Tonawanda News

November 4, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Handling pets that bite

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — QUESTION: We know a couple with a 7-year-old Akita. The dog is as calm and gentle as a dog could be.

The dog was tied up in the back yard and given a bone to chew on. A nearly 2-year-old child not being watched carefully came up directly to the dog and was bitten on the head by the dog. The child is fine. Some who know about this want the dog put down. The dog is still very calm and gentle. The dog had been checked for rabies and was negative. These people say that once a dog has bitten that he will continue this.

Of course, the owners don’t want to put the dog down. What is your advice? — H., Niagara Falls

ANSWER: When reading letters it is always difficult to understand the situation fully. I must train myself to cut out information that I don’t think is pertinent and read only the antecedents, behaviors and consequences to help influence more positive behaviors in the future. After reading your letter H., I quickly dismissed the breed of the dog. 

Breeds of dogs are not nearly as important as being able to read your dog’s body language and knowing their history of experience, socialization and training. For further advice I asked my friend Miranda Workman, a canine behavior specialist — among many other things — and owner of Purrfect Paws Animal Behavior Center. 

We would say that the owners need to be more thoughtful about management. 

“Giving a dog a valuable resource — which they will most likely guard — in a situation where the dog cannot move away (tethered) is setting the dog up to be forced to make a bad choice,” Workman said.

She said if the dog has been fine in all other situations with children then they need to make sure that they never provide a valuable resource, like a bone, when children are present. Also they need to work on resource-guarding behaviors with the dog (i.e. teach it to trade) and need to supervise children more often.

Just because a dog bit once doesn’t mean it always will — no two situations are ever exactly the same — but it may be more likely if the environment is similar. Everyone needs to be more thoughtful about both the child and the dog. We would also recommend reviewing information at www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com.

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Q: At the home front, I had a problem. My cat was binge eating, whenever I would fill his bowl, and then throw up because he ate too quickly.

A: I asked a veterinarian technician that I work with and she recommended a great idea. I now place a toy mouse in one bowl and a toy ball in the other food ball. This way my cat has to eat around the toys, which slow down his attempt to eat quickly.

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Q: I adopted a 2-year-old quaker parrot, Nico, a couple of months ago and right away Nico took to me and would tolerate my fiancé. He has recently been violently attacking my fiancé, leaving marks and breaking skin. 

However, once he has calmed down, Nico crawls over to him wanting to snuggle. He does this when I am home and when I am not home. He is flighted but I have made the choice get his wings clipped so he can’t fly and attack. When he does get aggressive, I give him “time outs” either by putting him on his play gym to remove him from the situation or by putting him in his cage when he is really aggressive. If you could give my any advice I would really appreciate it. — A., Buffalo

A: Flight is an energy-depleting activity that serves specific purposes in the wild. However, not being able to fly and fly and attack is a wise choice.

Can you predict when he will bite? Does he lean out, open his beak, trill, pin his eyes or change his body posture? Before animals bite they go through a list of warning signs, and knowing these will help avoid being bitten.

Remember that time-outs do not work if the place is considered reinforcing. I would try to avoid the use of his cage or normal play area, where food and toy resources are bountiful.

Time outs should occur before biting occurs. You should remove yourself, your fiance and the treats — briefly — when the bird tries to lunge or other similar aggressive precursors.

Instead of focusing on time outs, train behaviors that you want to see. Offering treats for behaviors that are incompatible with biting is a great idea. You can train your bird to go through tubes, up ladders, retrieve items and turn in circles all with targeting. Nico can’t bite you or your fiancé and touch a target at the same time.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.