Pet Tips Mark Siebel

When I was 12, I watched the movie “Cujo.” Wow. I couldn’t sleep for a week. The perception that St. Bernard’s are friendly rescue dogs was definitely tarnished by the actions of Cujo. All of us have had some encounter with an unbalanced house or stray dog that has put us on the defense. Learning HOW to handle an unbalanced dog’s actions BEFORE they occur is the key to staying calm and bite free.

Below are a few defense tips to lower your odds of losing a battle with Cujo:

1. Pack leader always prevails. Before meeting ANY dog, always assume that they have the potential to bite you. With this said, ALWAYS stand tall, keep your hands folded across your chest, and make a dog work for you, before you show affection. A simple “Sit” or “Come” command will show the new dog that your command request is a sign of leadership and dominance. If the dog tries jumping on you, turn sideways and block the jump with your hip. Only once you’re comfortable with the energy of the dog do you pet it.

2. Attack prevention in open areas. Any time I’m out walking my dogs, WHEREVER I am, I always continuously survey the big picture. I look for movement, sound, and any kind of loose animal. It will always be much easier to prevent a problem when you SEE it coming. If I encounter any loose dog in the distance, I assess its body language, size, intentions, and actions (i.e., growling, salivating, showing teeth, etc.). If any of the above are of negative impact, I will generally seek cover. If not, I approach with caution. If you’re ever suddenly charged by a dog, command “GET” or “SIT.” This often times will be just enough to stop a high energy dog. For extra safety, carry a small tube of mace on your leash (

In more than five years of dog training, I’ve only been closely attacked/lunged at by five dogs. I advise customers to play it safe and be on the “defensive” with a new dog until you’re fully aware of the dog’s balance and energy. It is rare that you will ever have an attack encounter with a dog, but if you do, think: calmness, command, and always visualize an out/escape. Be aware on your walks. NO drinking Starbucks and NO cell phone conversations. Focus on your dog and your surroundings so you won’t have any surprise meetings with Cujo.

• Mark Siebel is owner of DOGGIE STEPS Dog Training, LLC. He has trained more than 400 Valley dogs, speaks regularly at local schools about the importance of dog safety and ownership, and donates time to youths wanting to learn more about dogs. Siebel is a member of the Arizona Professional Pet Sitters Association and Australian Shepherd Club of Arizona. Contact him at (602) 318-0122 or

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