Animal shelter: Keep close eye on dogs at holiday gatherings

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska Anchorage’s municipal animal care experts have a holiday message for pet owners: Be careful when mixing pets and holiday parties.

A crowd of strangers in a home can increase a beloved dog’s anxiety — and its chances of biting, said Laura Atwood, public relations coordinator for Anchorage Animal Care and Control.

“There’s a very simple fact that most people are not aware of,” Atwood said. “Most dog bites come from the dog in your own home.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that more than half of dog bite injuries occur at home. Almost any dog can bite, according to an advisory on the agency’s website.

The CDC recorded 4.7 million dog bites nationwide in 2017, said Lisa Howard, spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medical Association. Nearly one in five people bitten by a dog requires medical attention, and children are at highest risk, according to the CDC. Small children should never be allowed to play with dogs unsupervised, according to the agency.

Children can tell the difference between a happy dog and an angry dog, Atwood said, but they have a harder time interpreting the body language of a dog that’s fearful.

“They tend to approach those dogs the same way they would a happy dog,” Atwood said.

Toddlers are especially vulnerable. They may persist in trying to pet a dog even after it signals it does not want interaction.

If a dog is skittish, an obvious choice for a holiday party is keeping it in a kennel or a separate room, Atwood said.

“Don’t even make the dog a part of those holiday gatherings,” she said. “Your dog is going to thank you for it.”

If a dog is allowed to roam among guests, the host should consider assigning an adult to supervise it, she said.

Pet owners should learn the signs that their dog is stressed: tucking its tail, licking its lips, laying its ears back or yawning when not tired.

Atwood gives lessons to Anchorage children on how to approach a strange dog. The first step is asking its owner if it’s friendly. The second is letting the dog take the initiative.

“What we always advise is letting the dog come up to you first,” she said. “Letting them put that nose to work, sniff you.”

People have a tendency to reach over a dog’s head to pet them. However, hovering over unfamiliar dogs makes them nervous, she said.

“You want to come under their chin and their chest,” Atwood said.

The shelter strongly recommends preventing children from hugging and kissing dogs or following a dog when the dog is trying to get away.

Among other holiday tips: Hide dog toys and bones so children don’t try to take them from a possessive dog; keep dogs out of rooms where food is served; and guard the door to make sure cats and dogs don’t dash off as guests come and go.