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Dog Bites and the Importance of Education

I was very fortunate to be able to attend PPG Special Council member Victoria Stilwell​’s second Annual Dog Bite Prevention and Behaviour Conference, held earlier this month at the University of Lincoln in England.

The conference is a national event dedicated to finding practical and workable solutions to the issue of dog bites through education and heightened awareness. It began with a welcome introduction by Victoria Stilwell, which had us all eagerly awaiting the presentations that were to follow.

A view of the University of Lincoln. We were even blessed with beautiful weather
A view of the University of Lincoln. We were even blessed with beautiful weather

Three of the presenters hailed from the University of Lincoln itself. These included Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine, who gave an in depth presentation titled: “Not All Dogs That Bite Are Scared! Insights into the Emotional Basis of Aggressive Behaviour in Dogs”; Kerstin Meints, professor of developmental psychology, who gave a lecture titled: “Children and Dogs – Risks and Interventions”; and Todd Hogue, professor of forensic psychology, who gave a very interesting presentation titled: “A Forensic Psychology Approach to Managing Dog Bite Risk.”

David Ryan, certified clinical animal behaviourist, was both entertaining and knowledgeable in his presentation: “The Road to a Bite and How All Dog Owners Can Avoid Walking Their Dog Down It”, and my good friend, Nando Brown, certified pet dog trainer, and trick and nose work instructor, gave an informative presentation titled: “Things to Do with Your Grumpy Dog”.  He managed to have the whole audience laughing with his demonstrations of how a dog might feel when muzzled, on leash and unable to “escape”. The subject matter was, of course, very serious but laughter can be an excellent form of communication and his presentation and the message therein will not be forgotten by any of those in attendance.

Dr Kendal Shepherd, veterinary surgeon and clinical animal behaviourist, whose book The Canine Commandments contains an illustrated version of the Canine Ladder of Aggression, gave a talk titled: “Human and Canine Welfare Implications of Dog Bite Incidents – a Proposal for a ‘One Health’ Approach to Prevention”, while Louise Swindlehurst, vice chair canine massage guild, also gave a very informative lecture titled: “10 Ways to Recognise when Muscular Pain May Lead to Aggression”. Finally, when Trevor Cooper, solicitor and dog law specialist, came to the stage, Stilwell informed the audience that he was the only person she knew that could make dog law sound interesting. She was absolutely right. His lecture, “New Developments in Dog Law”, was informative, insightful and absolutely hilarious. The conference drew to a close with Stilwell’s own presentation titled: “Humane Training for High Drive/ Working Dogs.”

The one thing the presenters were all adamant about is that dogs, regardless of size, breed or temperament, need to be trained without force and that owners need to have access to more education. There was also agreement across the board that breed-specific legislation does not work and does not protect the community, and that a dog’s breed has very little to do with whether he will bite. What is much more important is the owner’s actions regarding training, caring for and supervising the dog. Legislation is, at present, ineffective.  Breed specific policies need to be replaced with breed neutral policies that fairly put the responsibility onto all owners, no matter what breed(s) of dog they share their lives with.

The event was attended by dog trainers, behaviourists, groomers, veterinarians, pet sitters, dog walkers, dog wardens, law enforcement, educators, legal and medical professionals, animal shelter workers and other animal care professionals as well as members of the public, who will now, hopefully, go out and continue to spread the message about how to train your dog using rewards-based, science-based, “positive” methods, and how to prevent dog bites. The knowledge shared at this conference will, therefore, help many people and their dogs.

Jambo the Staffy is a trick dog champion, trained with force-free methods, and an ambassador for his breed
Jambo the Staffy is a trick dog champion, trained with force-free methods, and an ambassador for his breed

Victoria Stilwell was knowledgeable, motivating, friendly and inspiring throughout the event. As many of you know, Jambo, my beautiful Staffordshire bull terrier, has been featured as a Victoria Stilwell “Positively Success Story”. I would like to say a personal thank you to Victoria for sharing Jambo’s story and for helping us show everyone that education, responsible ownership and training without force, fear, pain or intimidation are critical to lowering the incidence of dog bites.

I would also like to say a big thank you to the University of Lincoln. The last day of the conference coincided with the monthly broadcast of PPG World Services Radio. My co-presenter, Niki Tudge, the founder and President of The Pet Professional Guild was broadcasting from sunny Tampa, Florida and, thanks to the University of Lincoln, I was broadcasting from one of their lecture theatres. Our guests included Victoria Stilwell Positively trainer, Linda Michaels; certified dog trainer Annie Phenix and one of my fellow members of The Pet Professional Guild British Isles Steering Committee, Claire Staines. You can listen to the broadcast here: Pet Professional Guild World Services June 7, 2015.

For more information on training your dog the force-free way, join the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural summit in Tampa, FL on Nov 11-13, 2015. You can find everything you need to know here.

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