“Dangerous” Dogs: Bones Stacked Against Them

by: Rebeka Breder

“Dangerous” dog laws in B.C.

Picture this: A friendly and playful dog, Cody, somehow escapes his backyard when his owner is out, and gets into a kerfuffle with another dog. Apparently, it’s the other dog’s fault, but there are no other witnesses other than the other dog’s guardians. Animal Control comes to the scene, seizes Cody and then phones Cody’s owner to say that Cody has been impounded and put on a destruction order. Cody is thrown into solitary confinement for months, with very little human and dog interaction other than his owner’s occasional visits, which are at the mercy of Animal Control.

Cody’s owner does everything she can think of to convince Animal Control that Cody has never done anything like this before. All of the letters of reference Cody’s owner sends to Animal Control from friends, neighbours and dog owners from off leash parks, all of whom attest to Cody’s friendly character, have no effect. Instead, Animal Control pursues the destruction order through the City’s legal department. Cody’s owner eventually gets her day in court, but at this point, Cody has deteriorated so much – both mentally and physically – that the pound keepers testify there is no hope of rehabilitating him and they have reasonable grounds to believe that Cody will do this again.
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A destruction order is made, and Cody is put to death. Unfortunately, this type of situation can, and does, happen in British Columbia. Here is why. Under the Vancouver Charter and the Community Charter, a “dangerous” dog is one who A. has killed or seriously injured a person, B. has killed or seriously injured a domestic animal, while in a public space or while on private property, other than property owned or occupied by the person responsible for the dog, or C. an animal control officer has reasonable grounds to believe is likely to kill or seriously injure a person. The courts have interpreted “seriously” broadly to include any puncture in the skin, regardless of the long-term effects of the alleged injury. “Reasonable grounds” has also been used liberally by courts so that as long as an Animal Control Officer testifies that he or she believes the dog will do it again, the courts can rely on their statements; while courts consider other evidence, such as a dog’s past behaviour, and expert animal behaviourist testimony, they do not need to do so.

Courts have wide discretion to decide whether a dog fits the definition of “dangerous.” And if the dog falls under (a), (b) or (c), the dog is well on its way to death row. One of the many problems with the “dangerous” dog laws in British Columbia is that the process – from impoundment to trial – is unreasonably long and does not provide the “defendant” dog guardians with a fair chance to save their “Cody.” Even if one is lucky enough to afford the thousands of dollars it takes to get legal counsel and expert witnesses, or find a lawyer willing to defend the dog at a reduced hourly rate, the dog will likely need further expensive veterinary care if he is freed from the pound.

The other problem is that the dog can be impounded as a “dangerous” dog even if the dog does not physically injured someone or another animal.

Under our current laws, Animal Control only needs to have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the dog is dangerous. This gives far too much discretion to Animal Control officers who are often not qualified animal behaviourists to determine whether the dog is truly aggressive or dangerous.

One of the first questions a lawyer should ask her client is whether the dog was seized from private property. If it was, Animal Control must obtain a warrant for doing so, yet often enough, Animal Control wrongfully seizes a dog without one. The issue of “dangerous” dogs is hotly debated. Proper solutions, however, can be achieved that will balance the protection of property rights and animal welfare, and ensure public safety.

Rebeka Breder is an Animal Law lawyer at Boughton Law Corporation in Vancouver, BC.

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Don’t shop, Opt to Adopt!

By Wendy Riley Read
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While it’s a common cliché that there are too many animals and not enough homes, its also a very real and dangerous problem we face, as our pet over population continues to increase everyday and has become a crisis . 6-8 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in North America . Spaying and neutering pets can help solve this problem. In six years one un-spayed female dog and her offspring can theoretically produce 67,000 dogs. One un-spayed female cat and one un-neutered male cat and their offspring can result in 420,000 kittens in just 7 years. Out of these staggering numbers only 1 in 9 of these cats and dogs born will ever find a home. Only 20% of Dogs & Cats in North America come from shelters yet a staggering 25% of Dogs & Cats found in shelters are purebreds. Across North America more domestic pets are euthanized than rescued. It’s a problem we need to solve not a problem we need to contribute to. If your ready to add a pet to your family, here are the top 10 reasons why you should consider adoption.

#1

Be part of the Solution!

Every dog or cat not purchased from a pet store or backyard breeder improves the pet over population created by irresponsibility and greed. “Puppy Mills” are “factory style” dog-breeding facilities that put profit above the welfare of dogs. Most dogs raised in puppy mills are housed in shockingly poor conditions with improper medical care, and the parents of the puppies are kept in cages to be bred over and over for years, without human companionship and with little hope of ever joining a family. After they’re no longer profitable, breeding dogs are simply discarded — either killed, abandoned or sold at auction. By adopting instead of buying a pet, you can be certain you aren’t supporting cruel puppy mills with your money. Puppy mills will continue to operate until people stop purchasing the puppies through pet stores and over the internet.

#2

So many Choices!

There are plenty of animals to choose from at most shelters. They come in every age, shape, size, coat color and breed mix, you can find purebreds & puppies , kitten & Cats , but if you’re looking for a different kind of pet, a shelter can be best place to go too. Many shelters, rescue every type of animal, from rabbits and turtles to iguanas and guinea pigs. In fact, many breeds of dogs and other animals have their own rescue organizations, so if you’re looking for a purebred, make sure to check both your local shelter and breed rescue organization, finding the right pet requires patience and the right connection between owners and pets, and shelters are the best place to find that mix.

#3

It’s not just compassionate — it’s actually good for your children.

If you have kids, and especially if the pet will belong to a child adopting a shelter animal can open a young person’s eyes to the plight of homeless pets. It can also help them learn compassion and responsibility, as well as how wonderful it feels to provide a forever home to a pet that might otherwise live life in a cage, or be euthanized. “Researchers at the University of Leicester found that children between birth and age six years in pet-owning families will have better social skills, better speech, better co-ordination, more confidence and will be less likely to suffer from allergies.”

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#4

You’ll know what to expect!

Most shelters and rescue organizations do assessments on every new pet taken in, to determine things like temperament, whether the pet has any aversion to other pets or people, whether he is housebroken, has had obedience training, etc. Many of these organizations also have resources to help pets with lack of training, when you adopt a pet from one of these organizations, you have a pretty good idea what to expect from your new dog or cat when you bring him home. In fact, a shelter is an excellent place to acquire a safe and healthy pet because the shelter’s main purpose is to tend to and revive lost and ailing animals. Animals may come into a shelter with an illness or a problem, but they are evaluated and cleared before being eligible for adoption.

#5

You save a life.

All animals at shelters are in need of a second chance. They have been lost, given up or abandoned. They are all unwanted and helpless. You are giving them a new life in a loving home. Remember Adopting one pet might not change the world , but it will change the world for that one pet!

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#6

You take advantage of adopting an adult animal.

Adult pets are great! Often they are already housetrained and some can even “sit” or “stay.” You won’t have to deal with the “puppy faze” or the “kitten faze” which means less of that youthful energy such as biting, chewing, clawing, etc. You will be able to see the personality of the adult animal and won’t have to wait to see what you get.

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#7

You support a valuable charity and community institution.

Sadly, every community in North America requires an animal shelter. When you adopt a pet from a shelter, you assist a not-for-profit organization. Shelters & Rescue groups improve the community by mandating that adopted animals be spayed or neutered. This requirement diminishes chances that more unwanted animals will enter the world.

#8

You encourage others to adopt animals from shelters.

When your friends ask where you got your amazing pet, you can tell them “at the shelter.” Your adoption may encourage others to do the same. Start a trend! Your positive experience with a shelter animal might be contagious!

#9

You pay less.

Low adoption fees (goes to pay shelters expenses), are much less than the cost of purebred puppies or kittens sold for profit. And shelter pets are always spayed or neutered, vaccinated, de-wormed, and bathed and groomed , prior to you adopting, making the adoption fee a real bargain!

#10

The love you give comes back to you.

When you love an animal, the animal loves you back. Oh, it may take a little while to earn your new pet’s trust, but you will be loved back. When can you say you gave something away, only to get it continually returned to you!

Veterinary Malpractice

by: Rebeka Breder

Many companion animal owners wonder whether it is possible to sue a veterinarian if something goes wrong with the care provided to their animal. The following article will examine some of the main questions that I am often asked about veterinarian malpractice claims.

WHAT IS A VETERINARY MALPRACTICE CLAIM?

Perhaps an easier way of understanding a veterinary malpractice claim is by explaining what it is not. When someone sues a veterinarian, unless the animal is a farm animal or champion breed, the lawsuit is generally not about money. Veterinarians, or insurers who act on behalf of them, can not expect to settle a claim by simply throwing some money at a plaintiff. An increasing number of people consider their pets family. Whether this is because of a growing number of |”empty nesters” or of people without children of any age is uncertain. However, what is clear is that people unconditionally love their dogs and cats, and will do whatever it takes to correct what they see as a wrong done to their companion animal. In actions arising from injury or death of an animal, the types of claims asserted against veterinarians are usually in negligence and breach of contract.

Negligence
Just as in a human medical malpractice claim in negligence, a plaintiff suing a veterinarian must establish that: (a) the veterinarian, through act or omission, failed to give the standard of care that a reasonable veterinarian would give in similar circumstances; (b) the veterinarian’s breach of the standard of care (or negligence) caused the plaintiff’s/animal’s injuries; and (c) as a result thereof, the plaintiff suffered damages.

Breach of contract
In a breach of contract claim against a veterinarian, the contract at issue is for the provision of veterinary services. And specifically that these services will be performed according to a standard of care that is in accordance with the conduct of a prudent and diligent veterinarian in similar circumstances. A breach of the standard of care is a fundamental breach of the contract. The plaintiff also needs to establish that this breach caused the plaintiff’s loss or damage. The ability to prove foreseeability of this damage is especially important in a breach of contract claim against a veterinarian.

Other causes of action
Plaintiffs can also sue veterinarians for bailment, conversion, products liability, and for other reasons. Regardless of the cause of action, a veterinarian will not be excused from having committed malpractice or a wrong by the fact that she performed the service for free.
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DAMAGES

A gross misconception is that companion animals are not worth much, if anything, financially.

When people sue, or make a complaint to the professional regulatory body, against a veterinarian, they are often driven by emotions and by a sense of justice. They are not seeking simple compensation for the veterinary fees they incurred; rather, people are ultimately seeking some form of relief for mental distress or loss of companionship.

The fundamental principle on which damages are awarded at common law is that the injured party is to be restored to the position—and not just the financial position—in which the party would have been had the actionable wrong not taken place. Anguish and distress have been long recognized in the law of negligence, and more recently in breach of contract cases (so long as the loss was foreseeable).

The law around “anguish and distress” or “mental distress” is important in the context of veterinary malpractice lawsuits because this provides an avenue for the courts to make damage awards that are significantly higher than only the market value of the companion animal, which would otherwise be nominal.

Technically, the law considers animals as property. I know of no cases in Canada to date, unlike in American jurisprudence, in which courts have awarded damages for mental distress or for loss of companionship against veterinarians. This is likely because (a) these types of damages have not been claimed at all, and (b) veterinary cases have traditionally not proceeded to the trial stage and have often been settled out of court.

However, courts are starting to recognize that companion animals are not just things, but that they occupy a special place somewhere in between a person and a piece of personal property. I predict that this important principle will change the way veterinary malpractice claims are prosecuted and defended.

Canadian courts (outside of British Columbia) have already made awards for loss of animal companionship, including in the following circumstances: loss of dog as a result of another dog attack (approximately $25,000), loss of dog as a result of negligent boarding (approximately $4,000), anguish and distress over the possible amputation of a cat’s tail ($300). Although none of these cases have been in the context of veterinary malpractice, they are indicative of the way courts are beginning to view the importance of companion animals in family homes. Surely, if people are awarded significant sums of money for being disappointed in their vacations, and for similar intangibles, it is conceivable, and quite likely, that we will see significant damage awards for injury to or loss of companion animals as a result of veterinary negligence.

WHAT TO EXPECT IF YOU DECIDE TO SUE A VETERINARIAN

The Process
In British Columbia, plaintiffs have a choice to sue in either Small Claims or Supreme Court. Small Claims actions involve claims worth $25,000 or less.

The Small Claims process is generally more user friendly, faster, and less expensive. There are fewer procedural steps required, and the rules of evidence are generally more relaxed. Once a claim is filed and served, the defendant has 14 days to file a defence. The plaintiff (or claimant as it is referred to at that level of court) then has the choice of filing a reply to the defence. The case then proceeds to a settlement conference or mediation within three or four months. If the case is not settled at that point, the matter is referred to trial within the next six or more months. There are no examinations for discovery or other discovery procedures. There are also rarely interim applications made to Court. Overall, it takes about one year, or slightly longer, for a Small Claims action to be resolved.

By comparison, a Supreme Court action can take approximately five years or longer to be resolved. The Civil Rules of Court set out the procedures to follow, and the rules of evidence are far more strict than in Small Claims. Once a claim is filed and served, the defendant has 21 days (assuming the veterinarian resides in British Columbia) to file a defence. The plaintiff then has seven days to file a reply to the defence. The parties then proceed to exchange documents, after which examinations for discovery are held. Discoveries are essentially interviews conducted under oath and are used to obtain admissions and discredit witnesses at trial. There are usually multiple Court applications made during the lawsuit. If the matter is not settled, the only resolution to the dispute is trial.

One of the main advantages of a Small Claims action is that it is generally faster and less expensive for both parties. The losing party also does not have to pay the winning party’s legal costs, although disbursements (such as expert reports) may be awarded to the winning party. The major disadvantage of Small Claims, and the corresponding benefit of a Supreme Court action, is that the Small Claims Court does not have inherent jurisdiction. This means that the Court is limited in what it can award both legally and in dollar amount.

Intuitively, it seems that veterinarian malpractice suits should be brought in Small Claims only as the damage awards would likely not exceed $25,000. However, for plaintiffs who are pursuing novel claims, such as mental distress for loss of companionship, Small Claims Court does not provide the necessary tools for developing and advancing such issues.

ISSUES THAT ARISE

Public Information
One of the issues that always arises is that once a lawsuit is filed (regardless of the level of court), all documents that are filed therein are open to the public. This can be a very intimidating and potentially embarrassing factor for both a plaintiff and defendant if privacy is a concern.

Experts
Obtaining a credible expert report is key to both the prosecution and defence of a veterinary malpractice claim. It is generally much harder for a plaintiff to obtain one in British Columbia as many potential veterinary experts do not want to testify against a potential business referral in a province that is as small, relatively, as British Columbia. The purpose of the plaintiff obtaining an expert report is to establish, through expert testimony, what is the appropriate standard of care and that the defendant’s breach of that standard caused the animal’s injury or death. The purpose of the defence expert report is to refute and poke holes in the plaintiff’s expert opinion.

Contributory Negligence
Contributory negligence is a defence for a veterinarian. As the facts develop throughout the case, it sometimes becomes evident that the plaintiff contributed to the damage or loss of the pet’s injury; usually by ignoring the veterinarian’s advice for aftercare. Although this may not absolve the veterinarian fully, this defence can apportion the amount of damages awarded between the plaintiff and defendant.

Informed Consent
Another common issue is that of informed consent. Plaintiffs can claim that the veterinarian did not fully and properly inform the plaintiff of the various types of treatment and care available and/or that the veterinarian did not fully or properly inform the plaintiff of the associated risks (even if they are remote). As a result, the plaintiff’s consent to the treatment was not an “informed consent” and the veterinarian committed an act (or omission) of negligence.

IS A LAWSUIT WORTH IT?

I am also often asked whether it is worth pursuing a veterinary malpractice suit, considering the high legal costs and the uncertainty of success and damage awards. This is almost impossible for me to answer as it really depends on what is driving the plaintiff to pursue a claim. Is it only financial compensation, or is it for obtaining some kind of justice in memory (and honour) of the companion animal? Success is never a guarantee, and even if a claim is successful, it is too early to tell how much justice (whatever that means to you) will be achieved and whether any damage awards will be awarded.

We should keep in mind that there are many good and well meaning veterinarians out there. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen, but this does not necessarily mean that the veterinarian was outright negligent. Lawsuits are generally very stressful – not to mention expensive – and one must really take an honest look at whether this is something they are ready to face.

At the end of the day, we all want to do what is best for our companion animal. Whether this means suing, or trying to somehow make amends with the veterinarian will depend on the individual.

Animal Law Introduction

From the October / November 2013 Issue of Pet Connection Magazine, available here.

by: Rebeka Breder

Animal Law is a new area of legal practice in Canada. It is similar to where Environmental Law was about 20 to 25 years ago. While there have always been some forms of environmental disputes, the term “Environmental Law” really started to be used only at that time. Similarly, wildlife and general animal issues have also always existed, but it is only now that we are starting to hear about the term “Animal Law”. When I was 12 years old, I wanted to be an environmental lawyer. This was not for environmental reasons per se, but I wanted to be a lawyer to help wildlife and animals. At that time, “Animal Law” did not exist (or at least not in Canada), but I can now say that I am on my way to fulfill my true dreams of being an Animal Law lawyer.

What is Animal Law? It should be clear that Animal Law is not animal rights. Animal Law entails both the defence of animals and their rights, as well as what animal rights people would consider the defence or prosecution of “anti-animal rights” types of matters.
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Animal Law is a very broad area of legal practice that includes the following:

  • animal custody disputes;
  • condominium – landlord and strata disputes;
  • wildlife issues, including hunting and culls;
  • municipal issues in relation to the keeping of pets, “nuisance” wildlife
  • discrimination laws;
  • animal cruelty;
  • veterinary malpractice cases;
  • providing for pets in wills, enforceable trusts, agreements, etc;
  • boarding or grooming problems;
  • disputes involving breeders and their customers
  • product liability (ie: pet food)
  • dangerous dog” applications;
  • cases involving the wrongful death or injury to a companion animal;
  • consumer fraud.

 

Did you like this article? Keep an eye out for ‘Veterinary Malpractice’, also by Rebeka Breder, right here in the Pet Connection blog.

Can’t wait? Read it now with a digital subscription!

 

A Word About Collars

“Like any choke collar, it’s a very bad choice to have on your dog while he is playing with another dog.”

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP

I think that every dog should wear a collar. I have tracked down too many stray dogs with and without collars to have any other opinion. If they have a collar, they are easier to catch and if they have ID tags on that collar, they are easier to return.

In my view, the purpose of a collar is a way to carry easily read ID for your dog and a fast and easy way to contain or to quickly tether your dog when you need to do so.

For example:
You might be walking your dog off leash, but see a leashed dog approaching. The polite thing to do is to hold your dog lightly by his collar until the other dog and owner pass by. When we go on driving holidays, we occasionally stop at a campground for a quick lunch. Tethering our dogs to the picnic table with their collars and leashes is a fast way to keep them contained and our hands free to eat.

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When it comes to walking my dogs, I rarely attach my leash to their collars. My preference is a well-fitted body harness – ideally one that has a fabric “sling” along the underside and is long enough for their whole body. Dogs can get out of certain types of harnesses if they aren’t fitted properly or if they’re too short and don’t run further down the length of their body. Making sure your dog’s collar fits well is just as important. Ensure that your collar isn’t too heavy or too light for your dog and that it fits reasonably snugly, but not too tight. It’s also important to ensure that ID tags are appropriately sized for your dog’s neck and not too heavy. If you have a tiny dog and the city you live in has large ID tags, consider fastening city ID to their harness and getting a smaller, lighter ID tag for their daily collar.

Collars should never be used in such a way that there is any sustained or sudden pressure on your dog’s neck. Typical collars rest on the neck area in the front at the trachea and the juncture of neck and spine in back. These are fragile areas in dogs and can be easily damaged. Many dogs sustain serious injuries by being yanked or jerked by their neck in the name of training. Even a quick lunge at a darting squirrel can easily cause damage to your dog’s neck if your leash is attached to it.

Many vets, their staff and other dog professionals have tales of badly burned neck wounds from shock collars, scars and wounds from prong and pinch collars, permanent trachea damage and whiplash from choke collars. Please – make another choice!

Collars to Avoid:

Many people don’t realize that hundreds of dogs each year are injured and even killed when playing with other dogs. You should always monitor your dog’s play with other dogs for many reasons but particularly when they’re wearing any kind of equipment. It’s very easy for a dog’s tooth or foot to get caught in another dog’s collar or harness and when it does, bad things can happen very quickly. Both dogs immediately feel trapped or pinned down, perhaps even “under attack” and begin to panic and “fight back”. Many dogs have been seriously injured or even been killed in an attempt to free themselves in this situation when there is no human around to intervene. Even if you’re right there, it’s pretty difficult to separate panicking dogs who may be attached by the mouth and neck.

My favorite collar style is any kind that has a breakaway clasp or a plastic fastener that you can quickly reach in and snap open. The Breakaway Collar clasp is designed to break open under pressure to hopefully prevent this situation from escalating. Of course it’s important that you have the proper size of collar for your dog’s size and weight.

If it’s safe to do so, it’s always a better choice to remove equipment before commencing play between 2 dogs – but this isn’t always practical. In our group classes, we often give our parents some practice time with the “leash dance” – learning how to have your dogs playing lightly with another dog while still on leash. It’s good for the dogs to learn that the pressure from a leash and collar isn’t a reason to immediately become alarmed, and parents learn how to easily intervene when necessary and to prevent play from escalating.

Another collar that’s really popular these days is the Martingale Collar. A martingale collar is made with two loops. The larger loop is slipped onto the dogs neck and a leash is then clipped to the smaller loop. When the dog tries to pull, the tension on the leash pulls the small loop taut, which makes the large loop smaller and tighter on the neck, thus preventing escape. The smaller loop is either made of chain or a strong fabric. It’s not my favorite collar choice, but it does have its good uses. What’s interesting to me is that the Martingale is widely thought to be a “training” collar in that it resembles a choke collar but is a “humane choke” (what an oxymoron that is!). People seem to think that it is designed to be used as a choke collar – think yank and jerk to suppress a behaviour – but because you can control where the choke stops, it’s a “nicer” collar to use. Of course this is assuming that you know how to fit it properly and choose to do so otherwise, it’s just a choke collar that maybe just looks a little nicer!
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In fact, the Martingale collar originated as a way to contain sighthounds like greyhounds who have very thick necks and very small heads in comparison to their necks and can easily slip out of standard buckle collars. Greyhound fanciers didn’t want to choke their dogs but they also didn’t want to lose their dogs and so this collar evolved.

The Martingale is a good choice for any dog who has a thick neck or any dog who has become skilled in the art of escaping standard equipment. Keep in mind, though, that until pressure is applied, the collar is essentially hanging loosely so a clever dog can still escape from it once he knows which direction to move. However, be aware that when this collar is under pressure, there is no way to release it from your dog’s neck until the pressure is removed. Like any choke collar, it’s a very bad choice to have on your dog when he’s playing with another dog.

I’m not quite sure why this collar style seems to have suddenly become so popular. I see them everywhere in lots of different colors and styles. I’ve even had people tell me that they must use the style with chain vs. cloth because dogs “know” the sound of the chain rattling means to behave. Really?! You actually believe that dogs are born innately understanding that when a chain rattles a correction is forthcoming and to stop pulling, jumping, biting, barking, lunging or anything else they should “know” is wrong to be doing at that moment? Where did that myth come from?!

In any event, careful thought should go into any piece of equipment you choose to use with your dog. And the combination of pieces should get just as much consideration. If you really feel the need to use a choke or prong collar (and please rethink that!) – do NOT then attach that to a flexible leash (and, yes, I’ve seen this many times). How horrible is that to have to add pressure to get any distance out of your leash but also be subject to constant pain caused by the pressure the entire time you are simply out on a “pleasure” walk? Or, if you’ve chosen to purchase a “no-pull” harness style, great, but then put some time into actually teaching your dog not to pull so you can the move onto a better, long term harness solution. And don’t attach a “pull leash” like a flexi-lead to a non-pull harness – that just makes no sense at all.

Personally, I’m just a fan of taking the time, and using proper, positive training techniques, to teach my dogs how to walk politely on leash. Then it’s comfortable and fun for both me and for my dogs – isn’t that the point of a walk after all?! I enjoy “accessorizing” my dogs by buying fun and colorful collars (with matching leashes!), and I enjoy discovering funky new ID tag designs that I can add. I like to think they enjoy my choices!

Six things you should know about your puppy… that no one tells you!

By Lisa Kerley, Bsc, KPA-CTP
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Thanks to modern media, there is fast access to information on just about anything related to your puppy and their care. Unfortunately, although outdated and erroneous ideas abound, some vital facts regarding the development of your puppy are not as readily available.

1. Puppies need to stay with their litter until 8 weeks of age.

Being separated any earlier is unacceptable. Absolutely nothing can make up for missing the experiences gained by remaining with the litter. This time together is precious – even a week less can have a huge impact on the puppy’s development. Pups help each other learn many lessons better than we can teach them. Your pup being denied this opportunity will only make things harder on everyone.

We have clear evidence that curtailing this period can have devastating effects on a grown dog’s ability to develop tolerance, impulse control, bite inhibition, social skills and confidence. Remaining with the litter until eight weeks maximizes the benefits of this vital time while still leaving some valuable imprinting time for socializing in their new life. Anyone trying to get rid of puppies before 8 weeks of age does not understand or care about raising an emotionally healthy puppy. Accept no excuses. If the supplier is willing to separate the pups before 8 weeks you should find your pup from another source.

2. Puppy biting is normal.

Mouthing and biting is normal for a young pup. It’s how they explore and learn about their environment and one way of interacting with their own kind. By using their mouth on their siblings, pups learn how to use care and inhibit their bite. Puppies only have until about 51/2 months of age to learn this lesson. Once home, most puppies choose members in the family to interact with like their siblings – typically young children.

Although bothersome and often frustrating, they must continue practicing how to use their mouth appropriately. As most of us don’t have daily access to other pups, we need to take a primary role in this part of their education. We need to provide useful feedback, by redirecting them to appropriate chew items and calmly indicating when they have been too rough. Punishing biting, or stopping it from happening, can lead to serious problems later.

3. Use only positive training methods.

Has someone told you to:

  • Hold your pup’s mouth shut if they bark or bite?
  • Rub their nose in it when they have an accident inside?
  • Hold them down if they get too excited or pushy?
  • Grab them by the scruff if they growl at you?

These methods often cause very serious problems in adults dogs. Many ‘undesirable’ puppy behaviours can be ‘fixed’ when you learn to read dog body language, recognize signs of stress, and use management and reinforcement effectively. If you don’t have these tools or skills at your disposal, you should seek the assistance of a knowledgeable, experienced positive trainer. See end of article for resources.

4. Begin socializing your puppy as soon as you get them home.
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Decades ago, we were told not to take our young pups out until they were 16 weeks of age to reduce the risk of disease. We now know that the risk of behavioural problems is much higher than the risk of disease for pups. Many more dogs are euthanized every year because of behavioural issues than die of disease. The importance of beginning a puppy’s socializing by 9-10 weeks of age has been recognized and accepted in the scientific community and amongst informed professionals for decades. We’ve been following these protocols for 15 years in our puppy classes.

There are critical skills that must be learned by 14 -18 weeks of age – developing a gentle mouth, acquiring good social skills and getting used to all the different sights, sounds and people that are part of the world your dog will live in. If you begin this work immediately, your puppy will learn these things quite quickly. You’ll create a more relaxed adolescent who already has some great beginning skills. If you don’t spend time on these early on, you definitely will be later. After 14 – 18 weeks of age, learning is much slower. For some dogs, other learning will be stalled until these lessons are completed.

Early socializing doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to take your young pup just anywhere or meet any dog, however. Your pup should meet dogs that you know are healthy and stay away from places where large numbers of dogs hang out.

5. Not all socializing is good socializing.

A good socializing plan includes an assortment ofpeople, dogs, places, objects and situations. It’s important to expose your pup not only to things that they will come across in regular day-to-day life, but also things that are not part of your present lifestyle. Live in a house? Include elevators as part of your pup’s socializing in case you move to or need to visit an apartment. No kids at the moment? Help prepare your dog for grandkids in the future. You get the idea… Map out what your life might look like over the next 15 years.

Good socializing is not just a matter of checking things off a socializing list, though. Yes, variety is important, but just as important is how the pup is socialized. Socialization IS beneficial when the pup is gently exposed and allowed to explore at their own pace. It is crucial that your pup’s experiences with new things are pleasant. Only then can positive associations be developed. It is NOT about being bombarded. Feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable will have the opposite effect, causing a sensitization to the object or situation. Remember, the learning and experiences that take place during the first 14-week period of your puppy’s life stay with them for a lifetime – good or bad. Creating good socializing opportunities for your pup takes some thought and creativity along with care and patience on your part.

6. Don’t Skip Puppy Class

To professionals in the industry, puppy classes are simply a “must-do”. Over two decades of studies confirm the benefits of attending a well-run class early in your puppy’s life with you. Most of the issues mentioned above can be addressed or prevented by going to a good puppy class. Still think you don’t need puppy class? Here are some of the common excuses I hear for not participating in a class:

“I don’t need puppy classes because I have another dog at home.”
Although another dog in the home can be helpful, not all dogs are emotionally and socially capable of teaching a puppy about boundaries and polite behaviour. Even if they are, your puppy is still only potentially socializing with one dog. To develop good skills young puppies need to interact with a variety of dogs in a safe and appropriate way – which by the way, does NOT include a dog park.

“I don’t need puppy classes because I’m doing private training at home.”
Teaching your puppy to sit and down and getting help with basic management is important and should be included in any good puppy class. The value of attending a puppy class is that your puppy will have the chance to learn and practice vital social skills as well as get exposure to things you may not be able to duplicate in your home.

By creating a puppy playgroup, your pup will be able to continue lessons started while in the litter. Pups playing together practice bite inhibition and learn to handle minor squabbles – essential life skills. A good puppy class will also introduce all aspects of socialization, not just with people and dogs. You will be shown a variety of ways to safely and effectively introduce your pup to what the world has to offer. The critical lessons that need to be learned before the imprinting phase is over at 14-18 weeks, cannot be delayed.

“I don’t need puppy classes because my puppy gets lots of socializing at the dog
park.”
As youngsters, dogs, like humans, need role models to teach them good lessons and help them develop good skills. The atmosphere of a dog park can present social and behavioural risks as well as a health risk. Typically, dogs are left to play for too long and without proper supervision at dog parks. As a result, inexperienced dogs can become fearful and reactive as a means to protect themselves. More confident pups can learn that being rough and ignoring other dogs’ signals is OK and bullies get created.

In a good class, the pups will be carefully supervised so that all socializing is positive and productive. The skilled eyes of a trainer will help you learn to recognize key points of body language and healthy interactions.
lying-puppy
For example:
Do you know how to do a “consent check” to ensure all the dogs want to continue playing together?
Do you know 3 ways that dogs show they don’t want to interact?
Can you recognize more than 5 body language signals that indicate stress?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these, then you would benefit from the advice of a skilled positive trainer before being ready to supervise your pup’s playtimes on your own.

What happens in the first 14 weeks of a puppy’s life has more influence on their personality, confidence and ability to learn than any other single factor during their lifetime. We now recognize that vaccination and socialization should happen together and that puppies ideally should begin a positive socialization program by 9- 10 weeks of age. A puppy that is able to learn about their world and how to behave in it in a positive way stands a much better chance of leading a full and happy life with their family. So don’t wait – your puppy will thank you for it!

Look for our upcoming article:
The good, the bad and the ugly: A socializing exposé

A letter on socialization and vaccination from renowned veterinarian RK Anderson to
his colleagues: http://goo.gl/xLB5iJ

For good reading material on raising puppies:
www.dogwise.com

Here are links to find trainers in your area:
http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/
http://www.clickertraining.com/
http://www.apdt.com/

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