Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recap of the Denver Dog Bite Prevention Conference

Victoria and I before the conference
Back in May 2012, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the National Dog Bite Awareness and Prevention Conference in Atlanta hosted by the Georgia State Bar Association.  Topics included dog body language, how to handle aggressive dogs, dog bite statistics, laws governing dog bites, animal control procedures, fatal dog attack investigations, and other fascinating subjects.  I learned a tremendous amount, and decided that day to bring the conference to Denver.
For the last several months, myself, along with my assistant Anne, and Victoria Stilwell, planned the Denver conference that was held on November 2, 2012.  We were lucky to have five knowledgeable and educated speakers who donated their time to help spread the word about dog bite prevention.
First up was Victoria.  For those of you who don’t know, she is the star of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog”.  She works tirelessly to educate pet parents on positive reinforcement methods of training, and how using punitive methods can increase aggression and cause damage to dogs.  The focus of her morning presentation was why dogs aggress, dog body language, how environment and handling can increase a dog’s aggressive response, and bite levels and intentions.
Dogs can be aggressive for many reasons- pain, predation, fear, anxiety, protection, etc. In order to understand and determine the reason for the aggressive response, dog behavior experts have to look at several factors and cross off possible causes one by one. She recommended starting with a full medical work-up including blood work. Studies have shown that dogs suffering from hypothyroidism tend to be more aggressive and low levels of serotonin can also lead a dog to be more aggressive. The dog’s diet is a crucial element as well, meaning nothing can be ruled out and everything should be considered.
Stilwell also talked about the myth that dogs “just snap” without warning. Dogs offer many signs that they are uncomfortable, but many people are simply not aware of those signs. The audience was shown different clips from Stilwell’s TV show, It’s Me or the Dog, illustrating the signals that dogs send humans (and other dogs).
Dogs' calming signals may include:
§  Lip licking
§  Tongue flicking
§  Blinking, averting eyes, or turning away
§  Yawning – depends on the context
§  ‘Shaking off’- similar to when they shake off water, but the dog isn’t wet
§  Ears pinned back
§  Sniffing the ground
§  Closed mouth to an open mouth
§  ‘Whale eye’- a dog keeps his head straight, but turns his eye toward you…you can see the whites of his eye.  It means fear or uncomfortableness
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety begin to display those signs before the owner leaves – pacing, panting, whining, yawning, shaking off, etc. When the owner is gone and dog is barking, chewing, being destructive, the dog is no longer anxious, but rather the dog is in distress. Treating the separation anxiety means treating the reason for the pacing, panting and whining. Any successful behavior modification plan for any behavior must focus on treating the root cause of the behavior and not the behavior itself.
The morning’s most poignant speakers took the stage and bravely shared their story of love and loss of their 2-year-old son and 8-year-old dog. Joseph and Carrie Perk were as typical as they come – two happy parents raising their toddler son and infant daughter in a bustling household that also included two beloved Weimaraners, Lloyd and Chessy. Like many dog owners, the Perks took their dogs through obedience classes and thought that they were doing all of the right things, never giving much thought to stress signals or dog body language that could indicate trouble.
“It’s funny, I never really gave it thought how many times I’ve been bit by a dog,” Joey said. “I didn’t think about it until we were asked to come here and speak. But I think almost everyone here has been bit by a dog, right?”
Carrie and Joey never thought either dog would bite but sadly, the unthinkable happened. The Perk’s typical family was forever changed on Dec. 22, 2009 when Lloyd fatally bit Liam on what seemed like any other morning in the Perk house. Lloyd was a Weimeraner, and not of a breed that people often associated with aggression and this is one of the myths that each speaker at the conference wanted to dispel. Any dog, given the right set of circumstances in the right situation will do what it feels is necessary to get rid of a threat and the last resort when all other signals fail is to make a point with a bite.
Carrie Perk and Lucy

The Perks weren’t taught what to look out for and what can cause stress for the family dog. Obedience trainers didn’t explain the reasons dogs turn to the side, lick their lips, yawn, fold their ears back or pant. It was only after losing Liam that Carrie began researching what happened and why that she began to understand how much Liam affected Lloyd. Wanting to honor Liam’s memory and feeling the need to share what she learned and tell people what happened, the Perks founded the Liam J. Perk Foundation with the mission on educating dog owners and children on how to stay safe.
Through the foundation, the Perks created the Let’s Talk Dog! Awareness sign that can go up any place where that dogs and humans interact: playgrounds, dog parks, vet offices, schools, etc. to provide a quick, easy to understand guide to dog body language.
Jim Crosby, a retired police lieutenant, provided a riveting look into his work investigating the worst of the worst: fatal dog bites and maulings. Crosby is the guy called in to provide an objective analysis of the scene and dog(s) involved (if the dogs have not yet been euthanized). His presentation included reviews of past cases and stories about the dogs and people involved in different incidents around the country.
Crosby’s detailed investigations involve surveying a scene, looking at police photographs (if the scene has been cleared), measuring depth of wounds, testing dog(s) for blood on coat and in mouth and talking with witnesses to get a sense of what was going on just before and during the attack.  Based on a dog’s dentition, Crosby is able to determine which bites were inflicted by which dog in cases where two or more dogs are involved. Dentition also helps to rule out dogs because bite patterns will not match every dog because they are like fingerprints and no two dogs have the exact same pattern. 
Jim Crosby
Before speaking on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), Crosby pointed out that statistics show time and time again that dog of mixed breeds make up the largest percentage of biters. Each speaker stressed that any breed of dog can bite and research has shown that BSL does little to protect communities from dog-bite incidents. Crosby also took time to dispel a couple of rampant myths.
“A Pit Bull does not have a locking jaw. No dog has a locking jaw. It wouldn’t be a very good predator if every time it closed its mouth, its jaw locked,” Crosby stated. “The Gila Monster is the only animal on the planet with a locking jaw and that is so it can inject poison into its prey.”
Crosby displayed a slide showing the measured bite force of different animals. Rottweilers topped the dog category with a measured bite force of 328 pounds per square inch (psi), followed by German Shepherd dogs with 238 psi and Pit Bulls came in at 235 psi.
One lasting fact that stuck with many in attendance was just how quickly a bite – or several bites – can occur. The audience learned that it takes the typical dog two-tenths of a second to bite and release. A healthy human’s response time is three-quarters of a second.
“By the time you realize that the dog is biting you and you can react, that dog could have bit and released up to five times,” Crosby said.  He also showed graphic photos of deceased victims, severe bites, and crime scene investigation photos to illustrate all of his findings and investigations.
Our fourth speaker of the day was Claudine Wilkins, one of the leading forces behind the Georgia Dog Bite Conference in May conference. Wilkins is an animal law attorney in Atlanta and was instrumental in helping Georgia legislators draft and pass the state’s Responsible Dog Owner Act.
Claudine Wilkins
In the Act, owners of dogs that have bite histories are held liable and must follow a very specific set of laws in order to keep the dog(s). Dogs with bite histories are placed into two categories: dangerous dogs and vicious dogs. Depending on what category a dog falls in to, the owner must keep the dog from engaging with any other animal or human if the dog is off the owner’s property and some owners must carry $50,000 of insurance. No person can own more than one vicious dog, and no one with felony convictions can own a vicious dog. The Act is step in the right direction, Wilkins said, in helping to boost public safety and retool old, outdated dangerous dog laws.
The full day of speakers was a huge success and we all took home at least a little bit of information to continue education and spread the word about dog bite awareness and prevention.  It is up to all of us to learn about dog body language, be responsible for our own dogs, prevent dog bites from happening, and educate ourselves about dangerous dog laws and breed specific legislation.  The next conference, sponsored by Wag & Train, will hopefully be in the next two years, and we hope to hold it at CSU in Fort Collins. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Chow-Down on Pet Food Ingredients

Last week, I had a discussion with a puppy parent who brought treats to class that contained 'propylene glycol'.  She purchased them from her vet, and when I told her what was in them, she was mortified.  Her beloved puppy is only 10 weeks old, and already she is unknowingly feeding him things that could possibly shorten his life.  She loves her puppy and only wants whats best for him, just like many other pet parents.  So, below is information that I have learned over the years, because I was just as shocked as she was when I learned what I was feeding my dog in the late 90s.  I am not going to tell you what to feed your pet, but rather give you a place to start researching yourself.  I like the website and also The Whole Dog Journal, as a starting point.  For my own education, and for the purposes of this blog, I also consulted my friend and fellow trainer, Anna Johnson.  She is a certified Canine Nutritionist, and her website is  She is a phenomenal resource for nutrition consultations.

Here goes...
Educate Yourself
I urge every dog and cat owner to re-evaluate what you are feeding your pet. Please don't buy the grocery store brand because it is cheaper. You are doing your pet an injustice. Do research. Be informed. Study the labels on the foods that you are currently feeding your pet. On food labels, ingredients are listed in order of their volume percentages. For example, if chicken by-product is the first ingredient listed on the label, then chicken by-product is the major ingredient in your pet's food. The second ingredient is the second largest amount, and so on. And even if the first ingredient is Chicken, it doesnt mean there is a lot of chicken in it (as it contains mostly water).  You want to look at the other ingredients, too.  A word about ‘protein’ in pet foods: The 'Crude Protein' analysis on pet food labels is only a measurement of the amount of nitrogen in a food -- not the quality of the protein. Because of this, pet food companies can use the cheaper by-products of human food production, such as Rice Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal & Beet Pulp. Whole meats are always the best source of quality protein. Meat protein is absorbed and retained better and is higher in essential amino acids like methionine, arginine, and taurine. Ingredients such as ‘Rice Gluten Meal’ contain less than half the usable protein as other sources, such as whole Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Lamb, Fish, etc.
Species-Specific Variety
Many dogs and cats eat the same thing day-in and day-out for their entire lives. There is no variety, and most domesticated animals are fed a dry kibble. One could argue that this is the equivalent of humans eating only Pop-Tarts everyday for our entire lives. Dogs and cats are carnivores, and unfortunately, dry food kibble alone doesn’t give them all the species-specific nutrition that they need. The digestive systems of dogs aren’t made to digest anything but what they would eat in the wild. Their digestive tracts are much shorter than ours so food basically goes in and out. It doesn’t take as long to go through as a human. I recommend supplementing your pet’s dry kibble with wet food whenever possible, even just by a tablespoon. This will add more moisture in his system, which will put less stress on his kidneys and liver. Also, their saliva lacks the digestive enzymes amylase and cellulase that are essential to break-down raw vegetables. Most dogs love veggies and fruits, so if you add them, ideally they should be shredded, cooked, or steamed.
Dry Food Kibble
Dry dog and cat food can include a majority of grain and fillers. Therefore, by feeding your dog only dry kibble every day, you are giving him much more grain than he would eat in the wild, which is none. Dogs don’t need grain or traditional carbohydrates, but we are feeding it to them everyday.
Look for foods that have whole protein sources like Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey, Turkey Meal, Lamb, Lamb Meal, etc. If you see ‘chicken meal’ as the first ingredient, it is usually a good thing, especially if it’s followed by ‘Lamb Meal’ or ‘Whole Chicken’, etc. Premium foods use the whole animal to render as ‘meal’, and if it comes from high-quality sources, it can be very nutritious. Just because the first ingredient says ‘Chicken’ definitely doesn’t mean there is a lot of chicken in it.
There is a belief today that certain well-known national brands on the market are ‘the best’, when they are absolutely not. These brands are full of by-products and fillers, which can harm your dog’s long-term health and behavior. Another myth is that corn is an acceptable grain. Corn is very hard to digest and has little nutritional value for our pets, especially if it’s been cooked over and over to make corn meal. Also, although many vets are wonderful and are very knowledgeable (like mine!), some do not think nutrition is necessarily important in your dog’s health. Veterinary students only take one nutrition course their entire time in vet school (so I’m told by many of my veterinarians friends), and just as human doctors don’t know much about nutrition, some vets don’t either. Don’t take your vet’s word for it- investigate foods on your own and make an informed choice. If your vet sells it, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s good for your pet.
it's also a myth that higher quality foods cost more.  While they do cost more 'per bag' or 'per can', because there is more nutrition and less filler, they cost less 'per meal'... often by a considerable amount.
The Raw-Food Diet
The raw, species appropriate diet (can also be referred to as the BARF diet) does not contain grain products, which are not biologically appropriate for our pets. It is argued that to maximize your animal’s health, he requires protein from sources similar to his wild ancestors who derived their fats and essential fatty acid from raw meat and vegetables. In addition, raw food is a great ‘weight maintainer’. If your cat needs to lose weight, he’ll lose it while eating raw food. If he needs to gain weight, he’ll gain it- both with the same amount of food. These days, there are many dehydrated raw products, too, that make it easy to supplement dry food. You just add water and don’t have to deal with the bigger freezer.
Rotation Diet
Some say that the best diet for a dog is the rotation diet, which consists of rotating protein sources every month. A lot of animals develop food allergies, and this can be attributed to eating the same protein every day for 15 years. If you rotate the kinds of proteins you give your dog, you may reduce the chances of him developing a food allergy. All this means is you can feed your dog a chicken based food for a month, then switch to lamb or beef. Rotate and you can see major health benefits. It is a myth that you are not supposed to switch dog food!
Home-Made Diet
Some people may prefer to make their pets’ diet, which has now become even easier. There are freeze dried powders, including bone meal, vegetables, and supplements that you can add to raw or cooked meat to allow for your pet’s nutritional needs. It can be more cost effective than some diets, but can also be more time-consuming.
Animal By-Products
These are parts of an animal that are left-overs from the human food chain. They can include intestines, chicken heads, lungs, livers, kidneys, duckbills, chicken and turkey feet, feathers and bone. Ingredients listed as chicken, beef, poultry, and animal by-products are not required to include actual meat.
Ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT
These are chemical additives used as preservatives. Ethoxyquin is FDA-regulated as a pesticide, and is now banned in Europe for both human and animal food. It is a known carcinogen. BHA and BHT are petroleum derivates and are also believed to be carcinogenic. The scariest part? If these chemicals are added by the meat packing plants to preserve the human leftovers before they are sold to the dog food companies, the dog food companies are not even required to list it on the label!
Propylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol is used as a preservative in many grocery store-brand treats. PG is an ingredient in anti-freeze (anti-freeze can kill dogs), brake fluid, lotions, hair products, etc.
Powdered Cellulose
Many dog food companies are jumping on the ‘grain-free’ bandwagon, and are indeed making foods that are grain free. But what they are using instead is equally as disgusting because it’s not even meant for consumption. Powdered Cellulose is ‘processed WOOD’!
Corn Gluten Meal (Think ‘Glue’) or Any ‘Gluten’
Corn Gluten Meal is the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of cornstarch or syrup. When added to pet food, it slows down the transition of rancid animal fats (think toxic waste). It helps holds waste in, making the kidneys and liver work overtime. Dogs may chew their lower backs, and feet may swell causing dogs to lick/chew on their feet.

Ground Corn
Ground Corn is the entire corn kernel, ground or chopped. Corn (in any form) is the #3 most common cause of food allergies in pets. It is linked to hyperactivity, hot spots, itchy skin, and even behavioral problems.
Soybean Meal (or any form of Soy)
Soybean Meal is the product obtained by grinding the flakes that remain after removing most of the oil from soybeans. Dogs and Cats do not contain the amino acids needed to digest Soy, it is the #1 allergen of dogs and has been linked to bloat and gas.
Animal Fat
The origin of the contributing animals is never known. The oil is very low in both linoleic acid & essential fatty acids, which are important for skin and coat health. It is extremely difficult to digest and can lead to a host of animal health problems, including digestive upsets, diarrhea, gas, and bad breath.
Beef Tallow
Beef Tallow is obtained from the tissue of cattle in the commercial process of rendering. Same side effects of Animal Fat.
Chicken By-Products (Or any meat by-products)

Chicken By-Products consist of the rendered, left over parts of slaughtered chickens including necks, beaks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines. By-Products contain almost no nutritional value. They are linked to many deficiencies, allergies and overall poor health.
Poultry By-Product (Non-Specific By-Products)
Same as the previous ingredient, although the origin is from any fowl (turkeys, geese, buzzards, etc). Non-specific By-Products are less expensive and because the protein is never named, it can change at any time. Same side effects as above.

Beet Pulp
The sole purpose of Beet Pulp is to ‘firm up’ stools. When added to pet food it slows down the transition of rancid animal fats (think toxic waste) and holds the waste in. It has been linked to allergies, ear infections and intestinal problems.
Brewers Rice
Brewers Rice is a by-product of the alcohol industry. It is basically the mill floor sweepings and is a very low quality product that is void of nutritional value. It has also been linked to allergies, ear infections and intestinal problems.
Rice Flour/Wheat Flour
These flours consists principally of the soft, finely ground and bolted meal obtained from milling rice/wheat. It is a highly pre-processed ingredient. All of the naturally occurring vitamins have been leeched out by the processing that has already occurred. It is a dehydrating ingredient as well as an allergen.
While there are many different views on the pros and cons of all dog and cat foods, it's up to you and I, as the pet parents, to be informed. We all love our pets and want them to live long, healthy, and happy lives. What we feed them is just as important as how we train them!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dog Bite Prevention Conference Update

May is Dog Bite Prevention Month, and last week I flew to Atlanta to attend the first National Dog Bite Conference, presented by the State Bar of Georgia. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleased to be able to go and learn more about people's perception of dog breeds and the way dog bites are handled by law enforcement.

There was a lot of great information packed into the one-day conference, and a lot of my fellow VSPDT’ers (Victoria Stilwell Certified Trainers) from across the country attended also.

The day began with an attorney, Claudine Wilkins, who has worked tirelessly for two years to change the dog bite law in Georgia. Along with a few others, including Dr. Gene Maddox, a state rep, lobbied and wrote and revised and re-revised and toiled until the law was changed to include a criminal penalty for dog owners who have dangerous or vicious dogs. From what I can tell, the law is similar to Colorado’s Dog Bite Law, pass├ęd in 2004. The best news? The Georgia law was passed on May 3- the day before the conference, so Claudine was happy to announce that it passed, very unexpectedly!

Next up- Victoria Stilwell, whose focus was on dog bite statistics and education about the rise in dog bites in the past several years. The first video was of Kyle Dyer on 9News, and the footage of her being bitten by Max, the Dogo Argentino. She discussed all the signs Max was giving and how the entire thing could have been prevented. She also spoke about certain TV shows that promote forceful and punishment-based dog training methods and how dog bites to humans have increased since those shows have been on the air. Victoria expanded on breed bans, and the fact that since certain breeds have been banned, dog bites have actually increased exponentially (perhaps not coincidentally since certain forceful dog training shows have been on the air). In the UK, dog bites have gone up 150% since pit bulls have been banned! Another statistic I found shocking is 50% of children are bitten by dogs by their 12th birthday… 70% are bitten by dogs that they know!
Other stats:
• An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year
• Nearly 800,000 dog bites require medical care
• Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered
• Approximately 25% of fatal dog attacks involved chained dogs
• Approximately 71% of bites occur to the extremities (arms, legs, hands, feet)

• Approximately two-thirds of bites occurred on or near the victim’s property, and most victims knew the dog

• The insurance industry pays more than $1 billion in dog-bite claims each year

• At least 25 different breeds of dogs have been involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities in the U.S.

• 82% of dog bites treated in the emergency room involved children under 15 years old

• 70% of dog-bite fatalities occurred among children under 10 years old

• Bite rates are dramatically higher among children who are 5 to 9 years old

• Unsupervised newborns were 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog

• 65% of bites among children occur to the head and neck

• Boys under the age of 15 years old are bitten more often than girls of the same age

Reference- Humane Society of the United States

Next up was a victim of a horrendous dog bite attack, 8-year old Javon. He spent 9 days in the ICU and now has scars on his face and body. He and his sisters were playing on a playground, and 3 pit bulls, who were chained in their front yard 24 hours a day, got loose and went after Javon. The dogs were neglected, chained, frustrated, and had strong prey drive. This was a case of the owner being extremely irresponsible, not a case of dogs being inherently vicious. Javon is thriving and it was a pleasure to meet him!
Other speakers included Kevin Hearst, a DeKalb County Animal Control officer. Because many of the conference attendees were animal control staff from around the country, he presented information on how to prevent being bitten when going to a dangerous dog call. He was informative and hilarious and I hope he comes to the Denver Conference. Jim Crosby, a nationally known dog bite investigator also presented. I saw photos of bites I never thought were possible, including autopsy photos. So tragic- I will never forget those images.
Afterwards, the entire VSPDT group went out to eat and enjoyed some downtime.  Even when we can socialize like 'normal' people, we still talk about dogs!  We know that educating people about dog body language, calming signals, communication, and positive non-forceful training is key.  We know that helping people understand how to set dogs up to succeed is imperative.  We just have to figure out how to get the message out, and we'll keep trying until everyone understands- it's not about the breed. It's about how we interpret dog language, train our dogs with positive, non-forceful methods so they don't become aggressive, and how we educate parents and their children about dog bite safety.  A great place for more information is
I had a great time in Atlanta and look forward to the Denver Dog Bite Conference in October... Details coming soon!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Introducing Yourself: Observe First, Ask Questions Later

While there has recently been a lot in the news about reading dogs’ body language cues, many of us in the dog training industry have been trying to educate the public for years. It has been my life’s passion to help people understand dog language better and prevent dog bites. Whether I’m lecturing to a big audience or teaching a small group class, I am always interpreting body language for pet parents to help them understand how to interpret it themselves. It’s unfortunate that the awful event at 9News brought this subject into the spotlight, but it is a blessing as more people will hopefully pay attention to how they interact with dogs, including their own.

There are three different things to remember when you are going to interact with a dog, and although there are several other factors that could potentially go in to a human/dog interaction, I believe these are the most important:

1) The dog’s body language and cues

2) Your body language and cues

3) The environment and potential stressors around the dog

First and foremost, does the dog appear scared or anxious? Is her mouth closed tightly? Is her tail between her legs, can you see the whites of her eyes, is she standing behind her parent, or trying to get away? Is she avoiding eye contact, whining, barking, or growling? These are all signs of stress and you need to approach with caution. Or better yet, keep your distance and don't approach at all.

(This dog is facing sideways, ears are down, eyes are made smaller as an appeasement behavior, and his lips are pursed with nervous anticipation of what the person with the camera is going to do next)

Secondly, how will the dog perceive you as you are approaching? Do you have a big computer bag in your hand, a broom, or an open umbrella? Are you approaching from directly in front of the dog, or from the side? Are you using an excited, loud voice or a soft, friendly one? Just because you are excited to meet the ginormous Irish Wolfhound on the street doesn’t mean he will be excited to meet you.

And lastly, what is going on around you? Are there construction trucks going by, or sirens from a fire truck going off? Did the dog just get in to a scuffle at the dog park and you are greeting in the parking lot? Are you in the vet’s office where a dog just got his ears cleaned out? Keep in mind that you may have no idea what has just happened to the dog, so always read body language first, then ASK before introducing yourself, if you choose to do so.

(This puppy has a furrowed brow, pursed lips, and her ears are down and forward... She is unsure, worried, and scared)

Behavior is always context specific, and dogs will react, in part, according to environmental stimuli. If the stimuli is perceived as good (liver treats, person kneeling, another friendly dog, etc) the dog may be less anxious and will be open to a friendly greeting. If the stimuli is scary (loud noises, bright lights, tall boisterous person, etc), the dog will be more adrenalized and won’t be as emotionally/mentally equipped to engage in a greeting.

This is why I always ask people to set dogs up to succeed. It is so important for the emotional health, well-being, and safety of all involved. Never approach a dog without reading their cues, and always ask the dog’s pet parent before greeting.
Kari Bastyr, MS, VSPDT
Denver, Co
© Copyright 2012 Wag & Train All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Perfect Storm Follow-Up

In the aftermath of what happened last week, I wanted to write a bit of a follow-up to A Perfect Storm. Had I known the blog would be Twittered, shared, posted by Whole Dog Journal and Victoria Stilwell, I would have spent a little more time on it. As it was written, it was only my early morning reaction with a complete lack of sleep and not enough coffee.  But, I think (I hope) I got my point across that we must learn from this incident, and I think people will. 

I have been playing phone/email tag with Victoria this weekend as she is in NYC reporting from Westminster.  I asked her to join forces with me to figure out a way to make good come of this, and help the people of Colorado understand their dogs better.  She is on board, so stay tuned for what we come up with.  I am extremely lucky to have her support!

Late last night,  I learned that Kyle’s injury is much more severe than was reported. She lost half her upper lip, had a 4-hour surgery, has 70 stitches, and has to have her mouth sewn shut to graft the skin of her lips and get the blood circulating again. Learning this made me gasp, and I shuttered at the thought of Kyle going through all this pain. I really feel for her. Her recovery will be long and painful, but I’m sure her smile will radiate as much as it did before,

Max is still in quarantine, and not much has been reported about him. 9News interviewed the head of Animal Control, and he said Max will likely be released back to his owner once his 10-day quarantine is over. The quarantine is standard procedure for any serious dog bite, as they need to make sure Max doesn’t have rabies. As I said in my previous post, I highly doubt Max will be euthanized, and I know a lot of people are concerned about that. However, given the severity and level of his bite, I imagine the judge will order strict rules for him, and Max’s life will never be the same.

I know my anger towards Mr. Robinson really came through in the blog. Those who know me, know I don’t mince words or beat around the bush, especially when a dog's welfare is at stake. While some may think I rushed to judgment, I know that the anger is because of my experience and knowledge of how dog bites happen, and that they are highly preventable. Humans put dogs in situations that set them up to fail, and that is what happened to Max from the start. I have worked with thousands of dog owners who don’t know any better and consistently have much higher expectations for their dog than their dog can attain.   I struggle with this daily in my private practice, and am constantly explaining to people how their actions allowed the dog to bite...  yet many of them blame the dog.

My frustration is out of sadness for the dogs who have to suffer from humans’ mistakes. Mistakes that can be prevented if dog owners make better choices regarding their dogs and stop anthropomorphizing. Dogs will be dogs, and it is up to us to protect and advocate for them.

For the foreseeable future, my blogs will begin focusing on different dog body language characteristics and how to interpret them. You can also start watching your dogs when they are in your living room… What do their faces tell you? What are their bodies doing that could let you know what is going on in their mind?
  • When you go to pet her over the head, does she shy away and yawn?
  • When you hug your dog, does he lick his lips?
  • When you go to put the leash on, does she slink over to you like she’s in trouble and lift her paw?
  • When he has a bone, and you walk by, does he turn his eyes but not his head?
Stay tuned for explanations of these behaviors, and more.   To begin, Click Here for Turid Rugaas' descriptions of several calming signals.  Familiarize yourself and practice interpreting them with your dogs whenever you can. 

Kari Bastyr, MS, VSPDT
Denver, Co.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Perfect Storm

By now, you have probably seen the footage of the dog rescued from the reservoir on Tuesday. It was a very happy ending for an unfortunate circumstance caused by the dog’s owner. Max, a Dogo Argentino (Argentine Mastiff), was probably out for an afternoon walk and Michael Robinson, Max’s owner let him off leash *hoping* he would stay close. Clearly, Max had not been taught a 100% solid recall, so Max didn’t listen to Michael calling him when he spotted a coyote. Max chased the coyote on to the ice and they both fell through. After several minutes, the coyote drowned, but firefighters arrived just in time to inch their way out on to the ice to save Max. Max was very happy to see the firefighter (you can see from the video) as he swam directly toward his rescuer in a desperate attempt to get out of the freezing water. The firefighter risked his life to save Max, and it cost taxpayers thousands of dollars, I’m sure. This entire scenario, and the death of a coyote, could have been entirely prevented had Max’s owner kept him on the leash, and not *hoped* he would listen. In my opinion, this was an extremely stupid and narcissistic decision on Michael’s part. Max should never have been off leash, especially since he wasn’t up to date on his vaccinations. On a side note, a dog actually did drown on Wednesday (the day after Max’s rescue) because another foolish owner let their dog off leash without a 100% solidly trained recall, with distractions. Aren’t we supposed to keep our dogs from harm and be their advocate and voice? When I saw the footage I was so angry. And, later I found out, instead of taking Max directly to the vet, Michael brought Max home and invited camera crews inside to film him. How does this make sense?

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I sat down to check my email and have a cup of coffee with 9News on, my morning ritual. I hear that an upcoming segment will have the dog who was rescued from the reservoir LIVE in studio to reunite him with his rescuer. The first thing I thought was “What? This dog has just been rescued from almost dying 12 hours ago, and now he’s going to be in the studio instead of sleeping in?” I had a bad feeling from that moment. I knew Max had to be recovering from trauma, and was probably very tired and stressed from swimming to save his life for an hour, and it probably wouldn’t go well. I never expected what I saw next.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have watched Kyle Dyer since I moved to Denver in 2001. I have met her in studio, we have talked about dogs when I have been there for interviews, and she even interviewed me once for a story. It is extremely evident how much she loves animals. She does stories from the Zoo, and she is has been a passionate advocate for them. She would never put a dog in jeopardy.  I really like her, and she is always happy and upbeat.  She just lights up when you talk to her.  The last time I was in studio, she was sitting behind the news desk and asked me for my card for her own dog during commerical.  I can't remember what the issue was, but it was very clear that she loved him and probably would have talked my ear off about him if she didnt have to go back on air.  She is lovely!

But, she is just like my clients who call me for help. People love their animals and don’t know that dog body language is very important. So many kids and people are bitten by people who just don’t understand because they love dogs SO much they can’t help but treat them like little kids in fuzzy coats. People hug and kiss dogs all the time. This is how bites happen.

During the interview, Max was very stressed from the start. He was blinking, licking his lips, turning his head…I think he even yawned. It was clear from the get-go that he just wanted to be at home sleeping on his pillow. I also saw Michael, Max’s owner, do a couple of leash tugs to try and get his attention. Guess what happens when a stressed dog gets his leash jerked? Adrenaline and fear. So, Max was already stressed, tired, and giving off every warning sign his body could possibly engage in, and add leash jerks on top of it and he was like a bomb ready to go off. It reminds me of a great blog called ‘Dog Bites are like Tetris’. Aggression, behavior, and bites do not happen out of the blue. They are context- specific and only happen when the context is right. Things build and build and then BOOM. All the while, the dog is trying to tell us “I’m not a threat” “I’m scared and I don’t want you to come any closer” “I’m about to bite you!” This is why people say “My dog is so good 99% percent of the time- He loves everybody! But he bit my uncle, the vet, and the mailman”. Honest to god, I hear this every day. People just don’t understand that dogs don’t want to bite, but they don’t have a choice because we constantly set them up to fail. And then, when they are aggressive we correct them for it, only to increase the likelihood of the dog being aggressive again. Makes absolutely NO sense.

But I digress.

What I saw next on the TV was both terrifying and heartbreaking to watch at the same time. As Kyle got down on her knees, Max started to show his teeth, probably out of fear. He was already adrenalized and all the warning signs he was giving (lip licks, blinking, head turns, whale eye, etc) weren’t working so he growled. Unfortunately, Kyle didn’t hear or see that Max was about to bite. I yelled at the TV screen “Kyle back off!”, not that she could hear me. Then he lunged and bit her lip. This bite was completely predictable and preventable and no one stopped it. It was a Perfect Storm of events that came to a head with disastrous results. It was entirely the humans’ fault (mostly Max’s owner, as he did not advocate for Max one iota to begin with, and certainly not by bringing him on TV 16 hours after being rescued from drowning), not Max’s.

This occurs every day, multiple times a day in homes across the world. I get calls for help daily from parents whose dog bit their child because the child was chasing down the dog and trying to hug her. Or, the person who got bit because they were trying to be ‘dominant’ and Alpha Roll the dog, sending the dog into a defensive outrage trying to protect himself. It is ALL preventable if people would just stop, look, and listen to what their dogs are saying. But people are know-it-alls and continue to set their dog’s up to fail.

And that is why I am writing about this. This entire ordeal must be used as an educational opportunity going forward. People MUST learn that dogs are trying to warn us when they are feeling uncomfortable, but in our hurried ways, with our benevolent attitudes, and narcissist feelings, we don’t even pay attention.

Before I go on, let me say something about the actual bite. If you saw the footage, you will see that Kyle is directly in Max’s face, loving on him and trying to kiss him. Her face is right where his teeth are. Yes, he lunged and bit her, but it was a warning bite. If he had meant to maul her, he would have. He was trying to warn her because every other warning sign he was giving was ignored, so the next step is a snap. It’s the natural progression in dog language, and people don’t see the behaviors. From what I understand, the bite was on Kyle’s lip and she had to have reconstructive surgery. In my professional opinion, it was probably a Level 3 or 4 bite. That is a severe bite, and means he has zero bite inhibition. Not good, but it was a warning bite, not an ‘I’m going to kill you bite”. He didn’t hang on. He didn’t try and rip her face off. At the same time, you have to understand that Max was stressed, tired, traumatized, under lights, around strangers, watching motorized cameras rolling around like robots (they even freak ME out when I am in the studio), and his owner was popping on his leash for whatever reason (clearly a way that he has used in the past to try and ‘train’ Max). Max was stressed beyond belief.

Going forward, I would like everyone to take a step back and think about all the things your dog is trying to tell you. Do away with everything you ‘think’ you know about dogs, everything you have learned from your dogs growing up, and everything you try to do to ‘make’ your dogs listen. Watch and learn because your dog is trying to tell you things every single second. So many people think they know how to train dogs. I assure you, they don’t. Even so-called trainers think they know how to train dogs, yet give hard leash tugs, scruff shakes, and throw things at the dog to startle. When is it going to stop?
Like I said, this was a perfect storm of events that culminated in an awful outcome. Kyle is in the hospital, Max is in quarantine, and people are playing the blame game. Yes, Kyle shouldn’t have been in Max’s face, but why was Max there in the first place? Why was Max off leash at the reservoir, and why didn’t Michael have a reliable recall before he let him off leash? That in itself makes me furious, especially because someone else did it the next day and the dog actually died. Why are people so stupid?

Believe me, I am no saint. I swear like a sailor and I have road rage to rival anyone, but I know you shouldn’t stick a knife in the toaster, that you should treat your neighbor like you want to be treated, that you shouldn’t let your dog off leash near ice and you don’t use leash tugs or force to ‘be dominant’ Duh! (refer to The Myth of Dominance) I know that dogs are emotional beings, and while they deserve our love and kindness, they also deserve our effort to get to know how they communicate with us.

I really hope Kyle is okay, both physically and emotionally. Getting severely bitten is traumatizing, to say the least. I doubt it will decrease her love of animals, and I imagine she will still be a passionate advocate for them, maybe more so. I even imagine she will take this opportunity and educate people on the dangers of stressing a dog out or getting in his space. I hope 9News changes it’s policies regarding animals in the studio. I hope Michael Robinson realizes that his decision to let Max off leash was not in his best interest,  and really tries to do right by him when he gets out of quarantine. And I hope nothing bad happens to Max. According to the Colorado Dog Bite Law, Mr. Robinson is criminally liable for the bite itself, and he was ticketed for having his dog off-leash and no proof of vaccinations or license. He will have to go to court, and a judge will decide Max’s fate. Based on my experience with dog bite cases, it is highly unlikely that Max will be euthanized, and I would be very surprised if that happened. But Michael will be fined a lot of money, have to pay restitution (unless 9News pays for it), will need to get behavioral help for Max, and probably more insurance for him.

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that this entire incident from start to finish will open everyone’s eyes about what dogs are trying to tell us. I also hope that people will stop thinking that we are better than dogs and they need to be ‘trained’ with leash jerks, neck jabs, shock collars, etc. And I really hope that Max will find peace after his 10 days in jail. This will forever change him, but it doesn’t have to be in vain.

Oh, and please, EVERYONE give your dogs an extra treat and 'I Love You' tonight.  We are very lucky to have such wonderful creatures in our lives and you should never take that for granted. 

Kari Bastyr, MS, VSPDT

© Copyright Wag & Train Animal Behavior Specialists, LLC  2012.  All Rights Reserved

Note:  It was originally reported that Max wasnt current on his vaccinations. According to a recent statement by the Robinson's, that is not true.   
Also, my goal is not to offend, but to educate based on what happened.  My apologies to those who do not appreciate my bluntness.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Favorite Training Tool: The Gentle Leader

The Gentle Leader Headcollar

The Gentle Leader was designed to work with a dog's pack instincts, helping to communicate with your dog in a way he immediately understands. The pressure applied to the nose is can be very calming, as is the pressure on the back of the neck, which simluates the mother dog gently mouthing a puppy telling him to stop the behavior. After your dog has become accustomed to the collar, he will immediately understand what you want since you are communicating in his language. It is NOT a muzzle!
My Dog Hates It!
A lot of people have told me over the years that they have tried the Gentle Leader but their dogs "hated it". Well, of course they do, because they aren't in control anymore-You are! The more they hate it, the more they need it. Most dogs will fight it but 99 % of them will 'give in' within minutes because our dogs are looking for a leader, and by using the Gentle Leader, you are telling them that good things happen when they calm down 
The best thing about the Gentle Leader is that it doesn't cause pain or fear like other training tools can. If fit properly by a trained professional, it will allow you to create a happy, secure bond with your dog and make walks more enjoyable. Additionally, if you have a dog with behavior problems, it will assist in re-conditioning those behaviors without pain - making life better for you as well as your dog.
The Gentle Leader straps will resemble a "V" for "Victory"!, not an "L" for "Loser."
The Neck Strap MUST 1-Be positioned as high on the neck as possible, directly behind the ears and touching the base of the skull in back, and above the Adam's apple in front. 2- Not be able to rotate around neck. 3- Fit very snugly at top of neck so that you can barely squeeze only one finger underneath. This is the MOST important part of the entire fitting process! It is different than other collars you may be used to, but does not cause discomfort to your dog. Please resist the temptation to make the Neck Strap loose - if you loosen it, either your dog will be able to paw the Nose Loop off, or you will wind up making the Nose Loop too tight or the Nose Loop will rotate causing discomfort.
The Nose Loop should:
• Be loose and comfortable so that your dog can freely open his mouth (even fetch a ball!).
• Be able to move freely from just in front of eyes to beginning of the fleshy (wet) part of nose.
• Rest behind the corners of mouth.
• Not be so loose that it can be pulled off over the nose (after snap clamp is adjusted).

Throughout the fitting process and during initial use of the Gentle Leader, motivate and encourage your dog with praise and special tasty treats. If your dog is especially wiggly, have someone help you by feeding treats while you fit and adjust.
1. Attach leash to Control Ring. (Fig. A)
2. Open Neck Strap and hold one end in each hand. Nose Loop and leash should hang down, like the letter (T). (Fig. B)
3. Prefit Neck Strap high on the neck touching base of skull in back, with Center Bar Ring in the niche just above the Adam's apple in front. Center Bar Ring should be parallel to neck, not the underside of jawbone. (Fig. C-1) Neck Strap must be snug so that only one finger can squeeze under it. Gently grasp skin at back of neck and pull downward toward shoulders, while at the same time holding Neck Strap against base of skull. Tighten if needed. (Fig. C-2)
4. Take Neck Strap off your dog. Slide Adjustable Snap Clamp down to Control Ring (as in Fig. A).
5. Pull Nose Loop up through Center Bar Ring. (Fig. D)
6. With dog at your side, in front of you, or between your legs, hold Nose Loop open. Reach under dog's head to slip Nose Loop onto base of muzzle (Fig. E-1), and give a treat to keep him occupied. Snap Neck Strap high on neck at its prefitted position. (Fig E-2) (Some people find that taking a few moments to gently "massage" their dog's muzzle and cheeks prior to putting on the Nose Loop may help him more quickly accept the new sensation.)
7. Make final adjustment to Nose Loop. It should be behind corners of mouth and loose enough to pull forward to fleshy part of nose, but not so loose that it can be pulled entirely off muzzle. Slide snap clamp up or down to adjust (Fig. F-1). With thumb and index finger, pinch Nose Loop underneath snap clamp, temporarily holding it from moving. Test size of Nose Loop by pulling it forward as far as it will go (Fig. F-2). When it touches the beginning of the fleshy part of the nose, but is not so loose that you can pull it off, close the snap clamp by pressing down on the tab - you'll hear a snap as it locks.
When your dog has reached full growth, you can remove any excess length of Neck Strap. With the Gentle Leader® off your dog, cut the end of the strap with scissors and use a match or lighter flame to seal the cut edge and prevent fraying.

Thin Nose Loop or Thick?
Several of the national and local pet store chains sell the Gentle Leader, but most of the staff do not know how to fit it, or which kind is most appropriate for which dog. Plus, they only sell the 'thin' nose loop kind (5/8"). I prefer to fit the 'thick' nose loop (3/4") on larger dogs, especially those with broad noses like labs and shepherds. If you are using a Gentle Leader for your dog and it is wearing off the hair on his nose, or causing sores, try switching to a ¾" nose loop. You may also try wrapping some moleskin or fleece around the nose loop to decrease friction.  Quality Paws in Denver sells the 5/8-inch Gentle Leader for our clients. 

Acclimating Your Dog to the Gentle Leader
It’s very important that you acclimate your dog slowly to the Gentle Leader. The neck strap is a pressure point that reminds your dog of the pressure the mother dog puts on the back of the neck when she picks up the puppies in the litter. The nose strap reminds your dog of the Alpha dog as it’s similar to the pressure a higher ranking dog may use as a correction. Therefore, when your dog first experiences the Gentle Leader, he may think the mother dog and Alpha dog are sitting on his head! As long as you associate really positive things with the Gentle Leader, and never take it off when you’re dog is struggling, he or she will begin to enjoy having it on as it means walks and treats.
Always put the Gentle Leader on with a leash attached. If your dog fights it immediately when you put it on, GENTLY lift up on the leash at a constant rate towards the sky until your dog settles down and stops struggling. As soon as your dog relaxes, immediately loosen the gentle pressure on the leash so there is a ‘J’ in the leash, and praise and treat. Please DO NOT tug, jerk, or pull on the leash like you would with a choke chain correction. When lifting up on the leash, you only want to apply gentle pressure to the head collar so your dog will ‘give in’.
In the beginning, put the collar on your dog several times a day for 2-3 minutes, give him treats, throw a toy, feed him, etc while he has it on. At the end of the 3 minutes, if he is not struggling, take the Gentle Leader off. Never take it off if your dog is struggling, because that is a reward for struggling. Gradually increase the amount of time he wears it in the house, and then begin putting it on at the end of your walks when he is tired. Increase the amount of time he wears it towards the end of the walk until you are actually putting it on in the beginning. If your dog tries to rub his nose on your leg, or sweep his head through the grass, don’t let him. Lift up on the leash as stated above, and then loosen the leash and praise when he stops. Above all, make the time he has the Gentle Leader on FUN!
If your dog continues to fight it, make sure it is fit properly. If your dog’s nose begins to chafe, make sure it is fit properly, change to a thick nose strap collar, or add some moleskin to the nose strap.
For photos, click here