Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seattle pit bull bite

I was reading a story about a Seattle dog owner who was bitten by her own dog. The article paints the dog, a pit bull, as a Very Bad Dog. You don't have to read too much between the lines to figure out what happened and that the dog acted like a highly aroused animal might.

Here's the story. Two Labrador Retrievers are running loose. They approach a woman walking her leashed pit bull. It does not matter who starts this fight - the root cause is an irresponsible dog owner who let his two dogs run loose.

The dogs get into a fight. While the article claims the pit bull started the attack, it's moot - there would have be no attack had the other dogs not approached and been properly restrained. So, we have two large dogs engaged in an aggressive encounter with a medium sized terrier. The terrier is now highly aroused and frantic. As the woman reaches her hand into the middle of the fight, she is bitten by her own dog.

Now, I just want to interject here and say something about arousal. The majority of dogs, being a predatory species, have a threshold at which they become intense, aroused, excited, focused creatures. Humans have even gone so far as to select those traits that make some dogs better at certain things than others. Terriers are known for their intensity, prey drive and ability to get hyped up rather quickly. A knowledgeable guardian/owner works to assess arousal level in their dog and creates a game plan of training to teach impulse control such that their dog can go from 0-60-0 quickly. Guardians/owners who do not do this may find themselves with a dog who goes from 0-60 and won't go back to zero.

I think that was the case with this pit bull terrier. He was put - through no fault of the owner - in a situation where he was guaranteed to become extremely agitated and focused without any training or knowledge on how to become calm again. The dog did not know that it was his owner grabbing him by the neck and he was already in a zone of extreme arousal that he didn't know what to do when he did bite her.

The wound was minor and he did not pursue an attack against his owner, though he remained in an extremely agitated state aftewards. People were able to physically hold on to the dog before authorities arrived and asked that he be tied to a fence post. I feel that we are missing something from the point that people were able to handle this dog to when he supposedly needed to be tasered to "calm" him. But it could just be the dog was agitated and confused, I don't know.

This is news only because the media wants it to be. Certainly there are plenty of dog bites and dog-dog attacks that go unreported (I think most dog bites go unreported, regardless of breed).

Hopefully, the dog isn't killed. If he isn't and is returned to his owner (who I hope does not blame the dog for his dog-like behavior, however inappropriate *we* deem it) that she works diligently to teach this dog how to calm down in stressful situations. We should all judge how excited our dogs get and, if they can't calm down relatively quickly, we need to teach them how. I think many dog bites happen because dogs get excited and redirect that excitement into a doggie behavior that has been deemed dangerous in a human society. Further, we as responsible owners must have a protocol in place when we see off-leash dogs. If we aren't familiar with dog behavior or don't know how our own dogs will react, then the best course of action is to simply remove ourselves from the situation.

Telling the toy who's bossHere are some good articles on teaching dogs impulse control:
Lowering Arousal - Dee Ganley, CPDT, CABC
Tug of War Rules (tug of war is a great way to teach impulse control)
Relaxation Protocol

4Paws University has a compendium of articles on everything to do with dogs and dog training here. There are some good article on leash aggression as well.

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