“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around us in awareness.” ― James Thurber
2014’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week is wrapping up. It’s been a tremendously positive week with so many great messages about safety, prevention, and dog awareness being spread across the nation and world.
The goal that we educators and dog trainers are trying to reach this week is simple, but profound: educate the masses so we can change the statistics. We can do this by teaching dog lovers to become more “Dog Aware” as Jennifer Shryock, Founder of Family Paws Parent Education, explains here. We can change these statistics by changing the way we individually interact with, and think about dogs. We teach our future leaders how to safely interact with dogs, and before we know it, they are teaching their community about dogs. Change begins with educating our youth.
The goal of this week is not to instill fear, to judge, or to place blame on people who unknowingly put their dog or children in precarious scenarios. Rather, it is to help all of us become more aware of our dog, others’ dogs, children and family members, guests in our homes, people and dogs on the streets, and anywhere else you can think of that involves a dog. This week is about educating people on how to be a more “dog aware”, and a responsible Conscious Companion to dogs everywhere, every day of the year.
Dogs are part of our families. They are our companions, our friends. To many, they are our furry kids. But we must remember that dogs are hardwired to be dogs! It’s in their DNA. We must honor this fact buy allowing them to Be a Dog. When we anthropomorphize them, and when we put them on a pedestal and expect perfect, angelic behavior, we do them a great disservice. We aren’t allowing them to be who they are – a dog, with flaws and all.
Instead of assuming that our dog is incapable of inflicting harm to another person or animal, let’s assume for a minute that they are capable of out-of-the-ordinary behavior. What would that mean for you and your dog? Would you begin to take more precautions around kids, other dogs, other people, and other animals? Or would you continue to convince yourself that “my dog would never…”?
Any dog, of any breed, of any age is capable of biting. Anything with a mouth is capable of biting! Acknowledging this fact can only help. It’s merely something to recognize and be proactive about. We prevent dog bites through compassionate, science-based education.
If you or a family member has been bitten by a dog, it’s not something to be ashamed of, or embarrassed about. If you have a dog that lunges at people or other dogs, don’t be ashamed or pretend that it’s not an issue. Ask for help. Find a qualified force-free trainer that understands your needs, and your dog’s specific needs. There’s no need to hide and be embarrassed. We learn from these experiences. Sometimes our worst experiences help others. There is a compassionate community that does care, who will not judge and condemn, and who wants to help parents and families in need, without blame and judgement. But this does come with individual responsibility.
It’s our duty as dog guardians and parents to recognize when we need help. We must also learn how to recognize our dog’s specific canine needs, understand their subtle behaviors, know their thresholds, recognize when they have had enough, set them up for success, and to be their advocates every day. We all “love” our dogs, but true, selfless love is doing what might not be easy or convenient to us. We may have to move out of our comfort zone. We show love to our dogs when we take the time to educate ourselves, so we can truly understanding their nature and their needs. We show love to our dogs by learning how to read them, respecting their boundaries, training them without punishment and fear, being their advocate, and honoring them as dogs.
Dogs can be some of our greatest teachers if we allow them to be. But we have to be willing to learn. When we set aside fears, judgement, and blame, and we choose to focus on creating and participating in fun, compassionate education, we create a safe place for people to come and share their stories. We create a prevention-focused, educated community.
“Over the years I’ve come to appreciate how animals enter our lives prepared to teach and far from being burdened by an inability to speak they have many different ways to communicate. It is up to us to listen more than hear, to look into more than past.” ― Nick Trout, Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles