiking dog seemed to disappear.  A year later with positive training and lots of controlled socialization he has become my hiking buddy.  He gets so excited when I start putting my hiking shoes on, and if I put them on in my closet he whines at the door convinced that I might go up through the attic and escape without taking him. When it comes to attention from people he is still outside of his comfort zone when they first approach but allows people to pet him and talk to him.  Afterwards he has to pull on the leash for about 30 seconds to shake off all of the adrenaline rush he gets and then he fall back beside me.  I always watch his body language during greetings and do what is best for him.  I have him continue greetings because I never want him to become fear aggressive and he does actually like people, especially if they have treats but because of his past he is always wary.

On our hike we encountered 25+ through hikers including a hiker that we gave a ride too heading into town for food and supplies.  Yukon was the highlight for the hikers.  Many stopped and asked if they could pet him saying how much they missed their own pets at home. The hiker who hitched a ride with us scratched Yukon’s head on the ride, he was so tired from our 8 mile hike that he appeared to love the head scratching.  I have another friend that lives in the town of Idyllwild, CA which is also a haven for through hikers complete with The Town Baker that is owned and operated by former through hikers who moved to Idyllwild and started the café after completion of the PCT.  Tashi’s mom meets hikers at the post office where they pick up supplies or at the The Town Baker with her dog Tashi. Many of the hiker want to pet her missing their pets back home.  It is so heartwarming that dogs can be a part of the PCT through hikers trail magic.

Do you have a dog that loves to hike and is sociable with people? You could take them on the trails or into the towns to meet the PCT thru hikers from April through about September.  This is such a great service for both the people and the dogs.  Perhaps the PCT therapy dog team will be a future endeavor.

Good luck to all of the through hikers and enjoy the journey.

To Be A Dog!

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Ever wonder what your dog hears, smells or see?  Ever wonder why they do a certain behavior? For example when it is windy our Coonhound races around the yard with his nose in the air in pure bliss.  Often times the other dogs follow him around and appear to be looking at him as if he is crazy.  My in-law’s dog Shasta will get up on her back two legs on trails and look around.  Some dogs at dog parks will ignore all of the dogs and enjoy the company of the people.  My dog Yukon allows people to pet him but by his body language I can tell that this places him outside of his comfort zone so after he has been given attention he pulls in front of me for about 30 seconds as if to shake off the nervousness or dispel the adrenaline. (I allow controlled attention because I never want him to become fear aggressive) Our husky steals random things out of the garage such as nails and sandpaper.  I had a dog who used to have to stick his nose down every hole on walks, a habit I had to break because I just knew one time he was going to come up with a snake attached.  Our Coonhound enjoys playing dog with my husband but only my husband.  Dogs are such fascinating creatures.

So next time you are out and about or sitting in the yard with your dog watch them closely and see what you notice.  When you are out you can also get down on their level and see what they see and hear what they hear. You will be surprised.  Unfortunately, we will never be able to smell like they do so we will just have to imagine what wonderful things they smell when the wind is blowing and they have their noses towards the sky.

Keeping Children Safe Around Dogs

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates half of all children 12 years-of-age and under have been bitten by a dog. Seventy nine percent of fatal dog attacks are on children. Over eighty seven percent of dog bite fatalities involving children occurred when the child was left unsupervised with a dog or the child wandered off to the location of the dog.  Even small breeds such as Dachshunds and Pomeranians have attacked children resulting in fatalities.

Scary statistics so let’s get real!  Often times as a canine behaviorist my private sessions with clients and dogs take place in public places.  If a dog is aggressive every precaution is taken to ensure the safety of the public through the use of a muzzle. This last weekend I was working with a German Shepherd with fear aggression issues at a public location.  Despite the fact that the dog was muzzled I had parents allowing children to approach the dog.  One was a crawling infant and the parents kept bringing the child closer and closer to crawl to the dog while we moved further and further away.  We had to tell them that the dog was not friendly and to please stop approaching us.  Then we had two little boys start to approach the dog while the mother watched.  Again, we backed up waiting for the mother to respond but to no avail.  She had to be told to stop allowing her children to pursue the dog.  The dog was wearing a highly visible muzzle, and yet the parents were allowing their children to pursue the dog.  It was mind boggling.

I have also done sessions with dogs that have never been exposed to children so they are wary of them.  This is not uncommon since many dogs are wary of infants and toddlers because they move quickly and are unpredictable and frankly they smell like food.  So you can have the friendliest dog in the world approached by a toddler and have the dog react defensively which could result in a bite.

The picture above shows my 4 year old with our dog and I took this picture to show where the mouth of a large dog comes when a toddler approaches a dog.   I don’t know about you but I don’t want my toddler approaching a dog no matter how friendly the owner says the dog is when my toddler’s face is right at bite level.

Teach your children to respect dogs and give them space. Teach your children not to corner dogs or pursue dogs.  Have them admire them from a distance.  My toddler knows most of the breeds now due to my profession and we enjoy sitting at the park watching the dogs go by as we identify them.  She loves dogs and has a healthy appreciation for them.  I know too many adults who were bitten as children by dogs and never recovered emotionally.  A dog bite to a child is deadly to the dog and if not deadly to the child will leave deep emotional scars for the rest of their life.  Please keep kids safe by teaching them to keep safe boundaries when it comes to all dogs. Together we can reduce dog bite statistics.