Matt Murray, the director of Raising Your Dog, interviews Dr. Thomas Wolski DVM, the monks' veterinarian.
Matt Murray: What is your connection to the Monks of New Skete?
Thomas Wolski, DVM Ph.D.:
I have had care of the New Skete Monastery dogs since I opened this practice approximately twelve years ago. I was a graduate of the Cornell Graduate School of Veterinery Medicine. After practicing in California for six years to do research in animal behavior, I spent five years at Cornell working under Dr. Catherine Halt, and helped co-write a textbook with her. During that time I decided that I really wanted to be back in practice. I organized several field trips to the monastery to have my veterinary students meet and talk to the monks about dog training, socialization and breeding.
I have been taking care of the New Skete dogs since I moved my family and my practice here in the summer of '83. I have enjoyed that part of my practice tremedously. The brothers and I worked together on a full range of dog issues. I hope I've helped the monastery and I've certainly enjoyed working with the brothers. They have a good group of German shepherds primarily because they do such a fine job of selection and care of their dogs.
MM: How would you descibe the New Skete approach?
DR. WOLSKI: New Skete approach is basic common sense dog training and dog rearing. It's wonderful. I recommend the monks work all the time and have for quite a while. They based all their advice on very, very sound behavorial principles. Some of the other training books out there unfortunately rely on very complicated and elaborate training techniques. The New Skete approach is basically common sense; if it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't.
MM: One thing that the monks stress is adopting the proper attitude toward responsible stewardship with your dog. How would you advise people to best establish positive habits with their dog?
WOLSKI: A lot of this stuff is set up early in the dogs life. My family just started with a new dog last November and we started right away. We get up every morning at the same exact time and take the dog for a walk. She expects that, she knows that, and looks forward to it. Although I don't like getting up on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6:30, that's important to the dog. Once I stumble out of bed and get out there, it's fun for both of us. And that's going to continue her whole life. To understand that they need exercise, to understand that they need to get out and about, and smell the woods and chase chipmunks up trees. That's important for a dog.
MM: Let's talk about socialization. Many people need reinforcment in adopting a useful approach to sociaizing their dogs.
DR. WOLSKI: I tell young couples who I know are going to be starting their own families soon, that they need to take their young puppy around the neighborhood to meet young children. If they don't the dog won't know what kids are. Since kids don't behave like adults, dogs perceive them as different, so you need to socialize your dog towards children. There are dogs that are fearful of men because they haven't been exposed to them when they were younger. You not only have to socialize your dog towards your next door neighbor, but you need to expose the animal toward different types of people, different ages, sexes, and so on. Most dogs are sensitive enough to perceive the differences. We all behave differently and dogs need to see that range of behavior so they can adapt to it. You have to expose your dog to various situations. Don't just keep the dog at home, take him over to the neighbors house, put him in the car, take him to Aunt Minnie's.
MM: What are the most common mistakes that you see people making with their new dog?
WOLSKI: What I don't like to see are the people who get this fun little puppy and forget about it as it grows up. It's not cute anymore and they go off to work and the leave the dog alone all day. They get home, they're tired and the last thing they want to do is go out and train or walk with their dog. The dog has been inside all day in a crate or a kitchen, and now it wants to do something.
The other thing people do is leave the dog out in the backyard or tied up all day. The dog developes all sorts of bad habits - it runs the fence, it barks at school buses, it barks at kids going by on bicycles. Those are very bad habits to get into. Those are unhealthy behaviors for your dog to develop and they are annoying to your neighbors. A dog will become aggressive behind a fence, it's frustrated because it's tied up.
I think it's a good idea to let your dog outside alone. That's a habit I've gotten into. That way I'm outside doing things with the dog and the dog's not outside getting in trouble, unsupervised. And that kind of relationship builds, the dog looks to you for fun.
MM: Do you think most people underestimate what a dog can bring to their life?
DR. WOLSKI: I don't think most people have any idea how much good the dog can do for them. People get dogs for very many reasons, one of the worse is protection. Even people that get their dogs for companionship have many other things going on in their lives and they don't realize what that dog can do. There's lots of studies that have been done with older people, the good it can do for an older person, getting that focus off of their own problems onto this wonderful creature. Increasing longevity, decreasing illnesses with those folks, but dogs can do the same for everybody, if you give them a chance.
MM: What do you think are the basic responsibilites an owner has for a dog?
DR. WOLSKI: Besides feeding, sheltering and medical care, the behavorial end is obviously important. It starts with socialization, goes to basic training, and continues with exercise and exposure to the outside world. That's absolutely vital for a dog. A dog is not a fancy china dish that you put on a shelf to look at and admire. It's something you interact with and it's very important that the owner continues to do that. That's where it falls down in many cases. Either the owner is lazy or circumstances change.
The young family that I talked about before, may have a kid and a year and a half later they have another kid. The dog becomes secondary to what goes on in their life, which is too bad. It takes a couple of years for them to get back on their feet and get the household back in order, and then, "Oh yeah, we got a dog!". I notice it as vet because they disappear and don't come in for their vaccinations and heartworm prevention for a couple of years. The dogs are often put on the back burner.
MM: That doesn't have to happen, thought, right?
DR. WOLSKI: No, it doesn't have to happen and many people don't let that happen, but that's often the situation.
MM: A lot of the things that the monks teach and what we tried to do with Raising Your Dog... is to encourage people to develop a better relationship with their dog.
DR. WOLSKI: There's no reason to own a dog unless you working toward that kind of relationship. I see lots of owners who don't, and that's a shame. It seems sad because they miss all the good stuff that is possible with their dog. Why else own a dog? My dog gets me out in the woods for a walk, to kid around with her and to laugh and to have fun with the silly things that she does... I really enjoy it... and I always will.
MM: How do you think the monks training methods can help people develop that kind of good relationship with their dog?
DR. WOLSKI: When their first book came out I said, " WOW This is great! This makes sense, I wish more people would read this!" It was just wonderful to see it in print.
The common sense approach to how the monks view training and the relationship demonstrates that you don't have to follow all these exotic routines. Dogs are fun and should be treated as something fun. To have a dog that is under control and listens to you is the foundation for developing a good relationship with your dog. In working with the monks I've witnessed that they not only write about these principles, live them with dogs that have a wonderful temperment and are extremely well behaved.
MM: Thanks Dr. Wolski. Any parting comments?
DR. WOLSKI: One thing that I would like to emphasis in addition to training is the responsibility that owners have to spayor neuter there dogs. Unless your a professional breeder, you should have your dog spayed or neutered, and the earlier the better.
Which Dogs Bite? A Case-Control Study of Risk Factors
Kenneth A. Gershman, MD, MPH*,; Jeffrey J. Sacks, MD, MPH; and John C. Wright, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT. Objective. Dog bites cause an estimated 585,000 injuries resulting in the need for medical attention yearly and children are the most frequent victims. This study sought to determine dog-specific factors independently associated with a dog biting a non-household member.
Results. Children aged 12 years and younger were the victims in 51% of cases. Compared with controls, biting dogs were more likely to be German Shepherd or Chow Chow predominant breeds, male unneutered, residing in a house with children, and chained while in the yard.
Conclusions. Pediatricians should advise parents that failure to neuter a dog and selection of male dogs and certain breeds may increase the risk of their dog biting a non-household member, who often may be a child. The potential preventability of this frequent public health problem deserves further attention. Pediatrics 1994; 93:913-917; dog bite, epidemiology, risk factor.
We conducted a matched case-control study to determine dog-specific factors independently associated with biting a person who was not a member of the dog's household. The identification of such factors, especially modifiable ones, could help reduce the number of dog bite injuries.
RESULTS. The median age of the bite victims of case dogs was 12 years (range, 1 to 83 years); 64.7% of bite victims was made); 30 (29.7%) in the owner's yard; 14 (13.9%) in the owner's house; and 4(4.0%) in the victim's yard. Data on whether bites were provoked was not systematically recorded on bite report forms.
Dogs predominantly of Chihuahua, Golden Retriever, Poodle, Scottish Terrier, and Shetland Sheepdog breeds were more common among non-biting than among the biting dogs. None of the cases and only one control dog was a Pit Bull Terrier (new ownership of Pit Bull Terriers has been prohibited in Denver County since 1989). Dogs predominantly of German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Collie, and Akita breeds were substantially more frequent among biting than non-biting dogs.
Several environmental factors were also associated with biting. Biting dogs were significantly more likely to reside in homes with one or more children <10 years of age and to be chained while in the yard. (53%) had growled or snapped at visitors to the house. This behavior was also reported, however, of (44%) of 263 dogs not chained while in the yard.
Canine behavioral literature has, like our study, suggested that intact males are more aggressive than neutered males. Unlike our findings, however, the literature suggests that unneutered female dogs may be less likely to bite than neutered female dogs.
The increased risk of biting for dogs residing in houses with one or more children has not been previously reported. This association might be explained partly by dogs having greater opportunity to express protective (of the home, yard, or owner), possessive (approached while in possession of food, toys, or objects), or fear-induced (approached, reached for, or threatened) aggression in the context of young playmates visiting with household children.
Our finding that being chained in the yard may be a risk factor for biting is in agreement with prior studies which have demonstrated that chained dogs account for a substantial proportion of serious and fatal bites. A dog may be chained as the result of having exhibited aggressive behavior which itself may be a risk factor for biting, rather than chaining somehow causing a dog to bite.
An estimated 36.5% of American households owned a dog in 1991 for a total dog population of 53.5 million. Given the large numbers of canines and the magnitude of the dog bite problem, more attention needs to be devoted to the prevention of dog bites. Prevention strategies have been proposed which focus on victims, dogs, and owners including: educational programs on canine behavior especially directed at children, laws for regulating dangerous or vicious dogs, and educational programs regarding responsible dog ownership. The effectiveness of these strategies has not been assessed. Improved surveillance for dog bites is needed if we are to understand better how to reduce the incidence of dog bites and evaluate prevention efforts.
Our study suggests that owners, through their selection and treatment of a pet, may be able to reduce the likelihood of owning a dog that will eventually bite.