By Lindsey Self
The benefits of a family pet are endless: pets teach children responsibility and patience, reduce stress and improve one’s overall mood. It’s not surprising that during the pandemic, dog adoptions have soared. But with all of the benefits of owning a dog, there are also risks, especially for children.
Trainers here to help
Tina Ferner, a local dog trainer and owner at Canine Karma, works with hundreds of dogs in the community. Ferner began her dog training career after working with her own dogs and their “unique behavior problems.” She tried several training methods and programs and found that harsh corrections weren’t working. “This sort of training did not work; it backfired on me,” Ferner explains.
After one of her dogs bit her while using an aggressive training technique, she discovered Ali Brown, a dog trainer from Pennsylvania. “I brought her into town and studied with her and then created our Reactive Dog Protocol.” Since then, in addition to conducting group training sessions for all dogs, Ferner has specialized in helping reactive and fearful dogs and their families live and work together without fear or force.
It’s all in the body language
Ferner says not understanding dog body language is the most common factor that leads to dog bites. “Body language is a dog’s primary way of communicating,” Ferner says, “they give signs of stress or discomfort prior to the bite.” Lip licking, yawning, tight ears and tail, and tight closed mouth are all signs a dog isn’t happy, and people intensify the dog’s anxiety with their own behaviors, like bending over or reaching for the dog. Involving children in training can help them learn the skills necessary to reduce the risk of dog bites.
The pick of the litter
Ferner says the first step in picking a dog that will live harmoniously with your family is to research the breed. “Many people fail to do this and get dogs that are bred to have a high prey drive, so they may be a little more mouthy than other breeds.” If adopting from a shelter, opt for the pup that approaches each family member with wiggly, loose body language. If adopting a dog with young children at home, to be on the safe side, avoid dogs that are apprehensive or have stiff body language.
Canine Karma offers a variety of group classes from puppy to therapy dog training. The Fearful and Reactive Dog protocol has graduated over 300 dogs and their handlers. Canine Karma also offers Lunch and Learn presentations for one-hour of continuing education credit to veterinarians and veterinary technicians. caninekarma.org