Training Helps Prevent Poisoning

Beach Metro News

By Dr. Nigel Skinner • September 20, 2011 • Print This Article
I HAD hoped the most notable current topic affecting pet owners in our community, and thus the focus of my article would be the recent city council vote regarding dogs on our beach, or perhaps the coyote problem. Unfortunately some even more recent news has had me put these topics on the back burner.

Most Beach residents will well recall the poisonings in Withrow Park in 2004. Sixteen dogs became ill and one died after eating hotdogs laced with insecticide. This terrible act of cruelty and reckless disregard for all of our safety, both of pets and of people, shook the community. It seemed like an isolated incident, the act of one sick individual never to be repeated. I personally can’t recall any similar incidents in the few years that followed the Withrow Park poisonings.

Then just after New Year’s 2008, three dogs that all frequented the same area around Delma Park in Etobicoke were killed after ingesting rat poison. It was never officially determined that these were deliberate poisonings but this was always the suspicion. Then of course in June of last year six dogs ingested antifreeze left deliberately in bread and drinking water in High Park. Two of those dogs died.

Now in the past few weeks we find ourselves faced again with a suspected case of deliberate poisonings, this time in Poplar Park in Port Perry, as well as a possible pair of poisonings in Whitby. There have been numerous theo- ries regarding these cases from groups feuding over dogs off leash in Withrow Park to ‘accidental’ poisoning in High Park intended for raccoons. There’s no doubt that these are heinous crimes that should be taken very seriously, even by the most anti-dog among us. The act of leaving a deadly substance in a public place, especially one frequented by children, with the intent that it be ingested and cause harm, is outrageous. Not to mention the well established link between a propensity for cruelty to animals and one to commit other violent crime.

I hate to think that these types of acts are actually happening more frequently, but as long as that seems possible, all dog owners need to think about how they can protect their pets. The good news is that the advice I have in this area also makes good sense for protecting your dog from some less serious and non-deliberate threats to their health.

Typically the end of winter and early spring brings a peak in illness associated with what vets call ‘dietary indiscretion’ to be polite and ‘garbage gut’ to be more blunt. This is largely because a winter’s worth of discarded goodies finally comes out from under the snow to tempt your hungry hound. Many of these morsels have been thawed and refrozen numerous times by nature, before finally surfacing.

As you can imagine this is not the best way to prepare a healthy meal. Even without a con- cern for deliberate acts of poisoning, keeping your dog from eating things from the ground is very important for their health. This may seem next to impossible for some owners; there are dogs that are very driven by their appetite and equally unconcerned as to the quality of what satisfies it. For these dogs strict control when on leash is important. If you can’t keep your dog from eating things off the ground even when they’re on leash, you should seriously consider seeing a professional for training advice.

The off-leash areas pose the biggest problem. It’s a good idea to do a thorough walk around the off-leash area when you first arrive before letting your dog loose. Take a good look around, but in most cases if there’s something tempting lurking in the grass your dog will pull you right to it, just pick it up before they do! Also avoid sources of standing water. Ideally you should bring your own water and bowl to the park. Shared bowls are a common source of transmission of some diseases between dogs, and standing water can be a source of bacterial and parasitic disease, some of which are potentially very serious.

The best way to keep your dog from eating or drinking things they should not is to teach them a command to leave something alone. Again it may be best to get hands on guidance from a trainer. This command should be considered as important as ‘sit’ and ‘come’.

Like any training the basic idea is to begin by setting your pup up to succeed, then rewarding their correct behavior. Start by using a leash to physically prevent your dog from reaching something they want, a toy for instance, and use a command such as ‘leave it’ (as you prevent them from reaching it anyway, which is ‘setting them up to succeed’). Then offer a treat, either of the food variety or a toy they like even more. Do this until they have associated the command with the act of not going for something, knowing that they will receive an even better reward if they ‘leave it’.

Progress slowly, always rewarding the correct response to the command, don’t punish failure, if they still go for the object you may need to start again with the leash. Owners of new puppies especially should consider this a vital part of training. Young dogs are at a much higher risk of eating things they shouldn’t, and they are also at the best stage to learn something new, and retain it forever.

It’s sad to think that we have to worry that our pets could be the target of malicious acts, but by being vigilant about what they eat during their outdoor adventures, you will be protecting their health from many unintentional threats as well.