There was a terrible story from the news this week about a baby being murdered by 2 Pit Bulls. The story was somewhat confusing to me, but the end result was still the same… the infant and both Pit Bulls are dead. This type of story makes an individual’s heart ache… it also begs the question…”how can something like that happen?” After all, both of these dogs were adoring members of somebody’s family… not crazy strays that roam the streets searching for food. These dogs had titles, beds, food bowls and possibly a toy or two. They might have played with this kid or given him a lick on his head a couple of times. We might never know. However, what we do know is that regardless of what breed, what size or what nature our puppies might be, there are capable of biting, nipping or knocking down someone causing physical and psychological damage.
The main thing that we as dog owners will need to keep in mind about our loving, well-behaved furry creatures is that they’re dogs. We might believe these to be the gentlest, calmest and most easy going creatures in the world, but we must never assume they are not capable of striking when triggered, stepped on or hurt. It is in their nature to protect themselves and their nearest and dearest. And, depending on the strain, they might be more responsive than we give them credit for. As soon as we own a puppy, we take the responsibility of caring for him… feeding him, taking him out to potty, exercising him and keeping him in good health. We must also accept responsibility to safeguard him against frightening, unpredictable conditions. Anyone who has ever had their dog around a kid knows that children like to tug on noses, poke in ears, grab handfuls of fur and attempt to catch wagging tails. Why would we believe our dogs would be fine with having these things done to them? Why would we assume that simply because our dogs live in our houses and play with our kids that they would not reach their limit as to how much they are willing to tolerate? We do… we respond by crying, stomping around and sometimes acting like wild folks. And unfortunately, a number people lash out by physically harming our kids. The difference is that we know better, our dogs do not.
I have never had a dog with such a serene disposition. Charlotte loves everyone and gets angry if she sees someone in the space who is not coming up to greet her and give her a pet or two. Because of her terrific character, we belong to a native Animal Assisted Therapy Group known as”Dogs On Call”. We see in three hospitals, 1 health care centre and see many, many students at the University through mid-terms and finals… petting a dog really can relieve a whole lot of test stress and anxiety. (But then, there are a whole lot of adults that do the same thing) Due to the unpredictability of the environment, I have Charlotte on a short leash in front of me or right in my side… and I have one eye on her. Just because I know her inside and out and feel her to be this superb furry critter, does not mean that she won’t respond to a surprise tug on her ear or a tug on her tail. Dogs respond to perceived and actual risks to protect themselves and their nearest and dearest. And even though I love to believe that Charlotte is the kindest, sweetest, most gentle dog in the world, I should also bear in mind that when all is said and done, Charlotte remains only a dog.
I don’t understand the temperaments of the Pit Bulls or the way they were treated and trained. But just because they attacked this kid, we can’t assume that these were bad dogs that were mishandled or defeated by their owners. We have all heard the frightening stories about the Pit Bulls and Rottweilers and other large dogs that have maimed or killed people who have been at the wrong place at the wrong time… dogs that have been mistreated or abandoned to their own devices or puppies that had been trained to fight and kill smaller, weaker animals in a ring. These stories leave us ill and in utter disbelief… how can somebody do so do their dog? And after we read or hear about how badly these dogs were treated, how they had been starved or beaten or raised without affection and love, we might find ourselves saying”well no wonder they assaulted a kid… no wonder they little bit grownup.” When we hear about a family dog doing the identical thing… a dog that has been loved and cherished and cared for because he was a baby… a puppy that has been well socialized, taken to puppy classes, obedience classes and possibly even become a therapy dog, we respond in disbelief. Needless to say, the odds that a dog will bite are greatly diminished if he’s in a loving home with all the amenities including training courses. Nonetheless, it behooves us to bear in mind that dog attacks and dog bites can and do occur… even with the most loving, friendly dogs on earth.
I’ve communicated with a couple of family dogs that have bitten… and the majority of the time that the bite has happened because”Tucker” felt threatened or was startled from a deep sleep or was being hurt in some way. If the bite occurs when interacting with a relative, the dog will occasionally feel sorrow and shame at getting bitten and caused injury and injury. So”Tucker” got his point across and Alice learned to not poke him . And… hopefully”Tucker’s” biting times are over. I tell people who employ me to speak to their dogs about snacks that simply because I have a conversation with their dog and ask him why he little and by-the-way please do not do it anymore… does not mean it won’t happen again. If the dog is put in the identical frightening situation as before, whether perceived or real, he might respond the same manner and bite someone else. There are no easy answers, but definitely keeping the dog from the frightening situation would go a long way to keeping everybody safe, including the dog.
Obviously a lot depends upon the situation… how serious the snack is and why the bite happened in the first location. Most bites occur due to handler error. That’s us… we are either doing or not doing something which has set up the situation in which our dogs respond and lash out. That is why it’s so important that we always keep at least one eye on our puppies when small children are around or when we are out in a public place with them. Our dogs will display”calming signals” when they are feeling cornered or put upon. These”calming signals” are saying…”I am stressed, do not hurt me, leave me alone”. What are a few calming signals? There are lots more calming signals your dog may display that will tell you he is in trouble, he wants you to get him from this situation or he needs your help to make things better. It’s possibly the most important task we have as pet owners… staying awake to our dog’s behaviour and then responding to it to keep everybody safe and injury-free.