(Part one of a two part series)
(Dog owner and guardian are used interchangeably through this article)
Is there such thing as “random” canine aggression? In the dog training world “good” advice gets passed around like a bottle of whisky in a homeless shelter. To the untrained eye it may appear that canine aggression may be random but I can assure you from a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT) and behavior expert’s eye that most times it is a matter of understanding canine ethology and body language and aggression is far from random or unannounced. I have been dog training in Miami for many years. During that time both in South Florida and internationally there have been many stories of people “randomly” being bitten or attacked by dogs. Most recently http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/17/3007505/van-dyke-cafe-waitress-mauled.html and here http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/02/news-anchor-bitten-by-dog-received-70-stitches-mouth-stitched-shut/ Although this is tragic for the people that get bit, it is often death sentence for the dogs that are the pupetrators (purposely spelled that way). People are often quoted, “I have no idea why the dog bit me, I was just hugging him and trying to show the dog how much I loved him”, or “I just reached out and was trying to give him some food or water and he bit me”. When this typically occurs the first reaction is horror, punishment and suggestions to ban the breed (BSL/BDL) or to put the dog down. The media and public jump to conclusions and begin to demonize and vilify the breed and think of ways to outlaw them (BSL/BDL). This seems like the easiest thing to do and for politicians clamoring to get reelected it is sadly often times a savior for their political future. But the easiest thing to do is not always the smartest, most intelligent, well thought out, proactive or constructive thing to do. The converse is actually true and when society opts for the fastest easiest “fix”, bad policy is created and more suffering and pain occur, more so than if nothing had been done at all. It is vital for policy makers and officials to intelligently examine each and every bite and aggression case individually as if they were researching a crime scene. The “blame,” if there is any at all to be placed, most often lies with the guardian of the pet in question and not the breed or dog. This may seem counterintuitive to many, but the reality and numbers representing dog attacks show that most dog aggression cases are fear based and treatable through behavior modification programs and training and are caused, not by the breed or dog, but by irresponsible, ignorant dog owners who do not socialize or train their pets.
Would you penalize or get mad at your 3 year old child for getting scared in a new situation or experiencing something for the first time? How about if your child cried because he/she was very stressed out and nervous when someone reached over into their space and tried to touch them on their face? If you put a scary Halloween mask on and started making unfamiliar loud sounds would that startle your child and incite a reaction? Well similar situations occur in the canine world. Dogs come into this world ready to be socialized, educated and trained but this is where humans fail. Just as your child does not solely learn on their own and requires tutelage, nurture, education and training, so does your pet. It is irresponsible, unthoughtful and just plain stupid to think otherwise.
The Importance of Training and Socializing Dogs
There is a direct correlation to head size and bite strength. If you are the owner of a Chihuahua you may not be as concerned that your dog will bite someone or is ill-mannered (although you should be). On the other hand if you are the owner of a larger dog or breed you better make sure your dog is 100% socialized, and a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) before bringing them in public or anywhere around other pets or people. The corollary is the damage of the bite and severity of the attack. People forget that dogs are animals and being the guardian of an animal bears responsibility! Let us explore “responsibility” for a moment. The World English Dictionary describes responsibility as “answerable or accountable, being accountable for one’s actions and decisions, having a capacity for moral decisions, having control or authority (over), able to take rational decisions without supervision.” This definition describes a human with superior cognitive ability and not a canine. Regular readers know we have discussed responsibility in copious articles:
http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/08/17/pit-bull-fears/, http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/08/14/end-bsl-bdl-today-in-miami/, http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/08/08/dog-park-etiquette/, http://www.funpawcare.com/2012/08/12/dog-park-etiquette-part-two/.
Responsibility would many times over, fix what ails society and would transform “bad” dogs into wonderful pets and ignorant, irresponsible owners into role models and responsible human guardians.
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