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Norwin library class teaches how to thwart aggressive dogs

About Michael DiVittorio

By Michael DiVittorio

Published: Monday, March 18, 2013, 4:46 a.m.

Approximately 4.7 million people are attacked by dogs each year, and half of them are children.

That's one of the statistics that certified professional dog trainer Penny Layne shared at a free canine aggression class at Norwin Public Library Sunday afternoon.

Layne, of North Huntingdon, demonstrated and discussed techniques to identify and diffuse aggressive dog behavior.

“You can only think of what to do with what you have seen,” she said.

Layne said the general public sees behavior such as snarling, growling, and snapping at the air as signs of aggression.

Professionals see the tension in the animal's face andmuscles, its dilated pupils and avoidance, among other signs.

Layne said the two “F” words to remember in regard to aggression are fear and frustration.

She said there are several types of aggression, including territorial, predatory, handling, human and redirected.

Layne said anyone who is bitten by a dog should seek immediate medical attention, and talk to police, the dog warden and, if possible, the owner.

Anyone who witnesses a dog attack should call 911, and try to gain control of the dog.

She suggested having citronella spray, pepper spray, an air horn or an umbrella available in situations where an encounter with an agrresive dog is possible, including while walking with a baby in a stroller.

The umbrella can create space between the dog and the object of its aggression, and the other tools can be used to frighten or force it away.

“Make sure that whatever you have is going to protect whatever you're walking with,” Layne said. “You're never going to outrun a dog.”

She warned that, when dealing with a pack of dogs, your dog may join the group. Packs, she said, will attack people on the ground more readily than a single dog.

Layne showed images of people recovering from attacks. She played videos of what not to do during an attack, and of a reporter being bitten in the face by a lunging police dog.

Plum resident Paul Marino said most people act on instinct when dealing with an animal situation.

“When they do happen, you just have to react to them,” he said.

“Not everything is going to be A, B, C,” Layne said.

Marino, who volunteers at a no-kill animal shelter in New Kensington, said the class was very informative.

“It was interesting to get a different perspective on how to deal with some of the issues,” he said.

Keirstin Rotharmel, 13, of Elizabeth was one of the youngest attendees.

“I learned how to not pull dogs off a person,” Keirstin said.

She and her mother Lisa Rothermel, who was in attendance, are volunteers at the Irwin-area nonprofit animal rescue organization Pet Friends Inc.

“It's for her and me to get more knowledge, just to know what to do in case we're put in that scenario,” Lisa Rothermel said. “Hopefully we will have enough knowledge and won't panic, and know a little bit of what to do to help each other. It's a wonderful class.”

Lisa Rothermel said two things she learned were what to do during a pack attack, and to carry an umbrella when walking with a dog or a stroller.

Sunday's class was sponsored by Royal Dutch Grooming in North Huntingdon.

“Being a pet groomer, we deal with aggression every day,” owner Katelyn McDonough said. “There are different ways we have to recognize (behavior), for the safety of the pets and our selves, and I know there will be a lot of great tips for me and for everyone to learn how to be safe and deal with different aggression.”

Attendees received information about preparing families with dogs for life with babies, and materials to reinforce what they learned at the session.

Penny Layne can be reached by calling 724-515-7790, or by emailing,, for more information about dealing with dogs or to attend classes.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965 or



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