Your gift can provide a dog with a warm bed.
"If you work with dogs, you’re bound to be bitten,” is something we hear often in the animal sheltering world. There may be some truth to that, but at the Pack Sanctuary, we don’t accept that dogs biting people is inevitable. When a dog bites, it’s because he is afraid, frustrated or angry, and the human isn’t too happy about it either. That’s why we take special care to manage the risk of bites, because our work is all about safe, happy and relaxed people and dogs.
At the sanctuary, we have 5 dogs wearing red collars. These dogs have bitten people in the past and pose a safety risk. All our staff and visitors know to avoid casual contact with these dogs.
UNDERSTANDING THE DOGS
Dogs bite for different reasons, and it’s important to understand them first.
Some may have been abused. They may be especially afraid of people who look or smell like the person who abused them, for example tall men or people wearing hats.
Others react to specific triggers or in specific situations. For example, Chappy is a super sweet big boy, but when he sees a motorcycle or car, he just wants to chase it down and attack it.
Another cause of dog bites is displacement. When a dog is excited, he may just bite the first thing he can get his teeth on, and his handler is the closest thing!
We don’t know the full history of most of dogs at the sanctuary, so we usually can’t know the exact cause of what make a dog lash out. We can discover its triggers through experience. Even more important, all of us are trained to recognize signs of nervousness or unease in dogs — things like yawning, lip licking, and body and tail positions that communicate fear or aggression. That way we can keep dogs calm before their excitement level gets the point where they bite.
SOCIALIZING AND TRAINING THE DOG
Through positive reinforcement and a lot of time and patience, dogs can get used to the things they are afraid of and may even be convinced that humans are the ones who will keep them safe. We spend time with red-collar dogs, just sitting with them in their enclosures, talking to them and throwing them treats. Some dogs may never trust every person, but bond with specific members of our staff. When a dog is ready, we begin leash training. It’s a slow process and we know that we can’t change every dog 100%, but it’s very rewarding when a dog relaxes and learns to trust.
One thing we never do is scold or punish dogs that bite or display aggression. Through experience, we know that punishing dogs usually has the opposite effect and can make the dog even less safe to handle.
Once we are able to get closer to a dog, we prevent bites by avoiding its triggers. For example, if a dog is reactive to other dogs and is ready to go for walks, we make sure that all the other dogs are in their enclosures and clear the whole sanctuary for the walk. Then we keep our distance from people or objects a dog may become excited by, for example traffic or tall men! If a dog is food aggressive, we feed it carefully and keep our distance until we see the dog is ready for us to go a little closer.
At the Pack, we believe that there is no such thing as a bad dog. Barking, growling, snarling and even biting are all ways dogs communicate. It’s our job to communicate back to them in a way they understand and to try to gain their trust eventually. Human safety always come first. By understanding dog behavior and being patient and consistent, we can increase the safety of humans as well as the happiness of dogs.