A Dog attacking a family child, or a stranger, is a story all too common on the news. The pattern always seems to be the same: a family pet, which just happened to be a pit bull, for example, never injured anyone in its life, and had never been ill-treated, out of the blue attacked a child, another dog, or its owner.
Understandably perhaps, most people feel if a dog attacks someone it should immediately be put down. Since there are simple ways to reduce the risk of a horrific accident, all dog owners should be confident of being the one in charge at all times. My purpose in writing this is simply to make this point. I am not personally anti-dog, we have a Jack Russell (type) ourselves, known to friends and family by the macho name ‘Horlicks’, and I am very aware of how beneficial it can be for a family to own a dog. As a society, we owe a debt to dogs, for assisting the blind, the Police, rescuing people, landmine clearance, and a thousand tasks we never give a thought to. The annual awards ( http://www.pdsa.org.uk/animal bravery awards) given to outstanding dogs that saved peoples lives are very moving..
I accept that the irresponsible dog owner is in a small minority, however one injured or dead child is one too many. Centuries of selective breeding makes us assume today’s dog will be a more docile and reliable creature than its distant ancestor, the wolf. Wolves are renowned for their ruthless, predatory nature, and also their ability to use aggression as an everyday tool of survival, to protect themselves or their young, and to compete for food, pack status and territory.
Some dogs today will still be born with temperamental characteristics such as acute nervousness and easily triggered aggression. Worse, certain breeds are being cross-bred to accentuate these characteristics. Such dogs must be expertly managed early on to avoid aggression becoming a problem, how many owners really have the skills necessary? These dogs should not be regarded as pets, but this notwithstanding, how a dog was raised and interacted with people during its earliest weeks of life will greatly influence its behaviour.
Hence even if the dog has never experienced human hostility or abuse, if it was reared in relative isolation in a kennel or outhouse, it still has the capacity to turn into a far more fearful, and therefore more dangerous adult. Can it ever be trusted to feel totally at ease with humans? When a dog turns nasty toward its owners or other family members, it is usually because some miscalculation was made about its true nature, or the way it perceived the person it attacked, as a rival or a threat.
A common problem that illustrates this well is the scenario where the husband feeds, trains and walks the dog. The dog sees itself and owner as ‘the pack’, with the man as boss, and the dog as second in the ‘pecking order’. The status of the wife is very unclear, and the dog is likely to see her as a rival or a threat. This problem may be resolved if the couple collectively assert a similar level of authority over the dog, who now knows he is number three in the pecking order.
Dogs are also prone to attack owners who are too indulgent with them, they live in a state of confusion as to who really is in charge. Since we perceive the dog as part of the family, we put the dog into a state of anxiety whilst he decides how to place himself in charge, ‘top dog’. To achieve this, they can revert to their ancient defensive instincts.
Families with a dog who has seriously injured someone feel ashamed and outraged. Having treated the dog as one of the family, they imagine the dog should also feel guilty or remorseful. Dogs of course, have no concept of human moral values; they operate on momentary instincts sufficient for the time.
If we want to go on living with dogs without problems, then we have to understand their basic instincts and psychological needs a bit better, and accept that they can only be dogs first and members of a human family second.
It is always bad news when dogs attack people but it is also bad news that thousands of otherwise healthy young dogs in this country are destroyed each year simply because their natural instincts surface as an unpleasant surprise (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk)
For news on breeds and legislation in the UK: http://news.bbc.co.uk
The Registry of Canine Behaviourists : http://www.ukrcb.org/ further information and advice
Further news links at: national-ambulance.com/viewtopic (and thanks for the image)