Updated: Oct 10
Who is responsible for the dog bites that are occurring? Is it the Dogs themselves? Is it the owners? Is it the Trainers/Clubs who are training the dogs? Is it the Breeders? Is it those who breed indiscriminately who just let their dog have a litter of cross breeds?. Is it a total lack of Education about what it means to own a dog? Is it irresponsibility of parents? Do they allow children to tease or otherwise provoke the dog? Is it Councils and their attitude? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? There are so many possibilities I can't answer them all here. Where does the blame lie.
I have been asked to write this, but it is not an easy question to answer, and it doesn't matter what I say, some people are going to disagree somewhere along the line, so all I can do is to write it as I personally see it. I apologise in advance if I upset anyone, this is not my intent, but this problem has become huge, and is not just going to go away. It is going to get worse before it gets better and the one who ultimately suffers is the Dog.
A person who gets badly bitten by a dog suffers great trauma. Not only pain from the actual bite, but mental anguish. Some never really recover emotionally from a serious bite. It stays with them for the rest of their lives. This is not acceptable in our society. We have to try to do something about it. While it may seem unfair to say when someone is suffering from a bite, it needs to be said and thought about. Children particularly often through their ignorance or dogs, cause the bite to happen. Teasing, coming in at dogs eye level, stepping into a dogs territory and other things can cause this problem. Children should always be supervised around dogs, especially if they are entering someone else's property where a dog resides. Perhaps some parents have to be held accountable.
I believe we have lost sight of the fact that a dog is a CANINE. It is not a HUMAN Being. It doesn't Think, Talk, Walk, Eat like us. It is not a person dressed up like a dog...It is and always has been and always will be a "Wolf" in Dogs Clothing, with over 20,000 years of Heritage and Instinct which says "WOLF". Primary Instincts are to "FIGHT, FLIGHT, BITE & HUNT. and all dogs are accepted as being descended from the Wolf and are therefore natural predators. Would you without hesitation take a Wolf into your home?
Over the years we have domesticated the dog and made it a part of our family situation. We have created different Breeds used for different reasons. We have the Herders, the Hunters, the Guard, the Utility dogs used for different types of work. We use them in service work Police, Corrective Services, Drug Detection, Bomb Detection, Search & Rescue, Therapy work, to name but a few. Dogs have more than proved their worth over the years to mankind. They make a great companion. However we should never lose sight of the fact that the dog is a PACK ANIMAL with all its heritage & instincts still in place. We need more Education about owning a dog and how to help it to live with us as a part of our family. We need to be in control of a dog at all times, and to do this we need to understand the way it thinks, and the way it reacts to certain different stimuli. We need to have respect for the dog, and it certainly must have respect for us.
Start looking for someone who can supply you with this education...
People who handle dogs all the time are very aware of what they have. For example:- A working sheep or cattle dog is very rarely kept as a family pet. He is fed, and cared for because he is a working tool. If he fails at his job then he is of no further use to his owner. And yet we place this hard working breed into a backyard situation and expect it to be happy lying about. People who work and train dogs never lose sight of what makes a dog tick. People compete with dogs in many areas, and I am sure if you ask someone who is a very good handler, they will tell you how important it is to understand the dog they are working with. To understand the dogs instincts.
Education is an absolute necessity if we are to live in harmony with our family pets, and yet it is an area that has been sadly neglected over recent years. Understanding what makes the dog tick, has to be a subject taught to all prospective dog owners if our present problems are to be eradicated. It takes time. It will continue to take time. It will take a change of attitude by many owners towards owning and living with a dog. The idea that you just have a dog, put it in the back yard and forget about it has to be eliminated. The dog needs to be a part of your pack (your family) if it is ever to reach its full potential, especially if it is meant to be a family pet, or competition dog. Buying or being given a dog is not something we should decide on easily. Type (Breed) of dog has to be taken into consideration. Families should discuss this well before any decisions are made. Can we all agree as a family on size, Breed length of coat, boundaries to be given to the dog, feeding, housing, and general welfare of the pooch must be decided before the dog come to live with us. Have we made the decision jointly that this new family member will attend Obedience Management Classes as soon as possible?
To own a dog is a huge responsibility, and it is approx. a 12 to 15 year commitment, not to be undertaken lightly or thoughtlessly. It should be a total pleasure to own this extension to our family and not something we dread. Not everyone is cut out to be a dog owner. That's not something to be ashamed of. That's life.
A dog sometimes becomes an extension of the owners personality. The macho person, wants a macho image dog, so they go for the stronger more dominant Breed, and encourage it to become arrogant, Dominant and often aggressive. This if quite often the dog which causes problems to neighbours and others. Show me an arrogant, abusive person with a dog, and I am sure I would find the dog is exactly the same. This macho thinking needs to stop, but human nature being what it is, this is a difficult area of ownership to either deal with or control. It is usually this type of owner who never takes their dog for training. They may let their partners go but they do not consider it a necessity and so it is often a waste of time, as their personal attitude comes through both to partner, and dog. This person often has a lot to answer for. Many others put human connotation on the dog. They ANTHROPOMORPHISE IT. (Humanise). This also causes huge problems. Especially, believe it or not, with the smaller, cuddly breeds. People forget or don't know that this little creature has the same brain capacity and instincts as its larger cousins. It's bite just happens to be smaller, but no less painful or destructive. You very rarely hear about the smaller dogs bites. They don't tend to make headlines, but they occur with regularity, really more often than the larger ones we hear about. The sad part about this is, that the owner really loves the dog too much, and have no actual control.
OBEDIENCE TRAINING. All dogs need to be given obedience training. This should be mandatory. It should be for every dog, not just the large ones, and it should start early. While we say we give the dog the training, good trainers and instructors are really people training. We teach the owner how to handle the dog. If the psychology of the dog is included with this training, then trainers are doing a good job. If however, which so often happens Understanding the dog and what makes it tick, is not included in the training curriculum. then the job is only half done. DOG TRAINING IS A PEOPLE TRAINING INDUSTRY AND IS A SPECIALIST FIELD.
There is a tendency in the training industry at the moment to use different approaches to what was considered the established method for over 60 years of Praise & Reprimand. These methods proved very successful, but as we move into a different century, then we need to look for alternative or additional methods. There are many new ways of doing things today, and while many prove very successful, it doesn't mean that the older ways should be cast aside. They too have their place. Some of the "new methods" are in actual fact old methods couched in different terms. Silent whistles (only the dog can hear them) have been and are still used for many working dogs, Voice sounds, Clickers, tins with stones in them, chains with sound devices on them, have all been used at different times over many years, but are being reintroduced into our current systems of teaching and that is fine. After all there are many new Trainers/Instructors out there who have never seen or heard of some of the older methods of teaching.
The biggest problem I see, is that many are now teaching the general public who attend their classes that understanding Pack Structure is not important. They are teaching a method of never using a correction/reprimand ever. on the dog.. People are being taught "You never correct the dog"...You PRAISE the dog when it does something right, and IGNORE it when it does something you don't like or you consider is wrong. This has become very popular in many areas and with a number of trainers and instructors. Are they wrong? You decide.
While I understand using this method of training works with some animals particularly mammals ,it does leave a wide gap with the training of the dog. You don't take Dolphins, Sea Lions and other Mammals home to live with you in your domestic environment. Do you? They stay in their environment, are trained there, and work there and their trainers are amazing, but they are not dogs. They are totally different species.
While I thoroughly agree with PRAISING (Motivating is the word most currently used) for correct responses, and with the idea you can IGNORE certain behaviour while you are teaching a new exercise and the dog doesn't get it right(These are accepted as being the right way to go by most trainers), I find it irresponsible that people are not being taught that there is a cut of point for just ignoring an issue.
When a dog shows a tendency to want to control the owner, it is now time to give the dog an instant reprimand and mean it. How can you ignore the dog who growls, snarls, bites when it is told to do something. How can you just ignore the dog that has no home manners? Who rushes through the doorway, knocks you down the steps, takes over your favourite chair and wont get off. Where has your control gone? Actions like these require an immediate correction for acting in such a Wolf like manner. If a dog is not made aware that there is an ALPHA (YOU) in his pack, then he will very quickly take on that role of top dog. A dog living in the wild and misbehaving within the pack structure, is immediately and often severely reprimanded by the lead dog. It is a just punishment, and the dog accepts it without hesitation . If in our domestic situation this distinction between ignoring & time to reprimand is not made then trouble will follow. Trainers/Instructors should not leave their clients with the idea you never correct you just ignore, then the problems we have will continue to escalate at an alarming rate. This is proving to be the case at the moment.
DOGS THEMSELVES;-:- Some dogs are born with genetic problems and really should never make it out of the first couple of weeks of its life. Human beings however, being the compassionate creatures we are, continually try to save the little , possibly neglected one in the pack. If Mum ignores a pup and will not feed it or look after it she often has very good reasons. She knows there is something possibly wrong with this puppy. If it was born in the wild, it would be allowed to pass quietly away. A Lioness will often push her cubs over a small bank just not long after they are born. She will then sit at the top of the bank and watches these little things endeavour to make their way back up to her. She will wait all day if necessary, but if one cub can't make it, she will walk away and leave it. She knows its chance of survival in the wild is negligible. As Human Beings we find this difficult to accept. It is not our way. It is however the way of the wild. Remember our domestic pets stem from this heritage, and they have inbred in them all these perfectly normal instincts. WHY DO WE KEEP INTERFERING? Most Breeders try very hard to do the right thing by their Breed, and the people who purchase them. They won't breed from dogs who show tendencies to be aggressive, or which show other non acceptable traits.. In the main they really try very hard to maintain excellent standards.
Puppies born of aggressive parents are more often than not aggressive themselves. Ask question when you purchase your puppy. Find out what the parents of the puppy are like. Don't take a puppy with genetic problems. Choose you puppy wisely and with care.
COUNCIL REGISTRATION:-Perhaps it is time that the method of registration for dogs by Councils was changed. Don't register the dog. How about registering the owner to own certain breeds of dogs.
Why don't we have to apply for permission to own a dog?We have to apply to drive a car. Is a car any more lethal than the wrong dog in the wrong hands? We have to take lessons to learn how to drive the car? Why don't we apply to a panel of people who understand dogs, who can assess whether or not we are capable of handling the dog we think we would like to own. Many questions can be asked. Should we have to reapply every couple of years? Are we fenced? Will we take it to a reputable trainer? Will we try to Understand the psychology of the dog? How many dogs should we be allowed to own. I personally have a harbouring permit to own four dogs, but I am very aware that two (2) or more dogs make a pack of their own. Often one dog will encourage another dog to misbehave, and it is interesting to note how many dog bites there are that are caused by more than one dog being involved. Should the number of dogs allowed per family be limited, especially to the novice owner. I am wise enough to walk one dog at a time. Would never take all four dogs to an off leash area and let them loose at the same time. They would pack and could cause trouble. Know your dogs.
When a dog fight occurs between say two or three dogs, should another dog, or person try to interfere and get involved, all the initial fighting dogs will turn and attack the dog/person who is trying to interfere. This is a natural instinct of the dog. NEVER INTERFERE PERSONALLY IN A DOG FIGHT. YOU WILL GET BITTEN. Even if you own one of the dogs, that same dog in the heat of the fight, will turn and attack along with the others, anyone or anything who at that precise time, becomes an interloper...Dogs can be very territorial especially when they are in prey mode (fight). If we understand this, then there may be fewer bites.
We need to be aware that a dogs teeth and claws hurt just as much in Fun as they do in Anger. Many young children get bitten by family pets when the children are allowed to play with the dog UNSUPERVISED. Especially an untrained dog, but even training doesn't always stop this happening. Children run and get excited; they yell and make a large noise. That's okay. That is normal for the young child. BUT when you allow the child out there to run with the dog, then we may have a problem. Children are excited, Dog gets excited, children's hands and arms are moving around in a flaying manner. He is going to grab at the arm. or anywhere else it can get hold of. This is not done to be nasty or to hurt, but in FUN.(Dog is a natural predator remember) He loves the chase. However, what we now have is a little child crying and hurt by their family pet. How many dogs get euthanized because this has happened? With a little more care and more education about the dog, this would not be happening. (Tether the dog away from the children while they play and teach the children to stay away from the dog while he is tethered.) No chance of anything happening then. It is a very common problem, and can be solved very quickly. This type of accident doesn't happen when it is explained to parents with young children when they first bring their very small puppies together with their young children, to well conducted Puppy Management Classes. Between the ages of 8 to 16 weeks is when the puppy is most receptive to the information you wish to give it and to teach it home manners. TEACH IT, THIS IS HOW TO LIVE WITH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY IN TOTAL HARMONY.
INDISCRIMINATE BREEDING. When people breed indiscriminately with their dogs, we now have thousands of cross breeds circulating throughout our society. I am not against cross bred dogs, I do have to wonder however why people do this. Raising a litter of puppies is not easy. Is it the money they make from selling them that is the drawcard? With dogs which are crossbred you now have dogs who themselves can be totally mixed up temperament wise. They may have herding instincts mixed up with guarding and hunting instincts. Their temperament could be totally unsound. Pups from these litters get sold at Markets, Pet Shops Newspaper Adds, and anywhere else you care to look. People have a tendency to impulse buy. No real thought is given to the things we have previously spoken about. It's not surprising that many of these pups as they mature can be found in refuges. People either don't want them anymore, or they regret they ever bought them, or the dog is not as easy to handle as they thought it would be, or the whole family work and cannot give the dog the attention it requires.
So sad for the dog.
There is so much more that can be written but I guess I have to cut off somewhere. 'WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DOG BITES'? Is it a combination of all the above? Are there other reasons? (I know there are.) The ones I have listed are in my opinion some of the most important. If you own a dog, LOVE IT, TREAT IT AS A PART OF YOUR FAMILY, BUT NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE FACT IT IS A CREATURE OF THE WILD.
We accept the responsibility of having children. We don't always like what they may do, but we do what we can to alter the things we can, guide them, love them, and try to Understand them. Lets try doing that with our family extension 'OUR DOG'.
Val Bonney (Canine Behavioural Specialist/International Trainer/Member of Empire Who's Who./Speciality Judge for German Shepherds/Senior Obedience Judge for A.N.K.C/ Member of the U.K.Trainers Assoc./AUTHOR.)
Author of "WHO'S THE BOSS"? & its Sequel "ARE YOU STILL THE BOSS?"& "Hey Baby"-Who's the Boss"? The books all dog owners should have.