There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to dogs – both among the owners and the rest of the population. No wonder, since there is new horror news almost every day, be it incidents of dog bites or announcements of an “action sharp” against owners of so-called listed dogs. In the general confusion, the animal protection organization Four Paws is now showing what is important when dealing with dogs safely. Together with the animal welfare qualified dog trainer and behavioral biologist Ursula Aigner, who is also an examiner for the Vienna dog license, the animal rights activists give simple but helpful tips on how to best avoid dangers in everyday life.
Tip 1: Muzzle training
The basis for efficient behavior management is always reward-oriented training. Appropriate muzzle training is very important, especially since the introduction of compulsory muzzles for so-called listed dogs in Vienna. “Many dogs feel insecure or restricted by the muzzle they are wearing. They’re just not used to feeling the muzzle on their face. Here it is particularly important to practice wearing the muzzle with praise and food rewards so that the dog can feel as comfortable as possible. With positive training, the dog can learn that pleasant things can also be associated with it.” This takes a bit of patience and skill (e.g. putting treats through the muzzle) but is very important to make the dog fundamentally relaxed in public areas to lead.
Tip 2: Proactive walking: “rescue” dogs from stressful situations
What can I do if my dog barks or reacts excitedly or even aggressively when meeting other dogs or people? “I don’t have to put my dog through every encounter. For example, I can change the side of the street in good time when I see another dog coming towards me,” explains Ursula Aigner. It is important to calmly and calmly move away in good time, to praise and reward the dog. Incidentally, this also works wonderfully in classic conflict situations, such as when dogs meet cyclists, joggers, etc.: Dogs notice that their human avoids overwhelming situations together with them and thus gives them security. This is how they learn to trust the decisions of their owners. This reduces the stress in such encounters over time – for dogs and humans.
Tip 3: “Split” is the magic word
If two dogs or people are too close together, it could create a conflict from the dog’s point of view. To avoid this, some dogs try to “split”, i.e. to stand between dogs and people. We know that from hugs from people where dogs jump in between: We then often misinterpret this as “jealousy” or even “dominance”. In truth, they are spontaneously attempting to resolve a perceived conflict.
Important for the training is: I can also use the splitting well as a dog owner. “If I see a potentially stressful situation for my dog, I can lead my dog out in such a way that I ultimately stand between them to help,” explains Ursula Aigner. “In doing so, I already contribute a lot to the solution, and the dog no longer feels so responsible.” This can be used in many everyday situations, for example on public transport: the owner places himself in a quiet corner between the dog and the rest of the passengers so he can make the situation more comfortable for the animal.
Tip 4: Recognize the dog’s calming signals
Again and again, it happens that owners simply do not know the needs of their dogs. In addition, they do not understand canine behavior. “A dog is constantly communicating through its body language. If I can read the dog’s expressive behavior, I can also tell when he’s stressed. These are initially “soft” soothing signals such as turning your head away, licking your lips, trying to avoid something, and even freezing. If we ignore these signals, then the “loud” signals such as growling, puckering of the lips and finally snapping or even biting come first. It’s important to know: I can prevent loud signals by listening to the quiet ones,” explains Ursula Aigner.
Breed lists give the wrong picture
“Aggressiveness is not a characteristic of a specific breed of dog,” explains Aigner. A dog only behaves conspicuously in combination with individual environmental influences – often as a frustration, fear, or pain reaction towards people, for example. The responsibility for harmonious and low-conflict behavior therefore clearly lies with the human being right from the start.”
Therefore, the classification in list dogs makes little sense – even if that is the legal reality in Vienna. After all, this classification conveys a “good dog – bad dog” image that does not correspond to reality. Ursula Aigner puts it in a nutshell: “Improper handling can lead to unusual or even problematic behavior in any dog. The problem with poorly socialized dogs and dogs with behavioral problems is almost always at the other end of the leash.”