I went to the Tampa Pet Expo this past Saturday. It was great to see so many animal groups attending, and I hope many pets found new homes. It seemed like many people were looking to adopt – and not on a whim.
Families and friends came in groups with their dogs. I didn’t hear of any problems, but I know many people think twice about taking their animals out in public. Any dog can bite; there is no 100 percent failsafe, but here are some tips, if you’re considering a social outing with your dog.
1. Spay or neuter your dog; up to 90 percent of bite cases involve intact dogs.
2. Observe your pet, especially around young children. The highest rate of dog bites involves young children, ages 5 to 9. Running and yelling children can “turn on” the prey’ instinct of any dog. Keep your dog leashed in public. Never leave your dog alone with a small child, regardless of how good the dog is with the child.
3. Breed differences are real. Some breeds work closely with humans; others chase prey. Some were bred to be solitary, often protective. Even small dogs can switch to prey drive when children run and yell.
4. Interaction is important. Introduce your dog to new situations, but don’t overwhelm. Keep your dog on leash, and know how to handle him or her, like allowing your dog to approach and walk away. On a leash your dog will feel safer, and you can maintain control.
5. Train, don’t complain. Many class choices exist for your lifestyle and budget; one on one, in home, group classes or dog clubs. Training teaches the dog to take direction from a human companion. Many programs work with the entire family – a bonus. Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks and unlearn bad habits.
6. Exercise your dog. A tired dog is a happy dog! True, a Chihuahua and a Border Collie present a different challenge, but the needs are the same. Mental exercise – where is the ball? – can be as fatiguing for many dogs as any aerobics class might be for you.
Speaking of social outings, SPCA Tampa Bay offers Urban Hounds – expeditions to animal-friendly public settings, with certified training instructors who will help you test your dog’s social skills. You can read more about it on the SPCA Tampa Bay website.