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Another important step in preventing aggressive incidents is for dog owners to seek professional help when a dog shows signs of aggression, regardless of the dog's size or breed. "Don’t wait until your dog has bitten [someone]," Stilwell says. If your dog doesn’t like to be handled, is fearful of strangers or barks at people coming in your house, or is reactive or avoidant around children, you should seek help right away. Stilwell also advises that pet owners proactively supervise all interactions between dogs and children, regardless of breed. "We have the most wonderful Labrador in the world," she says, "but even she could react and lash out if she was in pain.”
Education — for people and pets — is the only real way to help put a stop to dog bites. Dogs need to be taught how to behave, and people need to learn how to interact with them — and all training for dogs should be rooted in positive reinforcement, not punishment.
“Confrontational methods exacerbate dog bites," Stilwell says. Dogs are "like 2-year-old children in many ways, and when you’re aggressive with them, they are more likely to be aggressive down the road." One canine study found that 43 percent of participating dogs displayed increased aggression in response to being hit or kicked; the same study found no increase in aggression in dogs who were trained using a clicker. "You can discipline and guide the dog," Stillwell says, "but you don’t need to instill fear to do it."
Stilwell believes that education is crucial in bite prevention. “Since most dog bites are done to children, dog bite education must become mandatory in all schools," she says, "to teach children how to safely interact with a dog and how to respond if a dog appears upset.” Even children who live in homes without pets need to know how to interact safely with dogs; chances are that at some point in every child’s lifetime, she will spend time around a dog. For that reason, Stilwell also believes in teaching parents and caretakers, including grandparents and baby-sitters, how to read canine body language and promote safe interactions between people and pets.
The debate about breed banning is still on and affects countless dogs and people on a worldwide scale. For those who call dogs of banned breeds part of their families, the issue will continue to be a subject of contention and unrest. Only with time and continued evidence supporting the lack of validity and value in banning dogs of certain breeds will the issue hopefully one day be pus at to rest. On that day, dogs can be evaluated based on their histories and behaviors, not by how they look.
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