It is a tragic story when you hear of children being attacked and sometimes, even more tragically, killed by dogs.
When these rare events happen, the ‘judge and jury’ people come out in their droves to condemn the breed of dog involved in the attack. Many a time it would appear the more seriously injured cases involve Pitt Bull type dogs, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, but they are not by any stretches of the imagination the only dogs that bite and attack. Granted they do have an amazingly strong jaw, and have been used throughout history because of their strength and stamina in ways I cannot believe humans have exploited in the name of sport.
But the truth is ANY breed of dog, large or small or inbetween has the potential to bite and maim, not just Bull Terrier type breeds. So to ostracize these breeds is wrong, the owners of such dogs need to be of the right mindset, with that I do agree. Recently it was stated Labradors nationally bite more people than any other breed. As a Labrador lover, (and Alsatian, and Staffie, well most dogs to be honest) I found that quite astounding, but having had one Lab, who would growl and nip rather than say hello, I am totally aware of how ANY dog can bite.
I have always had dogs and throughout my childhood, also had dogs. My partner has always had dogs too and actually bred Staffordshire Bull Terriers, there isn’t anything about the breed he does not know, and he is passionate about the reputation they should have; as fantastic loyal loving gentle dogs.
I do believe that 95% of cases where dogs bite, it is down to human error, with dogs doing what they instinctively need to do, protect their family. We take dogs into our homes and hearts as if they are human. We expect them to have the intellect and often manners of a human. They are supposed to understand social circumstances way above their ability. They are loving, devoted, protective, loyal animals that bond with their owners as if part of the pack, and they find their role within that pack. We should make sure that place in the pack is at the correct level. A jealous dog can snap and bite anyone that comes too close to who they perceive as their alfa. Behavioural problems like this need addressing with proper guidance to help the dog be a relaxed safe member of the family.
If a dogs environment changes by the addition of a baby, a child, another dog, a cat – anything that changes the ‘environment’ the dog is familiar with, unless time is spent introducing the ‘change’ to the dog, assuring the dog of the safety of this addition, a dog will be unsure, sometimes nervous or anxious towards the new entity in the space they now share. Noises, smells, movements that are all alien to a dog can be misinterpreted and ignite the instinct of survival or protection, still a strong inborn trait in dogs despite our domesticating of them.
I was astonished with the results of a survey done with young children, as to what they know about dogs, and the most shocking thing was that when a dog was showing its teeth in a warning stance, children thought it was smiling so move towards the dog. That isn’t a dog being bad, it is human error. A child is too young to know, so it is down to the adult to educate and supervise them, especially in a new environment, be it out in the street, a friend’s house, or even when the dog has met the child before. Never allow a child to be alone, go and stroke, hug, cuddle a dog, ever, unless it is a dog that has had the time spent with it, to allay any anxiety it may have and even then, have an adult present until enough time has passed for all parties to be comfortable. Dogs sense fear and anxiety so if anyone is in that state, a dog will be on edge, wary of the something causing an air of unease.
When I had Labradors, particularly the one that for whatever reason didn’t like little people (I’d known her from birth and she had never had any contact with children to warrant her dislike of them) I was always mindful of where I took her, and what scenarios I put her through. And because I knew her character I was able to keep her from any otherwise, potential situations where her instinct would dominate her behaviour. But Labradors are dogs that people think always want petting, and children always assume they can come and hug them, even when they are unknown to the dog. Whilst the vast majority of the Labradors and all the other breeds, would be fine with that kind of impromptu hug, there are and always will be those dogs that are frightened, threatened and anxious about such an event, and therefore far more likely to react. Again, in my humble opinion, it isn’t that the dog is vicious or dangerous; it is frightened for whatever reason, and should not have been put in the situation by the owner or whoever is looking after the child.
The ‘judge and jury’ that make brash statements that all dogs of a certain breed are dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed, is as foolhardy as saying, all humans are evil. There are always exceptions to every rule, but it doesn’t help when such statements are put out there, it can invoke hatred and fear in otherwise neutral thinking people. And when a dog of a said breed is seen, they react aggressively or defensively, which in turn can be interpreted by the dog, as a threat towards them or their owners when on out on a lead.
A lot of people have dogs to act as security in the home, as well as them being much loved pets. So when someone comes to the door and either knocks or rings the bell, the dog usually will bark to sound the alarm, someone is here. If that person makes a noise but doesn’t enter the home, but pushes something through the letter box, it is a situation that the dog can interpret as having their and your space violated. So if that noise is heard, the glow of the day-glo jacket seen through the glass door, then something is pushed through the door, a dog can associate it as threatening. Should that dog be outside and hears the noise, sees the ‘glow’, to the dog it needs to protect you from the ‘thing’ that keeps violating your space. This being the postman, and thus most cases of dog attacks are towards postmen. Often the postmen because of past experiences acts in a way, which adds to the dogs perception of threat. It isn’t acceptable at all, but it isn’t the dog’s fault, they are doing what you expect them to do, protect. It is down to the owner to teach the dog to change its reaction, the postman should not be a subject of attack.
If a burglar or intruder enters your property be it garden or home, a dog is often the first line of defence, in those circumstances, it is praised at being a life saver, being so brave, but to a dog, the role is the same, defend his pack out of love and loyalty between you and the dog.
Of course, there are always those that abuse the relationship, they deliberately encourage a dog to be aggressive. Dogs are trainable in many ways, to be good gentle and obedient, but also to be physical and aggressive. If this were not true, they would not be trained and used as attack dogs in the forces. But again, humans being humans, there is also a minority who want to cause fear and harm to others, and dogs can be trained to be a useful weapon. They have strength and power that defies their size. They have teeth that can and do cause a lot of damage when they bite, but the vast majority of all dogs, will give a growl, will display body language that is indisputably saying stay away, I’m not happy, leave me alone, don’t come any closer. They then hackle up fur from head to tail, growling louder and snarling teeth, maybe then if all these signs are ignored, they may give a nip rather than an attack, and most will only go this far when they feel they have no other option. All the warning signs have been ignored by the approaching person, so what else can the dog do but to protect and defend. It is a quality we value most of the time.
But when tragedy does happen, or even an accident, it is devastating. To see a dog react in an aggressive manner is frightening, and often once the dog is in that zone it can display phenomenal strength and to try and control verbally will have little effect. To see your dog like that is shocking, and can leave a state of fear towards your pet thereafter, when you are so used to loving, and petting the dog without a hint of aggression ever being shown. Most people would say, my dog would never react like that, but every dog has the instinct, and it can never be 100% guaranteed safe, as long as they have teeth and canine instinct, there is always the chance it will display aggression at some point in its life. If the dog is in pain, or ill, uncharacteristic actions are often witnessed, growling and snapping are such reactions. They are usually so upset and submissive as they know they have turned on one of their own. We need to respect dogs, treat them as the wonderful creatures they are, and know them, so if they have fears, or are ill, or have pain, it is up to us to help them and protect them. They may have been startled and not necessarily set out to cause harm, but a display of loyalty and protection for its family.
Dogs seem to be thought of as docile almost toy like additions to the family. And when they chew something they shouldn’t, make noise when they shouldn’t, when they eat something they shouldn’t they are often chastised, abused, shut away, treated badly, some are even given away, or thrown out and abandoned. Rescue centres are full of dogs, some of whose history are known, but many are saved with no knowledge of what they’ve been through to end up in a rescue centre. Many are there because of the total lack of understanding shown by the people who had them. Dogs are thought of as an entitlement, everyone can have one, irrespective of the owners’ circumstances, their lifestyles, and their homes. To me, there are so many people with dogs that should not have them. They do not have the right mindset, time or dedication to give the dog the understanding, love, security and life they deserve. They do not understand the ethos of a dog, their needs, their qualities, the traits each breed has, there is so much to know and understand about dogs and the different breeds. If you were willing to devote time, love, energy and money to the dog, choosing the breed and finding a suitable puppy or dog, it still needs huge consideration before getting the dog.
Human Beings are a strange species, and one I am not the greatest fan of. We have traits that defy most of what I believe in as being good beings, and the way we treat animals is proof if ever you need it. The saying, “There are no bad dogs, just bad owners” has much truth in it. Most scenarios of dog attacks confirms the fact, there is human error, than dog error. Whilst tragedies and injuries are for a lifetime and in a perfect world should never happen, hindsight is a wonderful if not cruel thing. “If only” is said over and over, but there is only the moment of time we are in, and sometimes that’s all it takes, a split second for life to never be the same. I truly wish more consideration is given to how we act and live, it has a direct effect on animals in our care, be it a dog, cat, bird, our energies and actions always create reactions in the animals around us. Cats run off and hide, dogs will cower and try and hide, birds will flap around their cage, when agitated by shock, anger, noise, we all know this. So when a dog or cat attacks, it is usually as a last resort, their instinctive survival mode has been activated by our actions.
The other potential and very real scenario we set, without thinking, is we give our dogs toys. Toys that to us look cute, mimicking things dogs would kill, mice, rabbits – soft toys. We give these to dogs to help interact with them, to give them something to play with, to stimulate them and get them active. Many of these toys involve them chewing or biting down on them, and these toys squeak. We ‘squeak’ them to get the dogs attention, to come over to us, to get them excited, we then tussle with the dog with the toy, playing, the dog trying to get the toy off us, yes in its mouth. The process is a game, something most dog owners will do without any thought. They even encourage the dog to shake the toy, all of this connects with the dogs instinct of killing its prey. The squeak adds to the excitement and frenzy of the game. A baby, is near to toy size, and it squeaks and makes noises like a toy. For some dogs the similarities are too close and the dog can and does think of the toys it has previously been allowed, encouraged and praised for playing with, without being able to differentiate between baby and toy, especially if it’s the first time the dog has been with a baby. Without guidance, education, socialising and constant supervision it isn’t too hard to think what might happen if that baby is left unattended, we again expect the dog to understand the difference between a baby and a toy as a human does. The dog is thinking toy. It is a reality every dog owner should be aware of, similarly a large dog that had toys and games such as I’ve described, then sees a tiny little dog, never seen before, the dog again thinks, toy. It’s not an aggressive evil bad dog, it’s how we’ve treated them.
Having a dog licence as many suggest we should have in an attempt to make dog ownership safer, to me, still wouldn’t weed out the unsuitable dog owners we have; nor lessen the ill-intent they have in regard to their dog. Dogs are so readily available to all and sundry, I do not know how we can make sure dogs get the homes and lives they deserve. There are no checks done on potential dog owners. If you want to take a dog from a rescue centre, some checks are done, but I know of someone who was turned down from having a dog, they were thought of as not suitable dog owners. Instead of taking that advice from the people that know what a dog needs as helpful and truthful, they then went out and bought a puppy. They had no idea of how to look after it, and as such it became a troubled puppy, very snappy, very insecure, very nervous and was therefore left shut up for hours on its own. Thankfully in this situation another family member stepped in, they socialised and took care of this now very much loved dog. But had this family member not stepped in, that dog would be destined to abuse, be unpredictable with anyone who approached her, and a potential accident waiting to happen.
So before a dog is blamed for whatever it has done, please take a step back before judgement, see the whole story. Was the dog being instinctive in protecting after it’s warnings of fear, anxiety were ignored, was it being threatened, was the owner being threatened by something the dog was unfamiliar with, was the dog being taunted and abused. Or was the dog thinking of previous games and toys it was encouraged to partake in. When all the facts have been appraised then maybe judgement can be given. To put a dog to sleep because it bit someone is drastic. If any of the above were the case then it was far more likely to be due to human error than dog error.
We need to take more responsibility and understand the whole capabilities of any pet we take into our care. There are many dogs, often crammed into small full homes, with little access to outdoors, proper exercise, proper food and proper interaction. They need to be given as much if not more – seeing they can’t speak for themselves, priority in a household as children and adults do. Every dog has the potential to bite, thankfully it is a rare occasion when a bite has tragic consequences, but it can and does happen, and it is life changing for all involved. But please do not instantly blame the dog for being a bad breed, or bad dog, sometimes circumstances conspire and a combination of things lead to a bad outcome.
Think long and hard before getting any pet, but particularly a dog. They live a long time, and are a full time commitment and responsibility. There is a cost to be incurred with dog ownership, in their care, vets bills, keeping it safe, but also on your heart, because a love for a dog is very very special. They can enrich your life in the most wonderful ways, more than you would ever imagine. You just need to put in the time, love and care into your dog, to enhance all the fabulous qualities they have every single day of its life.
Dogs really can be man’s best friend; lets make sure we are theirs.