Aggression in Dogs
In September of 2012, Donald Thomas went to check his mail and was brutally attacked by two dogs near his home in Leeds, Alabama. The dogs were shot by a police officer, but it was too late. The injuries to Mr. Thomas (a WWII Veteran) were fatal. Upon further investigation, law enforcement officials determined that the dogs were owned by neighbors and that there were 33 other dogs inside a fenced yard of a home in a residential area inside city limits. The community was mortified. Neighbors later reported that while they felt terrorized by dogs running at large, they did not report if to the police because the owners were always remorseful that the dogs had gotten loose and assured them that they would make sure it did not happen again. Although the other 33 dogs found in the yard were originally slated to be destroyed based on the order of a judge, only a few were found to be dangerous to people and the rest were ultimately spared. An expert called upon to evaluate the dogs found that they had been fed a substandard diet, they were not socialized to people (making them "resident" dogs") and they were unaltered, being used in backyard breeding operation.
This story clearly illustrates that issues with aggression in dogs can affect people in almost any place at almost any time. All dogs have teeth and all dogs bite. They bite other animals, they bite each other and they bite humans. Dogs use their mouths and teeth to communicate; sometimes they growl, sometimes they nip and sometimes they bite. Ninety-nine percent of emergency room treated dog bites are rated as minor punctures and lacerations. About half of the people who require medical attention as a result of a dog bite are children.
The reasons for actual dog attacks (as opposed to incidents of simple and avoidable injuries) are often complex, but the answer to preventing dog attacks is relatively simple: humane care and control of dogs is often all that is needed to prevent most dog attacks. The National Canine Research Council's investigations into dog bite-related fatalities reveals the majority of these tragic cases involved circumstances where owners failed to provide necessary care and human control of their dogs: 1) failure by dog owners to spay or neuter dogs not involved in a responsible breeding program; 2) maintaining dogs in semi-isolation on chains or in pens; 3) allowing dogs to run loose; 4) neglecting or abusing dogs; 5) maintaining dogs not as household pets, but as guard dogs, fighting dogs, intimidation dogs, breeding dogs or yard dogs; and 6) allowing children to interact with unfamiliar dogs.
The media would have us believe that only certain breeds of dogs have the capacity to be aggressive (such as pit-bull type dogs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, etc.) but the reality is that there is no such thing as the “super predator” dog hyped by the media and falsely accused of the majority of injuries or attacks. The February 14, 2013, breed statistics published by The American Temperament Test Society indicate that a variety of breeds of dogs are statistically more aggressive than dogs we call “Pit Bulls” and which are most often vilified in the media. These breeds include the Beagle, Border Collie, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, Dalmatian, Great Dane, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Old English Sheepdog, Pomeranian, Standard Schnauzer and Weimeraner (among many others).
There are a number of things we can do to keep our families safe and to reduce the number of cases of dog aggression and dog attacks: spay/neuter your dog, do not leave your dog chained outside, never leave infants or young children alone with a dog and always properly socialize and train your dog. Children also need to be taught how to safely interact with dogs. Simple instructions such as “do not approach an unfamiliar dog” or “do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies” can go a long way toward keeping unsupervised children safe.
To learn more, please visit these web sites:
National Canine Research Council
Dog Bite Prevention from the AVMA
Aggression in Dogs (ASPCA)
Canine Body Language from Labrador Training HQ (very comprehensive article on body language)
I sometimes refer to the summary of the facts in the Vick case related to his conviction for dog fighting. The facts to which he agreed as part of his plea are at this link.
Image courtesy of Dogs Deserve Better