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Thinking About Adopting a Pit Bull?

- Dog aggression is a serious problem with pit bulls. Early socialization is essential for pit puppies, though your best efforts may not override a dog's genetics. Regardless of early experience, some pits just as other breeds will become dog aggressive when they reach maturity. Any dog who doesn't like other dogs cannot be let loose in dog runs or other public places.

-Due to their strength and exuberence, pit bulls are best placed with families with older children.

-Pit bulls are enthusiastic learners. They enjoy trick training and many graduate at the head of their obedience classes.

-As a pit bull owner, you are likely to experience breed discrimination. Legislation may prohibit you from living in certain communities, and homeowners insurance may be harder to find. Before you adopt, call your local City Hall or animal shelter to find out about yor local laws.

-Hardy, tenacious dogs, pits are moderately active indoors and extremely active outdoors. Be prepared to spend a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes twice a day engaged in aerobic-level activities with your dog.

This information compiled from ASPCA resources from the Animal Watch magazine, Fall 2000, and Fall 1997.

Teach Safe Snuggling

Giddy kiddies may miss signs that a pet is scared or agitated, which can lead to a bite. Protect your little ones with these tips.

CHECK HIS EARS Some go-away signals, like growling and teeth-baring, are obvious, but others may not be. "If the ears are turned back or flat on the head, the dog is unhappy," says Gina Dinardo, vice president of the American Kennel Club. If the dog is backing away with his tail tucked or turning his head away from you but still watching closely, the animal is likely scared. A dog standing rigidly, shaking or not, should also be left alone. Remind kids that not only angry dogs bite- biting can be a normally friendly pooch's way of escaping a situation he doesn't like.

LOOK AT HIS BOTTOM A wagging tail means a happy dog, and when his front legs are down and his behind is in the air, he's inviting you to play. Still, encourage kids to approach slowly so as not to startle him.

PUT IT IN HUMAN TERMS Children know they shouldn't go up to a stranger- or even a friend- and touch him or her all over, so explain that dogs deserve the same courtesy. Teach them to ask the owner if petting is all right. Then, says Dinardo, "kids should always put a hand palm-down under the dog's nose, then slowly turn it up and let him smell it" for a proper intro. If the dog backs away, leave him be. If not, pet him under the chin or on the neck, side or rump above the tail, which he won't find threatening.

LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE Kids who wake up Mom on a Saturday morning do so at their peril, and it's similar with dogs: Surprising a pup when he's asleep can trigger him to snap. (So can messing with his food dish.)

EXPLAIN THAT DOGS LIKE THEIR STUFF Grabbing Fido's toy-especially while he's chomping at it-can be dangerous. Kids should skip tug-of-war with him, too. He might nip their hands by accident. Encourage games with less roughness, like Fetch.

NEVER APPROACH AN OFF-LEASH DOG If a loose dog comes over, a child should play tree: Stand still, arms crossed, and avoid eye contact. This neutral stance discourages an aggressive reaction-the dog will likely sniff, get bor5ed and walk away.- Sara Bower

Why Dogs Bite

Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T., Companion Animal Programs Adviser. National Outreach

Every year in the United States, 800,000 dog bites are severe enough to need medical treatment; 17 are fatal. Fifty percent of all American children are bitten by a dog before the age of 13. Literally every dog has the potential to bite. Luckily for us, most don't. Understanding what causes this phenomenon might help you to avoid becoming next year's dog-bite statistic. The following are six common reasons why dogs bite.

Dominance aggression

In cases of dogs who bite due to dominance aggression, members of the dog's human family are most often the victims. Innocently attempt to move a dog off the bed to change the linens; push down on his rump to ensure compliance with a sit command; step over a dog who's resting inconveniently in the doorway and the dog erupts in a "you'd better not do that" vocal warning, followed by a bite.

In each situation, the dog believes that he is in charge - that his humans have not earned the status to tell him what to do. Dominance aggression is most commonly - but not exclusively - seen in unneutered males and in confident breed types, such as rottweilers, chow chows, Lhasa apsos, English springer spaniels, Old English sheepdogs and Rhodesian ridgebacks, to name but a few. Obedience training as early as possible can abate a dog's tendency toward dominance aggression, but dogs who are naturally and intractably dominant aggressive must be closely monitored and kept clear of situations known to trigger the negative behavior. Hollywood trainer Shelby Marlo, author of "Shelby Marlo's New Art of Dog Training: Balancing Love and Discipline," states, "Management is underrated. There is nothing wrong with knowing the dog's limitations and living within those boundaries."

Protection of valuables

The protectiveness some people seek when acquiring a dog can prove to be a liability. Some dogs believe the only way to protect their valuables is through an act of aggression. A dog's list of valuables may include food, toys, territory (a house or a car) or even their human family members. Dogs have been known to "protect" one family member from another, driving crying children away from their mothers or chasing amorous husbands out of bedrooms.

The protection of territory is most often seen in males of guarding/herding breeds, such as German shepherds and rottweilers, while certain cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers - females more often than males - put on ferocious displays over toys and chewies resulting in punishing bites to hands and faces.

Again, early training and/or lifelong management are the only solutions.

Fear aggression

The fear aggression response is most often directed toward strangers. Veterinarians learn early in their careers: when in doubt, muzzle. Like people, dogs are naturally fearful of unfamiliar and potentially threatening situations. A dog raised in a quiet adult household will be distraught by noisy, fast-moving youngsters. The dog may bark and lunge to drive them away and deliver a stinging nip to children who do not heed the warning.

There is no particular breed or gender predilection for fear aggression, but these biters commonly lack early socialization to a wide variety of people and experiences. ASPCA Vice President of Behavioral Medicine, Amy Marder, V.M.D., states that "with a dedicated owner and a responsive dog, fear aggression can be greatly improved."

Maternal aggression

The first two to three weeks after a female dog gives birth, her puppies rely on her for all they need to survive: warmth, nutrition, stimulation to prompt elimination and protection. Even the most outgoing, well-trained dog may show signs of maternal aggression if she feels her newborns are at risk. No training is indicated here, rather an awareness of the new mother's innate need for a safe space. By limiting visitors to the whelping box to one to two adult family members during those first couple of weeks, the new mother will stay relaxed and focused on the job at hand. There will be plenty of time for socialization once the pups' eyes are open and they are toddling about under their own steam.

Redirected aggression

An attempt to break up a dog fight is the most common scenario for this category of biting. Two canine opponents are barking, posturing and biting at each other when all of a sudden hands reach in and grab at collars, tails and hind legs. The adrenaline-pumped dogs blindly whip around and land oral blows to body parts of the interrupters.

Fights are best broken up by loud noises or strong blasts of water when available. However, sometimes that is not enough. If you must lay hands on fighting dogs, stay as far away from the mouth as possible and move swiftly and decisively.

Pain-induced aggression

While pain-sensitive breeds like Chihuahuas are common perpetrators, any dog may bite if hurting, depending on the degree of pain. An otherwise gentle dog will bite a beloved owner's hand trying to soothe, bandage or examine wounds. Like us, each dog has a unique pain threshold and tolerance. A sweet floppy-eared dog suffering from otitis externa may bite on getting his ears tousled; a dog with hip dysplasia may turn on a handler pressing down on his hips to enforce the sit command.

Of course, any dog can be provoked to bite by overly zealous physical disciplining.

Pestered beyond limits

There are dog biting incidents that don't fit into the aforementioned categories. Perhaps a new category is required, called "Pestered Beyond Limits." Bites in this category are often prompted by children (or adults) who simply don't understand that even a dog has limits. Hug a sleeping dog, blow puffs of air in his face, put a rubber banded knee-sox on his nose to turn him into an "elephant dog," ride him like a pony, stuff him inside a pillowcase just to see if he'll fit, poke, prod, tickle him, and sooner or later, the dog will say "NO!" the only way he knows how - through a bite.

There are three keys to bite prevention: learn to understand canine behavior, take the time to socialize and train all dogs - the younger the better - and teach children to respect all dogs, starting with their furry buddies at home. With this accomplished, there is no telling how low bite statistics can go.

If you are approached by a menacing dog:

do not attempt to run

stay quiet, and remember to breathe

be still, with arms at sides or folded over chest with hands in fists

avoid eye contact

The Dog And The Meter Reader

In 1997, the safety division of Con Edison, New York City's utility supplier, set a goal of a 20 percent reduction in worker accidents for 1998. By October, they were on target in every category except dog bites, having surpassed 1997's 24 bites in the third quarter. Bernard Duffy, project specialist for Environmental Health and Safety, and The ASPCA worked together to create a mandatory half-hour program for all Con Edison customer field representatives. The program aimed at preventing utility worker/dog interactions and minimizing injury should an interaction take place.

Field worker Edwin Gomez credits this ASPCA Bite Prevention Workshop for saving him from a serious injury. Upon arriving at a customer's home to read the electric meter, Edwin Gomez followed Con Edison's company policy, and requested that the family dog be secured in another room. That done, Gomez went to work. Before he finished, however, the dog escaped from isolation, flew at Gomez and grabbed his arm.

Fortunately, Gomez remembered the advice he learned at the Bite Prevention Workshop: "If bitten, push into the dog's mouth instead of pulling away." And push he did, using his flashlight against his arm for added pressure. Sensing he was no longer in control of the bite, the dog let go and ran away, leaving Gomez shaken but with no more than a couple of small punctures in his sleeve and a sore arm from the tetanus shot he got "just in case." At last count, dog bite incidents were reduced by more than 50 percent from last year.

For a copy of the ASPCA's Dog Bite Safety Pledge for Children, mail a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Animal Sciences, ASPCA, 424 East 92nd St., New York, NY 10128-6804

© 1999 ASPCA

ASPCA Animal Watch - Summer 1999

Furry Friends Need Fun, Too: How to Keep Your Pet Happy and Active

It seems like the most natural thing in the world—our pets need food, water, medical care and lots of love. But dogs have other needs, too. Our furry friends need ample physical exercise and mental stimulation to lead truly full and happy lives.

"They need jobs," says Kristen Collins, CPDT, ASPCA Animal Trainer. Dogs need to stay busy and engaged, but unfortunately most pets are unemployed—daily they sit at home, chronically bored and waiting for their humans to return from work. And as we all know, an idle pet can quickly turn into a naughty pet when restlessness becomes overwhelming.

"With nothing to do, dogs are forced to find ways to entertain themselves," explains Kristen. "Their activities of choice often include behaviors we find problematic, like excessive barking, gnawing on shoes, raiding the garbage, and eating houseplants."

To prevent behavior and health problems, Kristen recommends the following physical and mental workouts—both when you're there to join the fun and when your pet is home alone.

  • Move it! Healthy adult dogs need at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a day. Jogging, swimming and playing at the dog park are all great ways to burn excess energy.

  • Engage in structured games, like fetch and tug-of-war—they're not only great exercise but also teach your pet impulse control and strengthen the bond between you.

  • Keep your dog occupied when he's home alone by giving him a food-stuffed puzzle toy, like the Kong, or some tasty chew toys.     

Kristen adds: "The bottom line is that you're responsible for enriching your pet's life. Providing opportunities to exercise your dog's mind and body will keep her healthy and happy—and enhance your relationship, too."

For more information about enriching your pet’s life, please check out expert advice from our Virtual Pet Behaviorist.

Information received from 8/5/11 

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