I’ve gotten a lot of bad news lately. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve had two clients tell me that their dogs were hit by cars, one whose dog died from a routine surgery, a few who were attacked by loose dogs, and several others who tore ligaments in their knees. My wife and I found 3 sets of loose dogs in the last three weeks. A hero dog was accidentally euthanized at a shelter in Arizona last week, when she got out of her yard and was brought to the shelter without tags. It’s been a whirlwind of bad news.
We can’t really prevent all of the problems our dogs encounter. Let’s face it, they don’t live as long as we do, so eventually, we’ll lose the battle. But we can fight for them as much as we can along the way.
Here are some things I’ve done to make my dogs’ lives safer:
- ID your dog. Tags are simple, but how the heck else will someone quickly know how to find me? Instead of a metal tag, I actually ordered collars embroidered with my phone number in big writing, so it can be seen from a distance, in case the dogs won’t let themselves be caught. Microchip your dog, and make sure your contact info is up-to-date with the chip company. I just updated mine, after realizing that I hadn’t done so since moving in 2003. Oops! p.s. The City of Seattle puts in Avid microchips, but you have to actually register your own info with Avid and pay a fee, or the chip is almost useless. There’s a whole different blog article on picking a good microchip. hint: I think it’s not Avid.
- License with the city and keep your contact info current. We drilled a second hole in the license and sewed it onto the collar, so it can’t get caught on something and choke the dogs, and also so that it won’t jingle as we pass by yards with dogs. The less my dogs jingle, the less the other dogs bark!
- Carpets. I love my hardwood floors, but the slippery surface is one reason that my own dog tore her ACL, and she needs traction to heal. Rugs are a dog’s best friend!! Ligaments tear over a long period of time, so even if your dog hasn’t injured herself (yet), count your blessings and still make sure there are plenty of rugs.
- Vaccines. Take the advice of a vet you trust, but make sure your dogs are protected against disease and yet not over-vaccinated. Google the word “titers” and read books on vaccines if you want to learn more.
- Training! Ok, that’s obvious to write on a dog training site, but it’s true. The most important training a dog can have is “come” and “stay.” Both are important. Building a strong relationship is really the most critical thing you can do, so don’t be so focused on getting your dog to come that you resort to punishment to *make* it happen. (p.s. that’s likely to backfire, anyway).
- Real fence with an Airlock or fenced yard on all exits. Our front door doesn’t open out into the street. It opens into an airlock – a little patio with a little fence around it, with a gate. The doorbell is on the gate, which is locked. That way, if a delivery comes, we can go into the airlock to get the package without having to rely on the dogs to stay or hold them back. I may be a dog training geek, but my wife isn’t, so any time we can just make a foolproof system instead of relying on the dogs, that’s better. We humans are supposed to have the more powerful brains, so I figure we should use them. Real, secure fences are important: not invisible, and no holes! If you have a rental and can’t build a real airlock outside, you can make one with a few panels of an exercise pen inside the door. This is especially important if you have guests or a party.
- Leash. In spaces where the dogs might encounter something dangerous, especially cars, your dog should be on leash. Even though Peanut wouldn’t leave me on a walk, and has an awesome recall, I don’t trust the environment of a busy street. He could be hit by a bicycle and freak out, a car could backfire, who knows what he might do? Most people who walk their dogs off leash can’t call their dogs away from other dogs, cats, or squirrels, and don’t seem to realize how dangerous it is. What if that other dog is aggressive or fearful? Even if your dog is friendly, it’s NOT FAIR to let them run up to dogs without the express permission of the other person.
- Have a loose dog plan. If a loose dog runs up to your dog, have a plan. Here’s mine, for dogs that I don’t want to interact with Peanut. I shout, “call your dog!” with a big stop-sign hand signal toward the dog and then put Peanut in a sit-stay behind me. The other people usually shout “he’s friendly” and I repeat, “call your dog.” It’s just not fair for my on leash dog to be approached by an off-leash dog.
I take the safety off of the can of Spray Shield in my pocket (partially to get it ready, partially to remind myself that it’s there). Next, I walk toward the other dog and throw a handful of treats. I either calmly walk away with Peanut or if the dog follows us, I body block to keep the dog away from him. If the dog acts aggressively, I can use the Spray Shield to repel him (It’s citronella spray, and I haven’t needed it on a walk yet, but have used it to break up dog fights at the park). This may not be the same as your plan, but whatever you do, have one, and rehearse.
There’s a lot more, like feeding them well without making them overweight, getting enough exercise, avoiding holiday hazards and bad foods with the words ‘animal,’ ‘by-product,’ or ‘digest,’ and understanding dogs’ body language, but these are some important safety tips. And of course, breathe, relax, and enjoy your dog. No matter what you do, you’re likely to outlive your dog, so don’t waste too much time focusing on danger. Just do what you can to make things more safe, and enjoy every day.
Related post: 8 Sure-Fire Ways to Shorten Your Dog’s Life.