Many Australian households are homes to dogs, and there are nearly five million of these furry creatures nation-wide.
While our pooches are valued members of the family, it’s important to remember that every dog is capable of biting, and that we all have a role to play in ensuring that everyone in the community is safe around dogs.
It’s widely accepted that there are at least five factors that influence a dog’s tendency to bite: genetics, early experience, socialisation and training, health, and the behaviour of the victim.
Taking all of these factors into account when choosing a canine companion, training and caring for it, and interacting with it, is key to setting people and dogs up to live happily together.
While some jurisdictions have introduced restrictions around certain dog breeds, or have legislation in place that can declare a dog ‘dangerous’, the key to preventing dog attacks is to ensure all dog owners have responsibility for the actions of their dogs and teaching people – especially children - how to behave around dogs.
As a general rule, all dogs should be microchipped and registered with the local council. This isn’t just for the safety of people, but for the dog as well. Even if your dog hasn’t shown any signs of aggression, any dog that is off-lead should be under voice control, so make sure your dog has good recall before letting it run free.
Unless you are a registered breeder, getting your dog desexed is a great idea, and – depending where you live – may even be a legal requirement. Desexing can help prevent aggression and the urge to roam in males, and will also prevent unwanted litters being born.
Socialising your dog early on is important to help it to enjoy the company of people and other dogs, and thereby help prevent fear and aggression.
However, if this socialisation hasn’t occurred at an early age, introducing dogs slowly and in a comfortable way to other dogs, environments, people and children, can teach the dog that there is nothing to fear and there is no need for aggression.
Dogs are social animals and thrive on companionship, so making sure your pooch is well behaved around people will help establish harmonious relationships that benefit everyone.
It’s not just dogs who need training, though - educating anyone who interacts with dogs (including children) on how to behave around them is key.
Learning how to read a dog’s body language is a must: dogs always show signs that warn people that they might become aggressive, and knowing what these signs are could help prevent an attack.
For example, dogs that are barking at you, showing their teeth, growling, have their ears back, or are tense, are showing you that they are scared or angry, and should not be approached.
Supervising children around dogs at all times and teaching them these warning signs could help prevent an interaction resulting in injury to the child and the euthanasia of the dog.
If you are the owner of a dog that has been aggressive to other dogs or people in the past, knowing how to prevent that situation from arising again is important. Ask yourself whether the dog felt threatened and was protecting something, such as food or territory.
Preventing another attack could be about avoiding the circumstances that led to that attack.
Get advice from a veterinarian or dog behaviourist if you are unsure how to manage your dog’s aggression.
With canine companions playing such a big role in lives - whether you have one to call your own or not – knowing how to interact positively with dogs is imperative to ensuring we are all safe, people and dogs alike.
- This article was provided by the RSPCA, an independent, non-government community-based charity providing animal care and protection services. The RSPCA relies on donations from the public in order to carry out its work. You can donate online or call 1300 RSPCA1.