Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kid Mauled By Doberman

The attack may have happened when the child got too close to the dog's bone.

Kids should be supervised by parents. Kids should be told to leave dogs alone at certain times and in certain circumstances. I had to warn some parents the other day about letting kids lie with their faces near the food bowl while the dog is eating. Remember: it is an animal. It has instincts to survive and no amount of training can prevent dogs from being dogs.


Marjorie said...

As a dog trainer, myself, I have spent years trying to stop the very, very, very bad (yet common) advice for dog owners to "avoid" their dogs when they're eating, sleeping, or playing with a toy.

This topic is a bit of a bee in my bonnet, so please bear with me.

Why is this advice bad? This case, like so many others, is precisely why.

Imagine you're a dog. Whenever you are eating, when you're sleeping, or when you're playing with a cherished toy, you rule the household. The owners "leave you alone" and even back away from you in these circumstances. If you eventually stare, raise your lips, or growl at your owners, they'll be sure to steer clear of you. By doing so, they've taught you you're #1 in the house. You make the rules. You decide when, where, and what everyone else does.

Now imagine you're a dog growing up in my home, or that of any experienced dog owner. Before there's even a problem, your owner teaches you it is very good to share toys or that you don't go hungry because a person or other animal ventures near your food dish. You learn that your owner is trustworthy, so there's nothing to fear when you wake up...even when you're startled awake. (Being awakened is often because it's massage time. What could be better?)

You even learn that strangers are potential playmates and that people or other animals walking by the yard are your owner's concern, and you have never, and will never, lose even one square inch of territory, as a result.

The first news cast I saw about this particular case included advice from a dog trainer, on the importance of teaching your dog to share its resources. Unfortunately, that very good advice was overshadowed by the pervasive re-telling of the old theory about avoiding dogs when they’re eating, sleeping, or playing with a toy. The problem lies not with the toy, the food, the territory, or the treat, but with the owners who allow the dog to behave aggressively…in any situation.

Part of responsible dog ownership means teaching dogs to accept interruption at any time. Dogs must submit to having toys, treats, or food taken away at any time, and they must not be permitted to develop aggressive behaviours...for any reason. (When we see the first signs of aggression, we have to step in and either make the dog more comfortable with that situation, so it learns it isn't something that should make it feel vulnerable or threatened, or teach a more appropriate -- non-aggressive -- response.)

By teaching dogs they make the rules about when and where someone can touch them, we put dogs in charge. The result of allowing dogs to make their own rules is typically very bad for people.

In a lifetime of dog ownership and 30 years training dogs, not only have none of my own dogs behaved aggressively, but I specialized in re-training aggressive dogs for years. Many of those dogs came to me with resource guarding issues (among others). It was a relatively simple matter to halt those behaviours, even when they were pretty well entrenched. If you prevent it from developing in the first place, all the better.

I cringe, for example, whenever I hear that dog owners (even some dog trainers) separate food-aggressive dogs at meal time. I know, from experience, that this not only doesn’t solve anything, it often makes the resource guarding problem worse.

When I have food-aggressive dogs in for re-training, they all learn to eat together in peace or they simply don’t get to eat. They learn who makes the rules, and what is acceptable conduct, pretty quickly, I will say. No dog in my care has ever been injured in a squabble. Yet those who routinely separate dogs at meal time often do so with tragic consequences. I’ve seen dogs (allowed to continue to behave aggressively) kill other dogs in the home, due to fights over resources. I’ve seen owners (especially children) badly injured by dogs allowed to continue to guard resources.

Responsibly-owned dogs don't bite unprovoked. They just don't. Eight years of dog bite research has proved this over and over again. When I've investigated claims a dog's first successful bite was it's "first act of aggression" the owners usually admit the dog would behave aggressively with food, toys, etc.

A bite is never the first sign of aggression. It's the last. And many, many unprovoked bites begin with making the dog feel it is okay to behave aggressively in some circumstances. And this is why the tired, old advice to avoid dogs when they're eating, sleeping, or playing with a toy is not only misguided, but actually quite dangerous. It encourages the development of aggressive behaviours in dogs. It practically guarantees a future bite.

At best, this kind of advice might be appropriate for children, but never the dog's owners. Better advice is for dog owners to teach their own dogs to accept interruption whenever and wherever they choose, and that everyone should avoid dogs that aren't being adequately supervised by their owners, no matter where they might find them. Children must always be supervised (by a responsible adult) around dogs.

By being responsible dog owners, we not only raise non-aggressive dogs, but we also supervise any interactions they might have with others. Thus, we ensure they behave appropriately. Unwarranted aggression is never appropriate, and owners shouldn't dismiss it simply because they believe some old wives’ tale about allowing their dogs to behave aggressively in some circumstances.

...unless, of course, you want your dog to bite someone unprovoked, one day.

Sam Basso said...

Though this sounds fine, this is an overly idealistic viewpoint of dog training. Regardless of the training and socializing you do, kids need to be supervised with dogs. All the training in the world won't take away a dog's survival drives. If a drive is frustrated / blocked, then aggression can result. No amount of training can make a dog not be territorial, either, regardless of what you are saying here. Try working with a police bred dog sometime, and try to work the territoriality out of the dog, or making the dog like all strangers. In fact, try that with a Fila Brasiliero some time, and see how far that gets you. And small kids won't be #1 in the house. They can't assert the dominance needed as adults can do. Try that sometime with a kid with Down Syndrome, or a shy kid, for example.

I agree that responsibly owned dogs don't bite unprovoked. But, a lot of what kids do can be considered provocation. Teasing a dog, laying with their faces near a dog bowl while the dog is eating, blowing air in the dog's face while it is sleeping, entering into the dog pen of a neighbor and messing with the dogs while the adults are away, letting a dog loose from the front yard, taking a protective dog for a walk without adult supervision, messing with a female's pups, and so on, can get a kid bitten or mauled. Responsible dog ownership extends beyond training. That places all the burden on the dog to make all the choices based upon what you have taught them. I see nothing here indicating the need for supervision, or the need to train kids to not do certain things with dogs.

No police dog could be managed this way. No seriously protective dog could be managed this way. Some mild mannered dogs can be trained this way, and you'll be fine. But, a percentage of dogs can't be managed and trained this way and be considered safe in all circumstances without adult supervision of both the kids and the dogs.

Marjorie said...

I don’t really understand your reply.

I specifically said children must always be supervised with dogs. I couldn't have put it any more plainly.

"At best, this kind of advice might be appropriate for children..."

- and -

"Children must always be supervised (by a responsible adult) around dogs."

I also explained the whole reason why “management” is misguided…not the least of which is the fact that the majority of unprovoked biting incidents involve inadequately supervised dogs. If an admittedly aggressive dog isn’t being supervised, it most assuredly isn’t being “managed”.

People like to think they’re on top of their aggressive dogs. They aren’t. An aggressive dog will probably find its victim, one day. It’s much better not to ignore, dismiss, minimize, or attempt to “manage” an aggressive dog. Instead, just basic responsible dog ownership and training will correct the inappropriate perceptions aggressive dogs have developed, which lead to them behaving aggressively. Socialization, obedience training, and supervision can make any dog into a model canine citizen. I know. I’ve done it countless times.

Having trained dogs for 30 years, I spent the last decade specializing in (successfully!) re-training aggressive dogs. I've worked with just about every breed or mix out there, over the years. My work with aggressive dogs also spanned the gamut of dog sizes and shapes. However, I will point out that a large portion of those aggressive dogs were Rottweilers, German Shepherds, & 'pit bulls' (some came to me directly after being confiscated from dog fighting rings). (My family raised German Shepherd Dogs prior to my choice to switch to Great Danes.) I have worked closely with some police departments (providing dog bite prevention & policy instruction), and several of my personal friends work, or have worked, in law enforcement. (A number of the aggressive dogs I’ve re-trained have been adopted by police officers.)

Every dog involved in an attack that I’ve investigated had a known history of aggression. Many times, the owners “claim” the bites were the first aggression incidents. But further investigation proves the owners and/or others knew the dog would threaten to bite in any number of situations. Unaddressed resource guarding is a hugely common cause for these unprovoked bites. Had the owners simply addressed the resource guarding (which is readily corrected), the dog wouldn’t behave aggressively in those situations.

And this is why this subject is such an annoyance for me and other competent dog trainers. By continuing to tell dog owners to “avoid” their dogs in certain situations, we’re actually creating the environment that encourages the precise resource guarding behaviours that lead to so many bites. That kind of advice is actually causing bites, rather than giving dog owners the kind of advice that would prevent their dogs from developing aggressive behaviours. Aggressive dogs aren’t born. They’re made, through poor training and socialization, and exacerbated by inadequate owner supervision. When the early signs of aggression go uncorrected, they almost always escalate.

I hope readers come to understand that dogs with resource guarding issues are in the highest category for probability to bite unprovoked, one day. Ignoring (or “avoiding”) it won’t change that. Happily, resource guarding is easily corrected. If your dog behaves unjustifiably aggressive in any situation, contact a competent trainer in your area right away, before a bite occurs.

Sam Basso said...

I agree with some, but not all, of what you are saying. Your point about kids needing supervision is buried among the rest of what you were posting, and was not really addressing the article in question or my original post.

The article is about kids and dogs. I was reading your post in context with the idea that teaching a dog to relinquish its toys, food, etc. will prevent dog bites regarding kids. Though working with a dog and doing normal dog training things will make a dog much more tolerant of a kid, kids will still do things that adults would never try doing, and can provoke a bite.

I was also responding to your comment: "You even learn that strangers are potential playmates and that people or other animals walking by the yard are your owner's concern, and you have never, and will never, lose even one square inch of territory, as a result." This will not apply to many dogs. Some dogs are more territorial than others, and there are many cases (just do a Google news search) of people entering property and being attacked by a dog. Training isn't going to fix this kind of thing with guarding breeds. As I said, try making a Fila be friendly with strangers. I know. I have owned Filas and been around them. They are highly territorial and are bred to distrust strangers. By definition, a socially aggressive dog will not accept you as part of their pack, and will attack if you enter their territory. And a person is foolish to try and take an object from a Fila's mouth, or touch or examine the dog, if they are not a family member. Training won't fix this. Thus, if you have a Fila, you have to muzzle it if you take it to the vet for an exam.

The boy who was attacked in this article was not a family member, and thus would not have a bond, nor any kind of pack relationship with that dog. If the article is accurate about the circumstances, the parents should never have let the kid be around that dog while it had a toy / bone / whatever it its mouth. It is reasonable to expect a dog to not be aggressive towards family members. It is not reasonable to expect all dogs, regardless of the amount of training, to not be aggressive towards strangers.

Marjorie said...

Really? My experience & expertise didn't suggest that I know a great deal about the factors that lead to dog bites; how to correct them; and how to prevent them?


Well, I don't think I can explain it any better than I already have. Allowing dogs to develop the perception that perfectly non-threatening situations are a danger to them in some way, is irresponsible, and likely to lead to problems. Then, allowing the dog to develop aggressive behaviours as a result of this perverted perception of the world only exacerbates the problem.

If I see a dog stiffening its body posture in a perfectly harmless situation, I work on that. I teach the dog there is nothing to fear. Thus, the dog not only comes to see the situation as non-threatening, but the dog never has the opportunity to develop aggressive behaviours beyond the stiffened body posture stage. (My 8-year-old Great Dane, for example, the way...had been scheduled for euthanasia because of her "out of control" behaviour prior to me agreeing to take her at around a year old, has never growled since coming to live with me. None of my own dogs have ever bitten a living creature.)

Show me a dog who is aggressive towards people passing the yard, and I'll show you a dog that, a few weeks after coming to me (or any competent trainer) for basic obedience and socialization, will excitedly sit whenever it sees someone it doesn't know, in the hopes they'll come in the yard for play.

Fearing, or feeling threatened by, the paperboy or girl guides selling cookies or the neighbour's harmless dog, is ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous.

This somewhat reminds me of a conversation I had with a painter I'd hired. Knowing of my reputation for working very aggressive dogs, he brought up the subject of dog bites.

With glee, he recounted a tale from his childhood. He asked what my response would be, to him having been bitten by his uncle's dog during a visit.

I asked if the dog was known to behave aggressively?

"Yes," the man replied. "The dog was very aggressive around its food."

"Did your uncle do anything about that? Or did he just ignore it," I asked.

The man replied, "He just told everyone who came over, not to disturb the dog when it was eating. He also suggested we give the dog a wide berth when it was sleeping, as well."

"If you knew this, how'd you get bitten," I queried.

The man said, "I was just a kid. I didn't notice the dog was next to my leg, or that I was near its food dish. The only thing I remember was the sudden pain of the dog biting my calf." (He then showed me the faint scar on his leg.)

"But," he went on to say with a sort of smirk on his face, "I learned a lesson about dogs that day."

We giggled a bit. I said, "Well, yes...a lesson. But an unnecessary lesson that could've been much worse.

A responsible dog owner doesn't allow his dog to behave unjustifiably aggressive in any cirucumstance. A responsible dog owner also supervises his dog around children. With those two basic, and extraordinarily simple, principles in place, unprovoked bites rarely occur.

Expecting other people to keep themselves from being bitten by your dog is not only unreasonable, it's incredibly callous and misguided. You just can't prevent aggressive dogs from biting, as much as you might try. ...As what happened to you clearly demonstrates."

Anyone who allows his/her dog to behave aggressively, and expects everyone else to keep themselves safe from his/her dangerous dog is truly misguided. THESE are the owners of the vast majority of biting dogs...those family pets who, with one resource guarding or territorial bite, can cause permanent and disfiguring damage to anyone, especially a child in the home.

Everyone do yourselves a favour. Don't ignore aggressive behaviours in your dogs. Address it before there's a victim. Seek out a competent trainer who knows what they're doing (i.e. has a long record of success in rehabilitating aggressive dogs), and do the work. Not doing so is practically guaranteeing a future bite.

Feel free to read more about responsible dog ownership:

Marjorie said...

Oops, I wanted to add that I've worked with countless dogs whose owners/breeders claim are "inherently territorial" or "mistrustful" of strangers.

I just roll my eyes. It's not true. Despite decades training dogs, I've never worked with one that was "inherently" aggressive in any way.

Some of them WERE very dangerous. But they learned that behaviour. They learned to behave more appropriately, just as readily. I often say, "Aggressive behaviours can be learned, un-learned, or never acquired in the first place."

Every dog on the face of this planet can (and should have been) properly socialized. They shouldn't be caged, chained, or otherwise isolated from society. The very concept of "stranger" versus "not a stranger" is a wholly learned concept. And the idea that a stranger is somohow a threat, is definitely an acquired perception.

Young puppies are completely trusting of everyone around them. Only through age and experience do they discover the need to either protect themselves or manipulate their environments.

I remember watching as one Caucasian Ovtcharka breeder claimed to be "testing" her puppies for the breed's (alleged) "inherent" aggressiveness.

She demonstrated what she does to "test" for this so-called "innate" quality. Yet her "test" was actually training...and it was as obvious as the nose on her face.

Starting at about 3 weeks, she would grab the puppies by the snout in a way that no dog would appreciate. Not one did anything but recoil the first or even second, maybe even third time (since they hadn't yet learned any truly aggressive behaviours). She would repeat it again and again, until each puppy would exhaust all its other coping mechanisms.

Eventually, each puppy would figure out that it had no choice but to see if using its teeth would get her to stop. When they did, the torment ended. The breeder then said this proved their inherent aggressiveness.

It didn't prove any such thing.

At best all it did was to teach the puppies that biting could be beneficial since, up to that point in puppy development, any hard bites had always been discouraged by the dam and littermates.

This "test" is not "proof" of an inherent quality. It is nothing more than rewarding a dog for behaving aggressively. People frequently "reward" their aggressive dogs with attention or simply their own compliance. Some actively reward their dogs' aggressive behaviours.

This woman tormented the puppies to the point they exhausted the few coping strategies they'd learned to date. When they finally resorted to using their teeth, they were rewarded. It doesn't get any more blatant than that. If they were "inherently" aggressive, they'd attack right away. None of them did. They had to learn that biting would end their torment.

That very same breeder goes on to say that, unless the breed is properly socialized out in public, with strange people and other dogs, they will become very territorial and aggressive around strangers.

Well...honestly...I don't know too many dogs who don't become territorial and wary of strangers if they've been isolated their whole lives. In psychology, we see it with badly reared children from time to time, as well. Children not well-socialized around strangers often become mistrustful and fearful of strangers. They lack the most basic social skills, which further isolates them from society. Had they just been raised properly...with positive social experiences...they'd develop into well-adjusted adults who know how to behave appropriately around others.

Rarely take your dog out in public and, when you do, be sure to yank its neck whenever approached by anyone. That's a sure fire way to develop a dog that has a negative association with strangers. Be sure to reward a dog that barks menacingly or lunges at strangers, by paying lots of attention it, maybe even pet it in the misguided belief you're going to "calm" it, or even throw it a treat (just to stop the barking, of course). These are excellent ways to encourage territorial behaviour. Try chaining your dog. Ancient ruins in Pompeii show even they knew the best way to make a dog aggressive, especially towards strangers, was to keep it isolated via a chain.

Not long ago, there was a little 'pit bull' that was going to be euthanized the next day, if I didn't agree to work with it. "She's terribly aggressive towards men," I was told.

I'll spare you the lengthy details of her simple, yet effective, training regime. All I need to say is six weeks later she was adopted by a man.

A year later, the man contacted me to say she was the perfect dog. He can't believe she was ever aggressive, and it seems he's still not convinced of her previous fear of men. (By about week-two of her training, I was also saying what a near-perfect dog she was. So I understand his enthusiasm.)

The corrollary of the fact that "every dog invovled in an unprovoked attack that I've investigated had a known history of aggression" is something I more commonly say:

"I've not found one responsibly-owned dog involved in an unprovoked attack, despite eight years of dog bite research."

Responsible dog owners properly socialize their dogs. They don't keep them caged, chained, or isolated from society. By properly socializing dogs, we teach them that virtually everyone they'll meet is not a threat to them in any way. They learn how to interact appropriately with people and other dogs. As a result, they don't react inappropriately, much less aggressively, when faced with perfectly harmless situations.

Marjorie said...

Oh, good grief. Anyone who knows me, knows "me so chatty". (blushing) I just can't shut the heck up when it's an issue I'm concerned about.

I've read and re-read what I wrote and I can shorten it SIGNIFICANTLY (!) by putting it this way:

Yes, I agree that owners bear the responsibility for supervising their dogs, whether they're known to be aggressive or not, at all times outside the home and with children. ...Especially with children.

But my main emphasis is on properly training and socializing all dogs, so they aren't a danger to anyone in the first place. The old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is applicable, in this case.

Responsibly-raised dogs just don't bite unprovoked. I always caution someone with years of experience working with very dangerous dogs...that the idea you'll be able to successfully manage an aggressive dog 100% of the time is, at best, an illusion.

Rather than relying on that pipe dream, they should, instead, work on the aggression problem itself. It is not difficult to solve aggression problems, but you have to know what you're doing (or have help from someone who does).

Every dog bite case I've researched proves that aggressive dogs find their victims. It also proves that dogs which aren't allowed to develop aggressive behaviours, simply don't bite unprovoked. Properly socialized dogs don't feel threatened in non-threatening situations. Properly raised dogs aren't practiced at aggressive behaviours.

Dog owners must ensure their dogs are not aggressive. Parents should teach their children to respect animals. Dog owners must supervise their dogs at all times outside the home and with children.

See? Even that was pretty long-winded. Sheesh!

Sam Basso said...

OK, I am sure you are probably good at the things you are saying you do. Let's start with that. However, you are making claims that you can't back up in the real world regarding aggression.

Your statement: "I often say, "Aggressive behaviours can be learned, un-learned, or never acquired in the first place."

If this is true, then you can tame any animal, and do something that no other trainer has ever been able to do. If your behavioral techniques are that good, then you can tame any lion, elephant, sea mammal, wasp, rattlesnake, or human.

The folks at Sea World learned that they had to reject a variety of species of sea mammals because they were so aggressive. Elephant handlers are killed every year. Hogs in a farm are extremely dangerous when you mess with their piglets. And animal tamers have been killed by lions, monkeys, bears, etc. because they triggered aggressive responses. Lastly, we have prisons full of sociopaths that must be incarcerated.

No behavioral science expert would, today, attribute all aggression purely to "nurture" vs. "nature". Go back and read Lorenz, Darwin and others concerning aggression and its functions in survival. You can't wipe that out with training and socializing.

I appreciate your posts here, just so you know.

Marjorie said...

Thanks...and no...that's not quite what I'm saying.

I'm not saying, nor have I ever said, I can eliminate all aggression in all creatures. ...Nor am I trying to do so.

Psychology defines aggression as "learned behaviour". We aren't born knowing that a fist precedes a punch or that the threat of a punch can get us something we want. Indeed, our parents decide whether they'll teach us violent or non-violent coping mechanisms. We see the results of various parenting decisions every day.

What I am discussing are domestic dogs, and how INAPPROPRIATE aggressive behaviour can be prevented, just as it can be prevented in children.

I would never fault any dog (or any child) for protecting itself or a pack member from actual harm. But the perception of what is a threat to a dog is learned. How it will defend itself, once a threat is perceived, is also learned.

For instance, put a porcupine in front of a puppy or a baby, and both will happily reach out and get stuck with quills. They have to learn what is a danger to them. It's not innate.

A dog or child with experience with porcupines, and who has learned some aggressive behaviours, has a choice to make, when faced with a porcupine. They can attack or they can flee. Most choose the non-violent approach when it comes to porcupines, for obvious reasons.

Even when a dog has learned some aggressive responses, it has to practice them, in order to be proficient at them.

Who do you think will do more damage with one bite, even in a justifiably threatening situation: My 8-year-old Great Dane who's never growled, much less attempted to bite, much much less successfully bitten any living creature; or a dog with a known history of aggression, especially one that threatens to bite regularly, especially one that has lots of practice using its teeth to get its way?

You know...I'm putting my money of the practiced dog.

As I said, personal experience and years of research shows dogs like mine just don't bite unprovoked. (And I seriously doubt her competency at biting even when justifiably threatened.) The dogs that bite are those who've both learned to behave aggressively, and are practiced at it.

Most creatures are capable of behaving aggressively in any number of situations. Aggressive behaviour is a necessary part of survival. But it's really no different in dogs than it is in humans. Behaving aggressively towards innocent individuals is inappropriate and unacceptable, whether we're talking about a dog or a person.

I don't want to get carried away writing another lengthy comment. (winking) I could post links to some articles I've written about the learning process for canine aggression, but the links are too long to fit into the comment section. Try this...

If you, or anyone, is interested, go to:

...with the following addresses after...




Or just go to the site map, for more on a number of related topics. (I'm not trying to divert traffic...just to better clarify.)