Pet Tales: Be safe and go to class

If you walk or drive along heavily traveled Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon, look for the peppy cocker spaniel walked by a woman who now carries an umbrella, rain or shine. It's a first-line-of-defense strategy that just might save the little dog's life someday.

The lady with the umbrella is me, and the dog is Pablo.

The umbrella is a new encumbrance, added to the cell phone I carry for safety (just in case) and the green Post-Gazette bags I carry for "pickups."

If an aggressive dog comes running at Pablo, I've been advised to push the button that quickly, noisily and forcefully opens an "automatic" umbrella. It will form a shield between my good dog and the bad dog. This will probably not stop an attack, but it should give Pablo and me a few extra seconds to get away.

I did not think of this on my own. I learned it at the free dog aggression classes taught by professional trainer Penny Layne ("Yes, just like the Beatles song," she tells students).

I wrote about these classes in January, but I hadn't attended one until April 4, when I joined about 50 other people at the Bethel Park Public Library. More than 400 people have already attended, and the Irwin-based trainer has added more. I think she has struck a chord.

A few of my classmates -- and their dogs -- have been victims of bites and attacks. Many other people -- including me -- have had near-misses. So I'm writing about it again.

One of her first tips is not to scream if an aggressive dog is coming at you. You'll escalate the aggression or fear that is spurring the dog toward an attack. Don't run, because dogs like to chase people and other animals, and people can't outrun a dog.

"Most of the time they will not bother you if you are calm and still, like a tree," Ms. Layne said.

Other tips include not making eye contact with the dog -- canines may view that as a threat. Don't face the dog head on. Turn sideways so your body language will be less threatening to the dog. Turn your own leashed dog away from the threatening dog, so they're not challenging each other. If you're on a bike, get off and put it between you and the dog. If you're pushing a baby in a stroller, turn the stroller away from the dog.

Another great tip -- avoid walking your dog in places where it's likely there will be loose dogs. It's why I walk in the business district, where I've only seen one dog running loose in 23 years. I've encountered people leash walking aggressive dogs that they can't control. I've had multiple "near misses" as dogs drags owners along the sidewalk while Pablo and I cross the street to avoid a confrontation.

Here's another tip: If your dog is aggressive, don't take it to dog parks or to places where many people walk dogs, like business districts.

The classes had more tips than I can report. The most valuable part of the class is learning to read dog body language that precedes an attack. The signs are much more subtle than the growling, snarling and lunging exhibited by dogs that we all know to get away from.

Dogs and art

Expose your dogs to some culture today, noon to 1:15 p.m., at South Side Dog Walk-Art in Public Places. The cost is $10, payable at the door. Meet at the Riverfront Dog Park off 18th Street.

The Office of Public Art hosts a walking tour of art along the South Side Riverfront Trail, including Tim Kaulen's "The Workers" and James O'Toole's Steelworkers Monument. Monthly walking tours are supported in part by the Fine Foundation

The Office of Public Art is a partnership between the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the City of Pittsburgh funded by The Heinz Endowments. Go to for more information.

Egg hunt

The fifth annual South Park Doggie Park Weed & Feed ends with leashed dogs searching for treat-filled eggs. The event is a gathering of dog park regulars led by David Weintraub of Upper St. Clair, but you don't have to be a "regular" to attend.

From 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, walkers and dogs will clean up and mulch at the fenced dog park off Corrigan Drive. The "feed" starts at noon, and participants are asked to bring a covered dish.

Then the fun begins with the egg hunt, provided by Woody's Self Service Dog Wash & Pet Boutique. Call the shop at 412-714-4644 so that owner Ann Cipriani knows how many treats to bring.

Spaghetti dinner

Eat spaghetti to help cats and dogs in the Youngwood shelter of The Animal Friends of Westmoreland. Dinner is noon-5 p.m. Sunday at EconoLodge in New Stanton. Pasta, salad and beverage is $8 for adults and $4 for children under 10 years old. Tickets are available at the door or at the shelter 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Wounded Warriers

Highly decorated U.S. Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan will be at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a service dog named Tuesday. Capt. Montalvan will be talking about (and selling and signing) his book, "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him."

He wrote the book with Bret Witter, who also co-wrote the best-selling book about Dewey, a library cat.

After multiple tours of duty in Iraq, where he was wounded, Mr. Montalvan suffered from crippling post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately he was teamed with Tuesday, who was highly trained to serve but was suffering from trauma and stress. The heart-warming book tells how they helped and healed each other.

This program is presented by the Friends of Mt. Lebanon Public Library in Meeting Room A.

Service dog exams

Now through April 30 is the time to register for free eye exams in the sixth Annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam.

Eligible animals include "active working animals" certified by a formal training program or organization or currently enrolled in a training program. This includes dogs that lead the blind, assist people with physical or mental disabilities, search and rescue dogs, military dogs and police K9 dogs. Horses and other animals are also eligible.

More than 250 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists are participating, including specialists from the Animal Eye Clinic of Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township.

Nearly 16,000 service animals have been examined since 2008 when the program was started by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and Merial, the animal health company.

Go to for further information, and to register and schedule an exam in May.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.