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Having a dog bite you is not a pleasant experience at all, but often warning signs leading up to the bite have been overlooked and a bite is all a dog has left to use to cope with an uncomfortable situation. Because dogs and humans do not speak the same language, the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) has compiled the below nine tips to better understand dog language and boundaries to avoid being bitten.


1. Be aware of the environment – Dogs behind fences, on leads or in confined spaces are likely to feel more vulnerable or are more inclined to be protective and are therefore more likely to escalate to apparent aggressive behaviour patterns more quickly than those in a comfortable, familiar environment where they can move (and escape) freely. Rather don’t approach dogs when they’re in these situations.


2. Remain a stranger – Dogs make such great guardians because they view unfamiliar people as potential threats. Keep this in mind before trying to make friends with an unfamiliar dog and rather give them space.


3. Be respectful – Dogs value their personal space, especially from people they are unfamiliar with. Respect this and rather let dogs approach you to make friends than force yourself on them. Always ensure dogs are aware of your presence before you make contact with them and respect that their toys, food bowls, treats, etc. are just that – theirs.


4. “No go” times – Moments of interaction with high-value resources are important to dogs and they’ll often retaliate in a more severe manner if disturbed during these time. Leave them in peace while they are eating, sleeping, chewing a toy or when a nursing mother is tending to her puppies.


5. Be aware of body language signals. The below is a list of signs that a dog may be feeling anxious and may feel the need to bite –




Wide eyes revealing the whites of the eyes


Tense body and stiff tail


Pulled back head and/or ears


Flicking tongue


Intense stare


Moving backwards


Furrowed brow


6. Heed warning signals – Realise that if a dog has felt uncomfortable enough to growl or show his teeth, he is offering you a warning prior to resorting to the only behaviour he has left available to him – that of biting. If you do not heed this warning, you leave the dog with little other option but to bite. Also be aware that punishing a dog for warning you of his uncomfortableness is not advised – he will merely learn that growling, etc. is not allowed, so may simply skip these steps and go straight to biting, because the root cause of his feeling of anxiety is not being resolved.


7. Be a tree – Our natural instinct, when faced with something threatening, is to get as far away from it as possible. But the worst thing you can do if a dog is about to lunge forward is to turn and run away – this will only encourage a chase. Rather divert your eyes (do not stare down the dog), turn to the side and make yourself less threatening with hands at your side. Be still like a tree. When the dog has lost interest, back away step by step, without losing sight of the dog in your peripheral vision.


8. In the event of an attack – If you’re caught in a situation where a dog is attacking you, try not to scream and run. Rather give him whatever you can, as a barrier between you two – like your jacket or backpack. If you’ve been knocked over, curl into a ball with legs tucked under you and hands interlocked behind your neck, protecting your neck and ears. Remain as motionless as possible, and in most cases the dog will lose interest and move away.


9. Impart wisdom – Children are most often the unfortunate victims of dog bites. Teach them all of the above rules from a very young age, and no matter what sort of temperament your dog seems to have, don’t let children test his boundaries by hurting him, pulling on ears and tail, riding him like a horse, etc.




As a dog owner, it is imperative that you practise responsible pet ownership. You know your dog’s personality better than anyone and should therefore ensure your pet is not put into a situation that may make them feel anxious or behave in an unpredictable manner. Always play it safe and even if you feel you’re being overly cautious, rather that than having to deal with an injury caused by your dog.




The Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) is a non-profit, industry Association, made up of industry players that, by becoming a member, commit to the same principles and ethics of the PFI – to uphold safe, quality pet nutrition, which has the best interests of the pet as its sole purpose. A list of members is available on


Why you MUST sterilise your pet!


 By Dr Debbie Berry


Sterilisation is called spaying in females and castration or neutering in males. In females, the surgical procedure done by your vet is called an ovariohysterectomy. Both ovaries and the uterus are removed. In males, both testicles are removed.


Why it’s vitally important to sterilise


Sterilising your pet (both cats and dogs) has its benefits and is of utmost importance. One of the main reasons to sterilise your animal is to prevent unwanted breeding. There are so many unwanted or stray animals in South Africa, most of which will never find a home and unfortunately end up being euthanased. This stray population could be greatly limited or reduced if people sterilised their animals and if breeding was left to registered breeders only.


​Other benefits to sterilising your pet are:


Preventing uterine/ovarian/mammary/testicular and prostatic cancer, resulting in a longer and healthier life for your pet


Preventing or reducing the amount of territorial urine marking/spraying


Preventing roaming and therefore the accidents that follow


Preventing territorial and other behavioural aggression


Improved concentration when training; your male dog can focus on the task at hand instead of being distracted by females that are in heat


Less mess. It can be quite a messy business when a female is on heat and bleeding


Males that are neutered are less likely to develop perineal hernias when they are old


Cost effective. It is cheaper to have your pet sterilised than paying for and raising a litter of puppies/kittens




​Because animals reach puberty and can start breeding between six to nine months of age, sterilisation is normally done around six months to one year of age. It can, however, be done earlier, especially in welfare or shelter situations.


 When getting a new puppy or kitten, it is a good idea to start saving each month towards sterilising your pet so that it is not a big once-off expense when they get older.




​This is typically a day procedure and your pet gets booked into hospital on the morning of the operation. Unfortunately, no breakfast can be eaten that morning. Your pet can go home that afternoon once he/she is fully awake and able to walk. It’s best to keep your pet confined in a quiet and calm area of the house for a few days in order to help them heal and recuperate. No running, jumping, playing, bathing or swimming is permitted until the stitches come out, which need to be removed by your vet 12-14 days after the operation. Try not to let your pet lick its wound as this may cause infection. You can get a collar to put on your pet to prevent it from reaching the wound.


 There is NO good reason whatsoever to breed with your dogs (or cats). Shelters are full to the brim and dogs and cats are euthanised in their hundreds every year because there are just not enough good homes for them all. Sterilisation can be done by your vet, and if finances are a concern, many vets have reduced-rate sterilisation days. Some animal welfare organisations also offer a reduced rate. Remember that if you adopt a dog from a shelter, sterilisation is included in the adoption fee. Do the right thing and sterilise your pets!


The importance of a pet medical aid policy...


By Dr Roy Aronson


​Can you say: “Do the best you can to save my dog. I have a medical aid policy.”


When you take your dog to the vet for routine stuff like vaccines, itchy skin or vomiting, the bill is mostly affordable. Yes, you may have to forgo a meal out this Saturday, but you can probably cover it.


If your dog has a crisis, like a serious disease such as kidney or heart failure, or if your dog is involved in a car accident and there is grievous bodily harm, then unfortunately things can get VERY costly.


If you personally have a medical or surgical emergency then you probably have medical aid or have access to a state hospital. No such luck for your pet!


There are no state-run veterinary facilities for pets. There are welfare organisations, but their brief is to undertake welfare work only, and that may not involve specialised care for accident victims.


So, your beloved faithful dog has been hit by a car and the bill will be formidable. But wait, what was that the vet told me last time? Was it something about a medical aid? Yes, I remember now, and wait, didn’t I fill out a form about a year ago? Let’s have a look at my bank statement. Here it is. Well I never! I have been paying a premium to a company that offers medical aid for my dog and the premium is so small (approximately R150 per month) that I hardly noticed.


So now you can take your dog to the vet and obtain the best possible care and the vet can really do his or her best to try and restore your dog to full health.


Okay, this sounds like a fairy story, but the reality is that medical aid for pets is a fairy story. Premiums are really affordable, there are discounts for multi-pet households, and when your pets need help the most, you will be able to give it to them.


Pet insurance companies offer different plans that cover differing situations. There are a number of companies, all underwritten by big insurance companies. Their products are simple and affordable, and if you have a policy and your pet does get hurt, you will thank your lucky stars that you took the policy out in the first place.


These companies cover 90% of most vet bills. Some have a residual that the owner must fund and can be typically R200 or 10% of the total bill, whichever is the larger.


You also have to settle your vet bill and the medical aid company refunds you on presentation of a paid invoice. Okay, there are one or two small obstacles like these, but hey, the overwhelming feeling of relief more than makes up for the minor issues that you will face.


Ask your vet what company the practice recommends and go and get yourself a policy today. There is usually a one-month waiting period, after which your dog is covered. There may be one or two exclusions based on age, or one or two conditions the policy does not cover. Read the policy document or call the insurance company for more information.


When Fido gets hurt and you have medical cover, you will breathe a big sigh of relief and you will tell the vet: “Do the best you can to save my dog. I have a medical aid policy.”




When it comes to the health and well-being of your fur baby, no chances should be taken. Your pet is like a part of your family, and deserves medical care that is equivalent to any human being’s.


When you bring your dog to the veterinarian, there is a certain level of care that is to be expected. One way to ensure that your pet is receiving the health care that they deserve is by asking questions. But what questions should you be asking your veterinarian?


​1. “Is My Pet’s Weight Healthy?”


You might not realise it, but many pets in the South Africa are actually considered to be overweight. So, it stands to reason that your pet could very well pack a few too many kilograms. For this reason, it’s important to ask your veterinarian whether or not your pet possesses an adequate weight.


A pet that is overweight is prone to a number of medical problems, from high blood pressure to skin issues to joint pain, and much, much more. In fact, it could be said that obesity is a major link to any health issue that an animal suffers. Make sure to have your vet weigh your dog so that they can determine whether or not it needs to change its overall lifestyle habits.


​2. “Does My Pet Needs Its Teeth Cleaned?”


Unlike humans, dogs do not brush their teeth every day. Because of this, they’re prone to a number of oral hygiene conditions, from gingivitis to cavities to much more. In some cases, more serious conditions such as kidney failure and heart disease can be caused by poor oral health.


When you take your fur kid to your veterinary clinic, make sure to inquire as to whether or not it needs a teeth cleaning. While it’s not necessary for a dog to have its teeth cleaned daily, every once in a while there is a need to remove excess plaque and tartar. Your vet should be able to clean your pet’s teeth and should also be able to provide you with some information as to how good oral hygiene can be maintained.


​3. “Are There Any Vaccines That My Pet Needs?”


In order for your dog to remain healthy and happy, you need to ensure that it’s getting all necessary and relevant vaccines. Your veterinarian will discuss with you what vaccines are needed for your pet and how often they are administered. Some vaccines must be boosted annually, while some, like rabies vaccines, can be given every three years.


​4. “Is There Anything Peculiar About My Pet’s Behaviour?”


Have you been noticing anything that you deem to be abnormal about your dog? Perhaps it’s gagging often? Maybe it just isn’t moving around the way it once did? If you’re in this situation, it’s absolutely vital that you bring the problem up with your veterinarian. They can determine whether or not it’s a normal behaviour, and can then right any problems that might exist. You don’t want to let strange behaviours like this linger. They could be the sign of a serious problem that needs to be tended to as soon as possible.


​5. “Does My Pet Have Any Bumps to Worry About?”


Maybe you’ve noticed some bumps and lumps on your dog? While these could be completely harmless, there’s also a chance that they’re symptoms of a more serious medical issue. Because of this, you need to alert your veterinarian to their existence and they’ll be able to tell you whether or not they’re something that should be worried about. Lumps could indicate anything from infections to cysts to cancer. If not monitored and addressed as quickly as possible, they could worsen over time.


​6. “Are Blood Tests Necessary for My Pet?”


The next question you need to ask your veterinarian is whether or not a blood test is in order for your dog. While they’re extraordinarily helpful for the monitoring of an animal’s health, veterinarians will advise on the best times to carry them out. Blood tests offer relevant information on everything from kidney function to diabetes to cancer, and more. Performing these tests often will ensure that you catch your fur baby’s health issues before they become a serious problem.


​7. “How Can I Keep My Pet from Getting Ticks and Fleas?”


Dealing with ticks and fleas is one of the necessary evils of being a dog. As a pet owner, you don’t always know where they come from, but they sure do come. Fortunately, there are measures which can be taken to prevent your dog from picking up ticks and fleas. There are plenty of oral and topical solutions available which can be used, so speak to your veterinarian about the best product for your dog.




By Taryn Blyth – Animal Behaviour Practitioner DipCABT (OCN UK), Advanced Certificate in Early Canine Development (UP), CAPBT SA Practitioner Member, COAPE SA Lecturer/Tutor


Dog owners should have access to professionals who are in a position to give humane and science-based advice that, above all, will do no harm


Unfortunately, when it comes to services offered to the public, the field of dog behaviour and training is completely unregulated. This means that anyone can market himself or herself as a dog “behaviourist”.


However, the field of animal behaviour (understanding how and why animals behave the way they do and how we can change behaviour) is a scientific one, based on decades of research. Ethologists, behavioural ecologists, evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists have made enormous strides in helping us to understand how the brain works, how learning works and what drives behaviour in various species.


 It seems quite obvious that for a person to be able to give advice on how to resolve a canine behaviour problem, they must have a knowledge of three basic principles:


What is considered normal behaviour for dogs (individually and socially)


What factors influence or drive behaviour (genetics, environment and emotions)


How dogs learn (learning theory)




Amazingly though, there are numerous so-called “behaviourists” who have virtually no understanding of these concepts, because they have never bothered to obtain a formal qualification in the field and rely instead on information passed down to them from previous generations of unqualified traditional trainers or “dog experts”.


There is a vast difference between the self-taught dog expert and a behaviourist with a good formal qualification, in the same way that there is a huge difference between a registered child psychologist and the woman down the road who happens to have a couple of kids or used to run a play group! While most people wouldn’t dream of entrusting their child’s welfare to someone who simply claimed to know a lot about kids but had no formal training, dog owners often seem quite prepared to do exactly this when it comes to their dogs.




I am sure that everyone reading this article would agree that dogs are precious, sentient beings and that they should have access to professionals who are in a position to give humane and science-based advice that, above all, will do no harm. In light of this, there are certain “must-haves” for a dog behaviour practitioner and certain “red flags” that will tell you whether someone should be avoided.




 A dog behaviourist MUST have some formal qualification in the field. No amount of experience will make up for this. A proper scientific understanding of learning theory, the workings of the brain and how emotions affect behaviour is vital.


A dog behaviourist MUST be familiar with what modern research tells us about the social behaviour of dogs. There is now overwhelming evidence that dogs have no interest in trying to dominate their owners. Trying to achieve some sort of mythical status over your dog is not only a waste of time; it is detrimental to your dog.


A dog behaviourist MUST have a thorough understanding of the science behind positive reinforcement training and will be an expert at using positive reinforcement to change behaviour.


A dog behaviourist MUST understand that all behaviour is driven by emotion (fear, pleasure, relief, frustration) and that only by taking into account the underlying emotion behind a behaviour will there be any chance of changing behavioural responses.


A dog behaviourist MUST make use of the scientific principles of desensitisation (very gradually exposing a dog to something potentially scary in a non-threatening manner) and counter-conditioning (pairing something previously perceived as scary with good stuff like food, play and affection) in order to change the dog’s underlying emotional response to that thing, because if the dog feels better, he can make better choices.




 A good behaviourist will NOT make promises to fix your dog in a specific amount of time. A real behaviourist knows that each dog is an individual and that numerous factors will influence how well a problem can be overcome.


A good behaviourist will NEVER sacrifice your dog’s emotional well-being by using punishment as a quick fix to resolve behaviour problems. Punishment (physical or psychological) will induce fear, frustration, depression and stress in your dog and will not solve the underlying cause of the problem, but simply cover up the symptom for a while.


A good behaviourist will NOT use aversive equipment such as shake cans, spray bottles, choke chains, prong collars or shock collars. A good behaviourist knows that these are psychologically and emotionally damaging to dogs.


A good behaviourist will NEVER tell you to dominate your dog and they will NEVER advise you to deny your dog attention or affection in order to show them who is boss. In fact, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior “recommends that veterinarians not refer clients to trainers or behaviour consultants who coach and advocate dominance hierarchy theory and the subsequent confrontational training that follows from it”.[1]


A good behaviourist will NOT use flooding in order to “overcome” a problem (overexposing dogs to something they are scared of, e.g. putting a dog-reactive dog into an enclosure with other dogs or forcing a dog with a water phobia into the pool). Flooding causes dogs to shut down emotionally (they stop reacting completely and so may appear “fixed”) and is blatant abuse.




When looking for a behaviourist, don’t trust that because someone has been around for years this means they are an expert. Ask about their qualifications. Ask what methods they use to change behaviour and what they are willing to do to your dog in the name of “fixing” a problem. If they mention any aversive techniques, look elsewhere! By making informed choices when it comes to trainers and behaviourists, dog owners can contribute to the general welfare of dogs and ensure that those in the field adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and humane, science-based methods that all dogs deserve.


To find a qualified and professional behaviourist in your area, please visit