Dangerous Dog Diatribe Part III: The Circumstances That Surround Fatal or Injurious Dog Incidents

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Unfortunately people only hear about the sensational and terrorizing aspects of dog incidents that result in injury or fatality. As with any news story or myth, there are facts and factors left out for effect. It is this news, based on partial information, slanted to be sensational, coupled with word of mouth myth making that leads to any breed getting an unfair reputation. The over-representation of the negative in the media is what causes people to fear a breed. We’ve seen this throughout history. In addition, if at any point in time a certain breed of dog is used for intimidating or negative functions such as guarding / protection or fighting, it is the type of dog most represented in the news; we saw this with the Doberman in the 1970s.


The fact and the factors of fatal or injurious dog incidents:


The following is a list of circumstances that have surrounded the majority of fatal and injurious dog incidents in the USA for the past forty years and most likely prior to the aforementioned timeline.


1 – Function of the Dog: The dog is used for a function other than a companion animal (fighting/ guarding/breeding/protection) combined with owner negligence by way of cruelty, ignorance, or not seeking professional humane help with the dog or irresponsible dog owners / people in charge of the dog.


2 – More than one dog involved – multiple dogs feed off of each other and are more likely to be involved in an attack than a single dog.


3 – Dogs are not spayed or neutered.


4 – Children and dogs left unsupervised or children are met by roaming dogs.


The following sub category is something I call Cultural Disconnects:


Cultural Disconnects are things people perceive as tradition or culture but are in fact messy interpretations of the culture. These people who immerse themselves in the culture of dog fighting or the use of Pit Bull “type” dogs for protection / image / guarding illegal activities are the invisible cause for many incidents. I say it is invisible because it seems the press and those who look to ban dogs leave it out of the equation.  


In the late 70s early 80s many people began using  “Pit Bull Type” dogs for means other than family pets. Traditionally, the toughness in the “pit” or the gameness against other dogs is not to be directed towards humans. It never has been by the true responsible breeders of Pit Bulls or other “bully breeds” or any working “bulldog”. It is in complete opposition to the agenda of the Pit Bull lineage as it was meant to be; it is ignorance that flies in the face of the intrinsic human friendly temperament of the Pit Bull.


Anyone who would breed or “train” a Pit Bull type dog to be aggressive towards humans is negligent. They are also using the wrong breed for human directed aggression simply because it was just about bred out of the Pit Bull for the purpose of the human’s safety in hectic situations.


This human aggression that appears in some Pit Bulls traditionally was rare, and selected against genetically (yes there were anomalies) to ensure the safety of handlers of working dogs or fight dogs. Responsible breeders culled any dog that showed signs of aggression towards humans.


Pit Bulls are working dogs; and they would be required to be in hectic and highly stimulated contexts, bull herding and hog catching and other forms of farm work. The handler of Pit Bull dogs could not afford to be hurt, as he or she was also working alongside the dogs. Many of these working dogs also held rank as family pet. Even if one attempted to transfer the breeding from a dog-aggressive line to a people-aggressive line, which in the well-bred Pit Bull of yesteryear was bred out and never “trained for”, it would not work out too well. By their very nature Pit Bulls are genetically predisposed to be people-friendly. They have not earned the nickname 60 lb lap dog without reason.
Pit Bulls are not naturally suspicious of people. Traditionally people wanted Pit Bulls and bully breeds for their naturally affable temperament and their hearty work ethic. Pit Bulls historically are not guard dogs. They may act like a guard dog and bark if people approach, but most dogs do that. Remember it is a short list of expressions that nature has bestowed on the dog, barking is pretty much at the top of its repertoire. Will a Pit Bull dog defend against intruders? Sure, though most dogs do this. However it is not a spooky or suspicious breed such as the German Sheppard Dog, Akita, or Poodle breeds.


Ok, I know some are thinking what about the dog fighting? The old school dog fighters and any smart “dog man” would never want a dog to redirect a bite when handling a dog in a match, pretty simple logic. From what I have found in my research many of the traditional “dog men” would treat and train their dogs with the utmost care and concern, especially training and modifying the dog’s behavior around people and children.


Remember the dogfight men of yore most likely held a day job and did this “activity” on weekends etc. The professionals of yesteryear that fought dogs full-time also needed their dogs well mannered around all people as they usually had their dogs around family and friends and around the general public at events.


Keep in mind that dogs have incredible abilities to discriminate and they are poor at generalizing. So it is entirely possible if done correctly; a dog could associate his dog aggression only to the context of the “pit” and only to dogs in that context. I am not condoning or praising the old school dog fighters, what I am saying is that animal learning theory and science provide a window into why a dog can be aggressive in an exact well-defined context and not aggressive in general. Of course if you have a poorly bred dog of any breed and keep it isolated and abuse it will be fearful and unstable and most likely only associate anything good at all to its sole handler; thus making a dog like this unstable and dangerous to the general public. 



“Dog aggression does not bleed over into human aggression” as Jean Donaldson detailed for me in an interview for my upcoming documentary film Judging the Innocent. “Human aggression in Pit Bulls is a fault whether bred in or trained in”, Diane Jessup said in her interview for the documentary.


Jessup also went onto say, “one has to do quite a bit of cruel ‘training’ in order to make a well bred Pit Bull suspicious of people”.


I have yet to find anyone in the pantheon of respected and credentialed dog behaviorists and trainers, or anyone with respected knowledge of pit bull history and advocacy that says Pit Bulls are traditionally known for aggression towards humans. Anyone who has looked into the breed’s history has found this human loving quality to be fact, not opinion, and the human aggression to be an anomaly and not typical of the breed.


It’s like saying motor cycles are good under water because you saw it at the circus. It happened, but it is not the norm. Are there poorly bred Pit Bulls? Pit Bulls trained to be aggressive to people and act as a guard dog? Unfortunately yes. Just as humans are responsible for breeding champion milking cows, growing prize-winning tomatoes, or raising children to do well in school or sports, people are also responsible for dogs and how they develop.


In the list of four circumstances that are part of the vast majority of fatal dog incidents, the human component is at the heart of it. Those who want to blame the dog or the “breed” are free to do so. However you are wrong and barking up the wrong tree. It is a tall order to expect a dog to intellectually navigate the complex stimuli of people and the world; it is just downright laughable actually. I am not being condescending in the least. I am just amazed at the incredible lack of common sense some people display when it comes to something as familiar as the canine.
Humans barely have a grasp on each other’s inner workings, let alone mastering a dog's mind with it's limited repertoire of expressions. Those who read too far into canine myths whether they are about “training”, behavior or canine dangerousness et al… are really playing in “the earth is flat” paradigm; especially when we’ve got the facts laid out right in front of us.


Dogs are pretty well understood, scientifically speaking. This is due partially to the partially unexplainable and wondrous mysteries of legendary compatibility with humans and plausible historic knowledge based in actuality. Of course we’ve also got good old Pavlov and Skinner. Fast forward to the now, at the touch of a send button we have the ability to put proper humane advice and correct behavioral information into the hands of everyone from the computer of many organizations to millions of people both who own dogs and perhaps people who do not have a dog but are afraid of them.


Fatal Dog Incidents – Circumstances In Depth


1 – Function of The Dog - Negligent or irresponsible dog owners or caretakers. This is number one because it is at the heart of all fatal dog incidents. Be it improper or neglected dog training, breeding for aggression, using dogs for intimidating or negative functions such as protection / guarding or fighting. Many fatal dog incidents show clear negligence of dogs that are chained / kenneled / fenced constantly. This would make any dog aggressive and extremely frustrated and feeling unsafe about the world at large. Combine this with cruel “training” and we see the perfect storm brewing. All of these scenarios are the results of humans failing to do the humane and proper thing.


2 – More than one dog involved. Between 1966 – 2005 35% of all fatal dog incidents involved more than one dog. It is no surprise that when dogs get together the energy level goes up. We all love to watch a bunch of dogs play. However if there are multiple dogs together and they are roaming or have been cooped up via chain or fence and they are not being properly managed and trained they will be twice the menace when they get loose or come into contact with a person entering the home or property. Dogs feed off each other’s energy, especially in times of stress, fear, or aggression. Many dogs will simply join in.


A note about the “pack” theory as it relates to dogs:


Ray & Lorna Coppinger challenge the “dogs are pack animals” theory. The Coppingers studied the life of dogs around the world for over 40 years and they have concluded that dogs are opportunists in so far as they will gang up and work together. Dogs basically figured out humans are a good source of survival. Dogs do what works for their benefit. Doing what works is usually related to some form of survival or carrying on their genes.


Now I know this flies in the face of Disney mentality and folklore, but it is true. It is not a fault, so please don’t go thinking dogs are any “less than” you expected them to be. Remember while it is theorized that dogs descended from wolves, it is not proven. Wolves are pack animals; dogs are not.


Dogs have poor impulse control and when you have multiple dogs that have no guidance it will, at some point. go awry.


3 – Dogs are not spayed or neutered. From 2000 – 2005 92% of all canine related fatalities to humans were from dogs not spayed or neutered. One of the most high profile cases was the Fabish case in San Francisco. Both dogs involved were intact and had shown aggressive behavior in the past. Dogs get “touchy” and emotional when they are in heat and when they mate. Dogs become protective of litters and resources when either pregnant or nursing. Un-neutered males have been theorized to have more aggression due to testosterone. (The Fabish case has all 4 of the circumstances listed here.)


4 – Children and dogs left unsupervised. From 1965 – 2001 there were 90 fatal incidents (less than 100 in a 36 year period) involving Pit Bull “type” dogs; 58 of these incidents are the direct result of dog owner negligence. 50 of the incidents are due to parental negligence.


Children who find themselves faced with an unsupervised dog and kids who jump fences to get balls etc are in danger…this is where parents need to properly get educated then pass that education to the kids. Obviously there is some crossover of criteria for number 4. One thing you will find when you look into any dog-related fatality or serious injury; a perfect storm of avoidable circumstances that leads to the attack.


The occurrence of the four circumstances above combined with the Cultural Disconnect and unfair media bias are what I believe has led to the Pit Bull being so unfairly maligned. When the media reports on dog incidents where injury or death are involved they owe it to the millions of innocent dogs and dog owners to get it right. The media at one time was much more understanding and logical about dogs.


Let’s consider these two headlines to actual newspaper stories.


·        Family Pit Bull Mauls Tot to Death – actual headline
·        Abused & Chained Dog Kills Toddler – the actual story

Or consider this….

·        Rottweilers Attack, Kill Toddler – headline
·        Uncle’s Chained Guard Dogs Kills Girl - truth

In both of these cases the dog was not a “family” pet as was reported. In both cases the dog was a resident dog. Resident dog means it was not a member of the family. It was there for the function of guarding, breeding, hoarding, or somehow fell through the cracks and was left to fend for itself. Both dogs in these incidents had been terribly mistreated and neglected. Fortunately we live in the 21st century where you can chase down facts and find out the real truth behind dog-related injuries and fatalities. That the news media does not do this is unconscionable.


Humane approaches to dog behavior and training can be supplied. Perhaps the Vick case illuminated the extremes of dog fighting to good effect and has dissuaded people from going in that direction in the future. Education is most expensive when it is ignored or forgotten. Sadly the Pit Bull is a victim of our collective failings.


Advocacy is not just for Pit Bulls


Pit Bull advocacy is not just for the stoic non-profits or other groups that rescue Pit Bulls. Pit Bull advocacy is the job of all intelligent dog owners because any dog can be next in the euthanasia cross hairs of BSL proponents. I spoke with an insurance agent last year and she said Chihuahuas are on the list at some insurance companies! Remember breed prejudice is a slippery slope; and there are certain machinations hard at work to make the dog owner pay a tax simply for owning a dog.


This is not a fight Pit Bull owners and advocates should fight alone. The reality is people will make stuff up both for and against dogs. This making up of myth, haphazardly combining folk wisdom and science has led us to this point. Assuredly the Pit Bull will lead the charge for doggie rights and canine truth.


After all what a perfect breed for the task. Teaching toughness is not always a doorway to violence, showing that kindness is a better tool to disarm than subjugation by way of dominance or force is tantamount to better dog human interactions. This is something the Pit Bull dog can teach us and is something all compassionate people are able to understand.


It is no surprise that the Pit Bull crept its way into our political landscape this election year. There the Pit Bull stood; metaphorically used for its legendary toughness (albeit like a neophyte poet’s use of moon and June), laughing went the crowd this time, no fear of the breed in the media, now the people wanted the Pit Bull for its reputation of toughness.


We see American suburban moms with shirts proudly proclaiming to be “Palin’s Pit Bulls”, how ironic. The Pit Bull was front and center once again and finally lauded for both its humor and its courage. Pit Bull advocates I suppose were left comforted by the jokes about the pig and the lipstick that soon followed, again the Pit Bull made it through the media machine without malice! Finally the Pit Bull could sit sidelined and watch as another animal was used for degrading metaphors. I just hope that the pigs and their advocates do not feel too bad, as humans sometimes have the ability to take advantage of those less fortunate or uninformed.

References:

The Working Pit Bull – Diane Jessup TFH Publishing

Fully Bully Magazine – Article by Diane Jessup “The Absolute Importance of Type”

Colby’s Book of the American Pit Bull Terrier TFH Publishing

The Pit Bull Placebo – Karen Delise Anibus Press

http://www.workingdogweb.com/Coppinger.htm#INTERVIEW

http://www.abc.net.au/animals/program1/transcript1.htm

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8342851/

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/06/12/MNGJND7G5...

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/06/04/MNGCUD3O6...

Personal Interviews with Jean Donaldson & Diane Jessup conducted for the documentary film “Judging The Innocent”. (K9 SON MEDIA)

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