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Dog's Best Friend

September 2, 2012, 9:55 PM by Perry Groten

Dog's Best Friend

Many communities across the country have taken a long, hard look at the new rules against dogs behaving badly. Sioux Falls is looking at tweaking a city ordinance to make pet owners more responsible for vicious dogs.  Meanwhile Sioux City, Iowa has banned pit bulls since 2008. 

But now animal groups are pressuring city leaders there to overturn the ban.  A South Dakota dog expert says blaming the breed is misguided because it's the owner who's the real problem. 

He gives dogs an attitude adjustment with a few firm commands.

'Gem' is a four-month-old Australian shepherd, whose high spirits need to be a bit more grounded.

"She can be quite excitable and that's the breed, it's a very intense, very strong-working breed as a herding dog," Gem's owner Sally Marum said. 

So, Tom Gunlicks puts Gem through her paces, as her owner watches.

"I don't train dogs, I train owners," Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks is a Canton-based dog behaviorist who says in order to truly understand dogs; you have to get down to their level.

"Dogs can think, but they can't reason and what do people constantly try to do?  Reason with them," Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks says dogs are hardwired to be pack animals.  And that means if the owner isn't being the leader of that pack, then a power struggle will emerge.

"Ninety percent of all dogs don't want to be in charge or what we call Alpha of the home. They're looking for leadership. One hundred percent will try to be the leader if they don't know who it is.  And it causes them great frustration," Gunlicks said.

And this frustration can escalate to aggression.

"Probably the number one thing that I get called about is barking, needless barking and it's because a dog's frustrated,"  Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks says yelling at your barking dog only feeds the bad behavior.

"Sometimes you're telling your dog whatever it is they're barking at must be a really bad threat because look at how agitated mom and dad are getting," Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks still carries the scar from a dog bite he received as an eight-year-old paper boy. The emotional scar from that attack lasted almost as long.

"No one was as afraid of dogs as I was until a few years ago," Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks turned his fear of dogs into a canine crusade to make sure other people don't become victims of vicious dogs.

"Any aggression we see, even growling, should not be tolerated for a second.  We should fix that.  It's a dog in a lot of trouble and can get owners in trouble, too," Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks says cities that ban certain types of breeds only drive the dog breeding industry underground. Plus, it opens the door for other breeds to be outlawed.

"You don't ban breeds, you punish poor ownership," Gunlicks said.

To Gunlicks, the key to a well-behaved dog is an owner who's willing to take control.

"And when they do it right, you've got to let them know," Gunlicks said.

Gunlicks will host a dog behavior seminar next Saturday, September 8, at Therapy Dog International north of Canton.

Click here for more information on the seminar.

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