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Letters To the Editor

Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page PW02

Bad Owners Can Make Good Dogs Dangerous

As a dog trainer, behavioral consultant and developer of a dog safety program, as well as a parent of two small children, I felt compelled to comment on who truly makes a dangerous dog -- we do ["Dangers From Dogs Open to Dispute," Prince William Extra, April 17]. Humans determine how safe or dangerous their dogs will be, regardless of breed or cross.

All too frequently I consult with owners who are using socializing, training and management techniques that can increase the likelihood of their dog posing a threat. When different tactics are used, I often see a great stress reduction in the dog and a safer animal begin to emerge.

But it is up to the owner to make the changes needed in the dog's life before tragedy occurs. No dog is born bad. Dogs react to how the owners deal with them. A Labrador from a bad situation or one that was taught unsafe games is a far riskier dog than a Rottweiler in a solid, sound and proper home.

Many dog bites have a human factor behind them. Humans who fail to understand a dog's body language and don't know when to leave a dog alone are more likely to be bitten. Children or adults running, screaming and using fast motions are more likely to be bitten than people who are calm and quiet around a dog.

Approaching loose or strange dogs is dangerous. Never approach a dog that is not under strict control by the owner. Never hang over fences to pat dogs -- even neighbor' dogs. Dogs are often protective of their turf and may see your actions as a challenge or threat. Do not tease dogs. Let them sleep when they are tired.

It is amazing how many owners accidentally teach their dogs that undesired behaviors are acceptable. I have worked with many clients who encourage rough play from their dogs and then are shocked when things get out of hand and an injury occurs.

Then there are the negligent owners, the ones who just allow dangerous situations to be present and do nothing to correct them. These owners allow their dogs to roam, either intentionally or by creating situations where the dogs can continually escape the property. These owners fail to properly manage them and ignore signs that their dogs are becoming a danger to the community.

Habitually bad owners creating unsafe and even deadly situations must be dealt with far harsher means than they are now. Fines and punishments for owners who create dangerous situations need to be more severe. Owners who cannot be bothered to safely contain and manage their dogs do not deserve to have them. Sadly, with the fast growth in Northern Virginia, already poorly staffed and funded animal control officers are being even more strapped.

Counties must work to improve animal control with more officers, more powers and better enforced laws. If not, things will get far worse.

Incidents such as what happened in Spotsylvania and Orange counties are preventable, but it takes a community and education to do so. Most dog bite issues I have consulted on were fully preventable. The vast majority of dog-related incidents are preventable through education of the public and dog owner.

Karen Peak

Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project

Woodbridge

Erosion, Runoff Problems Plague Montclair, Too

I read the story of the pond in Triangle being filled with silt and mud from the developer's runoff ["County Unswayed by Developer's Plea," Prince William Extra, April 17]. I feel for the Baldwins and their neighbors, because some of us up the road in Montclair are experiencing a similar situation.


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