Friday, March 02, 2012

Dog That Killed Baby Put Down

Recently, a Husky killed a baby. Some animal advocates were saying that the dog should be allowed to live, arguing it was a tragic mistake, since there was no way of knowing if the dog meant to harm the baby or not. Others said the dog should be put down, saying that any time a dog killed a human, then the dog is vicious.

Like all animal lovers, I'm always torn when it comes to euthanasia. No rational person wants to go out and kill dogs. On the other hand, dogs that will attack and kill humans without provocation cannot be tolerated.

So, why did this dog kill this baby? No one will ever know. But, I do have a few theories:

1.) Incomplete Imprinting And Bonding: When we adopt dogs into human society, they imprint on humans as being part of their species. That is why they normally can live peacefully with us. We even do this with young colts, so that they are more easily handled and trained. That imprinting and bonding blocks certain types of aggression and predation instincts. On the other hand, no animal will ever imprint and bond to a human as closely as it would to an animal of its own species. Those differences can play a part in how that animal behaves. This is why all dog trainers emphasize that the best time to take a dog from it's mamma is at approximately 8 weeks of age, to maximize the best aspects of animal - human imprinting and bonding. We don't know the history of this dog, so we have no idea what happened during this critical period of the dog's puppyhood. However, if the dog wasn't properly socialized, then the dog would have less inhibition to attack a vulnerable human.

2.) Sometimes stressed animals kill their young, and even eat them. In the animal kingdom, there are numerous examples of adult parents killing, and even eating, their young during periods of stress. Many mammal species will do this. If this dog was experiencing enough of a stress, then this could have been a trigger for this behavior. Stresses can include medical problems, strife in the home, separation anxiety, or a thousand other things that can set a dog off. Another reason this happens is because the young are considered rivals, and that could be the case with a dog that is spoiled or too closely bonded with one of the adults. It could get jealous. Again, we just don't know enough about this dog or its home life to draw any conclusions. These folks may have done everything right.

3.) Some dogs have a screw loose. Some dogs become vicious over time because they aren't right in the head. Any dog trainer or veterinarian will tell you of dogs they have met that displayed idiopathic aggression. If this was the case here, then there was no outside trigger for the behavior. Something in this dog's brain snapped, and it attacked the nearest living thing. If this was the case, the dog could have just as easily attacked one of the adults at that moment. This could have been the first instance of the aggression, too.

4.) It could have been an accident. Dogs can get upset when they perceive a child is in trouble. I have run across a number of biting incidents where a dog grabbed a child because it "thought" the child was in danger. I know of 3 boys that were wrestling hard, and had pinned the youngest one under a pile. Their German Shepherd Dog ran over, grabbed the calf of the youngest one, and tried to drag him out from under the other boys. It was an accident. I also think this can happen with kids left in those seat devices that rock back and forth on the ground. I've met a dog that got very upset because it looked like the child was trapped or otherwise acting upset, so the dog tried to grab the infant. Once again, if the child was hurt, it could be an accident.

And there could be other reasons. In the end, we expect our dogs to be good with children. Even though I tell people that you should never leave a child under 10 years old unsupervised with a dog, we still demand a better safety margin from our dogs just in case our back is turned. I also recommend getting a good dog, and then properly socializing, supervising, containing, giving comfort, and giving good training to prevent tragedies.

Since there is no way we can risk now that this dog wouldn't kill again, then the prudent thing to do is to put the dog down. We know something triggered this behavior, but we don't know what it is, and there is no ethical way of testing this dog with another baby to determine the cause. It would also be unethical to breed any dog that had this behavioral propensity just in case it had a genetic root.

Safe practices and good breeding are the only defenses we have. Yet, even if we do everything right, the world isn't Disneyland perfect, and sometimes things will happen that defy explanation.

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