Most of us experienced “dog hands” just naturally (and benefiting from years of experience) seem to be able to see the things in our environments that can be dangerous for dogs. This article is meant to be an aid to our clients who may be new to the world of dogs, and a good reminder for all of us that our first responsibility as dog owners is to keep dogs safe. We can buy the best puppy around and feed the most expensive diet, see our veterinarian regularly, and train and compete too, but one gate left ajar can end it all in a heartbeat.
When visiting clients in their homes, I am amazed at some of the things I observe. One thing new dog owners frequently need to be reminded of is that no barrier will keep the dog in (and safe) if the dog can get through it. Doors to the home should be kept closed and locked. Make sure family members know that no door should be opened until the dog is under their control. This may be as simple as slipping a couple of fingers through the collar, or perhaps keeping a leash hanging by the door for use before the door is opened. Everyone wants to teach their dogs not to go through the front door without permission, but until they learn that, physical restraint will be needed. It is a personal decision, of course, but I advise my clients to always take their dogs outside through one door, or possibly two. The dog will learn that these are “his” doors, and if he is never allowed out the front door, it may cut down the chances that he will bolt out that door and into a busy street.
Just as we do with our kids, try to take a look around your house from the eye level of the dog. Keep pots pushed back on back burners on the stovetop, and defrost your roast in the refrigerator. All garbage containers and household chemicals should be safely out of the dog’s reach. You may want an immaculate bathroom, but now is not the time to add poisonous disinfectants to your toilet tank/bowl. For your dog, that is just another water supply! Child safety latches for cabinets and toilets work great for dogs too. Burning candles should never be left in a room with a dog, not even for an instant. Fireplaces and space heaters can also be a danger if you are not always watching.
We crate our new puppies for training purposes, and also to keep them out of trouble. Once in the crate, make sure that your dog can’t reach anything near the crate or dangling close by, like electric or drapery cords. I always advise my clients to remove collars before putting a dog into a crate, unless they are nearby. It is amazingly easy for collars or tags to catch on the interior of a crate. Likewise, take a good look at the hardware on your kitchen cabinets. Those handles are at just the right height to catch a collar, and if you aren’t home, your dog can panic, pull, or turn, and easily tighten and twist his collar. It goes without saying that any training-type collar should be removed if you are not with your dog, and leashes as well.
All outside gates should be locked. Either arrange to be home or have a neighbor let in your pool guy or lawn man if you can’t be there. Chances are really good that if your help let the dog out, they are not going to spend time chasing the dog around your neighborhood.
Dogs should be nowhere near any power lawn equipment. Lawn mowers and weed whackers can cause deadly injuries to dogs.
If you have a backyard pool, it goes without saying that you must either fence it off or make sure that your dog can get out safely if you are not around. Get in your pool and peek out just at the surface like an alligator would. Are you amazed that each side of the pool looks the same at water level? Dogs can easily panic and not remember or under-stand how to find the steps, so make sure there is some kind of visual marker in that area. It can be a cone (paint it white) or even a white stripe, or some bright, contrasting color painted on the house. Then practice with the dog in the pool. Also, pools can be deadly, even in winter. Make sure that pool covers aren’t torn or sagging into the water. If a dog walks out onto that “trap,” it could easily drown.
Safety in the car is another area that inexperienced dog owners often leave to chance. Of course, keeping a crate in the vehicle for the dog is always a good idea, but if not, the dog should be taught to ride in the back, away from the driver. Always lock doors (child safety locks are good) as it is very easy for a dog to inadvertently hit an automatic door lock and possibly open a door. Leashes can easily be attached to seat belts or cargo clips, or even dog harness/seat belt devices can be used. Caution new owners about the dangers of leaving a dog in an unattended car for any length of time, and at any time of year.
If dog-proofing sounds very much like child-proofing, you are right, and that can make it easy for our clients to understand. It is always worth the effort. I hate to hear of a client losing a beloved dog for no other reason than they didn’t think ahead about possible dangers.