Pet tales: How to prevent dog attacks

One day last year when Deb Chebatoris was walking her schnauzers, Colby and Wilson, they were suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by a larger dog. Both schnauzers sustained injuries and needed veterinary treatment.

Her dogs made a full recovery, but Ms. Chebatoris was really rattled. She wondered what, if anything, she could have done to prevent the attack.

Ms. Chebatoris consulted professional dog trainer Penny Layne and decided to share what she learned with other dog owners. She's offering free classes by Ms. Layne, who will teach people how to prevent dog attacks and how to survive them when they happen.

Thirty-five people attended the first dog aggression class last Saturday at Bridgeville Public Library. The next classes are Tuesday at Mt. Lebanon Public Library, Feb. 12 at Monroeville Public Library and March 27 at Bethel Park Public Library. All classes run from 7 to 9 p.m. Pre-registration is required. Call Ms. Chebatoris at 412-220-7800, and don't bring dogs to any of the classes.

For the past eight years, Ms. Chebatoris has operated Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville, but you don't have to be one of her customers to sign up for the class. "For me it's a public service. I am using my advertising budget," she said. Last year, she offered free classes in pet first-aid.

I've seen Ms. Layne in action. She helped puppy raisers train young dogs for a national organization that teams assistance dogs with people who have special needs, including hearing loss. Her training methods are effective and are totally positive, with no harsh physical or verbal corrections. The Irwin resident has been training dogs for 20 years and operates Aunt Penny's Pet Sitting, Dog Walking & Dog Training Services.

The upcoming free classes cover signs of aggression, predicting aggression by watching canine body language, how to diffuses a threatening dog attack, how to defend yourself in an attack and how to prepare for a walk.

One of her basic tips for avoiding a dog attack is not to approach someone else's dog without asking for permission. Then see if the dog wants to come to you to be petted. Don't thrust yourself toward a dog that does not know you.

That tip also applies to a dog running loose: Don't go to the dog -- Stand still and call it, and see if it wants to come to you.

Like many trainers, Ms. Layne doesn't blame aggressive or fearful behavior on any particular breed. Here's me quoting many breeders and rescuers who say we should all "judge the deed, not the breed."

People are often surprised by the breed of a dog that bites or attack. The dog that attacked Colby and Wilson was a Labrador retriever. The last time Ms. Layne was attacked, the dog was an old English sheepdog.

"It was hard to read the dog's body language," Ms. Layne said, because the long, thick coat totally obscured the dog's eyes, posture and tense body muscles that would signal fear, unease or aggression.

Dogs often become aggressive because they are under stress, the trainer said. But even their owners sometimes don't recognize signs of stress such as licking or a tongue flick.

"I am trying to educate people on stress signs so they can help their pet before he even gets near a growl," she said.

Betting for pets

The Feb. 16 Cupids & Canines Casino Night benefit is a team effort by Camp Bow Wow and Western Pennsylvania Humane Society to raise money for shelter pets. The event runs from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at Cefalo's Club & Lounge, 428 Washington Road (Route 50), Carnegie (15106).

Blackjack, poker and roulette will be offered. Tickets -- $35 in advance or $45 at the door -- cover food, music and $20,000 in fake money. "Money" won at the games is converted to tickets for prizes that include a trip to Las Vegas, a trip to Mexico and lots of gift baskets. To order tickets or for more information, go to

Mugs and chocolate

Cute red and white coffee mugs with hearts, a cat face and a dog face are $10 from Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley. They're filled with Hershey's kisses. You can buy them at the shelter, 533 Linden Ave., New Kensington (15068). Information: 724-339-7388.

Help farm animals

A long, hot, dry summer was hard on farm harvests and pushed hay prices sky-high, so everyone who rescues horses and other farm animals could really use a donation or two.

Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Crawford County is getting help from Avon independent sales representative Vivian Hogue, who is donating 20 percent of her sales through late February to the 501(c)3 non-profit that rescues potbellied pigs, horses, mules donkeys and goats. To place an order, go to Go to to see what David and Regina Allman have been doing since they retired as Pittsburgh police officers.

Dog honored

Tuesday was "Ivan Day" in Pittsburgh by official proclamation of city council. Ivan, 5, is a golden retriever and certified therapy dog who has been "working" since June 2010 for Family Hospice and Palliative Care.

"Ivan has served hundred of patients (and their loved ones)," according to the proclamation presented by council member Theresa Kail-Smith. "His peaceful demeanor provides comfort and companionship when patients and their family need it most."

Ivan works at the hospice's inpatient unit, the Center for Compassionate Care in Mt. Lebanon. At the end of each work day and on days off, he goes home with CEO Rafael Sciullo.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064. First Published January 26, 2013 5:00 AM