Q: Lately I've noticed that my dog tries to nip at children who stop to pet her in the park. Although she seems to be warning them to stay away and has never actually bitten anyone, I am concerned that someday she might. Would I be held legally responsible? What can I do to prevent biting?
A: In most states owners are liable for any harm their dog causes, even if the dog was not considered dangerous. You might find yourself responsible for medical expenses, lost wages, or even the therapy bills of a traumatized child. As a dog owner, you should be wary of any nipping or biting or even growling (a growl is a bite just waiting to happen). Taking a few precautions can avoid later problems.
It is your responsibility to train and socialize your dog. Enrolling in an obedience class will teach her to behave around other dogs and people.
Never let your dog run at large. Keep her in a fenced yard and walk her on a leash. You should also neuter or spay your dog because this helps to keep your dog from straying.
Keep your dog's vaccinations current. Rabies vaccinations are required by law and it will create even more of a problem if your dog bites someone and has not had a recent rabies shot.
Keep your dog away from strangers. This includes mail carriers, delivery persons and anyone who comes to your front door. When you walk your dog, keep away from others and do not allow children to pet her.
If she can't be trusted, a basket muzzle may be a possibility. She can still drink water and pant – she just can't bite.
You can minimize any problems by taking these few precautions. Remember: It is better to avoid injury rather than enter a legal battle.
Q: My children often play in the park across the street. Several people leash walk their dogs near where the children play and I am concerned that my children are too trusting where unfamiliar dogs are concerned. They seem to have no fear, and they usually try to pet these animals and play with them. Am I making too much of a little thing?
A: No, you are right to be concerned. Children are more likely to be bitten than are adults, mostly because they have never been taught how to behave around dogs. As a responsible parent, you should teach your children to stay away from dogs they don't know, as well as these basic rules: Don't pet a dog without letting the dog sniff you first. Holding out your hand with the palm facing up will be taken as a friendly gesture.
Never disturb a dog that's eating, sleeping or caring for her puppies.
Don't run away from a dog. This will only make the dog run after you.
Try not to make eye contact with the dog. This is a threatening gesture. Instead, remain still and look away.
Finally, always supervise your children when they are with a dog. Many children are bitten by dogs that they know.
Q: My new Rottweiler loves to jump up on anyone who comes through the door. This puppy is larger than many of my friends and relatives, and I'm afraid that he will not only continue with this naughty behavior, but will also do some real damage. How can I keep all four paws on the floor?
A: It's never too early to train your puppy; the basic commands - sit, down, stay, come and heel - help shape a good canine citizen. In a practical sense, obedience-trained dogs have an easier life than their untrained peers. Dogs taught to lie down at the arrival of visitors after barking their warnings or greetings are more likely to be included in the dinner party and less likely to be isolated in the garage. Obedience training is an education in good manners.
If you're inexperienced with training, consider enrolling your dog in a formal class (puppies can join "kindergartens" or pre-novice classes). Most obedience classes include the basic commands, which play an important part in the day-to-day vocabulary between people and dogs.
If you'd like to train your pup yourself, do some reading to find out how. 12 Rules for Training Dogs will help you understand the principles and goals of training your pooch.
For most people, Sit is the first command they teach their pet. This is often followed by Down. But for the purpose of safety, teaching your dog to Come when called is very important. This command has the potential to save your pet's life.
After mastering the sit and down commands, consider adding Stay. This command will help teach your pet who is in charge and to understand his place in your family.
Until your eager pup is trained, however, keep him on his leash when guests arrive so you will have better control.
Q: Although I don't like to get involved, I'm concerned about the way my neighbors care for their two dogs. The dogs are kept in the yard all day and all night, rain or shine. Once or twice a day someone brings food and water, but they don't seem to give them any attention or care. Exercise consists of letting them out of the yard to run around the neighborhood. There is space under the porch for them to sleep and to get out of the weather, but there is no real protection from the cold. Should I call Animal Control?
A: Most people don't like to call Animal Control. However, there are several instances when this is necessary. One is when owners intentionally or negligently allow their dogs to run at large. ("At large" means off the property of the owner and not under restraint.) It is not considered animal cruelty to house an animal outdoors. However, all animals must be provided adequate food, a constant supply of clean, fresh water and adequate shelter from the weather at all times.
If you feel the dogs are not receiving adequate care, call Animal Control or report your neighbors to your local chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Q: It's a common sight in our neighborhood: owners walking their dogs and standing by patiently while the dogs make soft piles on the lawn, sidewalk or driveway. Then they walk away, leaving the waste behind. I've tried to be tolerant; however, last week when I unknowingly drove through one such pile, and my soiled tire baked in my summer-hot garage for 12 hours, I finally hit the roof. There must be something I can do to get dog owners to clean up after their pets.
A: There is a solution, thanks to the growing number of "pooper scooper" laws now on the books in this country and abroad. These laws require pet owners to clean up and dispose of their dogs' feces from any public or private property other than their own.
Most people are like you; they don't want to deal with the mess of other people's dogs. But aside from that, there are also health issues to consider. Dog waste often contains a variety of organisms – like bacteria and internal parasites – that may be harmful to humans, especially children. Fecal coliform bacteria, for example, can cause severe stomach illness and rashes. In addition, various diseases and parasitic infestations also can be spread from dog to dog through uncollected feces.
Most laws usually target only those who leave doggie debris on property other then their own, and most ordinances stipulate that an officer of the law must actually witness the offense to impose a fine, which means that few violators are caught. In some communities, however, citizens themselves can report a violation. Fines often range from $25 to $100, and increase for repeat offenders. If you're unsure about the canine waste laws in your community, call your sanitation or parks and recreation department, or the local humane society.
As a final resort, try talking to dog walkers to let them know you don't appreciate their gifts. There is always a possibility that they are unaware of the problems they are causing and would be willing to change their ways.