Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Untold Story of The Dog

I just read a recent news story titled "Las Vegas Family Dog Kills Baby"and it makes me sad.Yes, the story is tragic and I feel bad for the baby, and the family for their loss, but I am even more sad about the untold story here: the story of the dog.
As we all know, thousands of years ago dogs were domesticated. Humans took them into our lives and our homes, we bred them for what we wanted and needed, and as such they are completely reliant on us in our human society of suburban homes and swimming pools and parks and traffic and laws that they cannot even comprehend. There is a truth about dogs that I feel people overlook: we must take all responsibility for them, their actions, their behavior, the consequences of everything they do. If you take a dog into your home, from that moment on that animal is YOUR responsibility.
So, they say the family dog had never done this before, so they say that that dog and that baby were friends of sorts, but they take this at face value from the family. It is easier to say, "It just happened" than to take the blame for it. Perhaps the family was ignorant of dog behavior and dog training. It is possible to not know Fido as well as you'd like to think. Having a dog means having a relationship with that dog, and relationships take work. You don't just take your brand new puppy home and expect him to be that perfectly behaved pooch you've always wanted. But being ignorant is no excuse, it is still your responsibility as an owner to educate yourself of everything about your dog. People too often get pets without realizing what it really takes. These are no toys that we are taking home, they are living breathing animals with complex behavior!
The family's description of the dog is no sufficient history for this dog. Where did they get the dog? How desensitized was the dog to the baby? What kind of training methods did they use? No one asked these questions for the dog, whose humans abandoned him for a mistake he made... and now he will die.
I am not claiming to know what the family did to and for the dog, or to know why the dog did what he did, in the end all I want is for people to see that if we don't start asking questions, animals will suffer. What will anyone gain from this tragic news story? A fear of mastiffs? How helpful is that to the world when we could take home a lesson on behavior, training and the human-dog relationship?
Perhaps we should look deeper into our "best friends" rather than taking them for granted.When I showed this story to my good friend (and if you read her blog you can see that she is deeply interested in dog behavior and is also VERY well-read on the subject), Dogert, she shared her opinion on the subject:
"There are ALWAYS signs. Always. Even if there is an underlying medical condition there are signs that are either being forgotten by those who don't care enough to record and inquire, or ignored.
The scenario most common to dog attacks is this: dog and child are "playing" and dog gets tired so gives a tiny warning growl. This is what dogs do, they communicate. Parents take this as a sign of aggression and scold the dog. Now, dog thinks of the child as causing bad things to happen, and unsafe because his people won't protect him from the stressful baby. So dog suppresses his communication and leaves when things get stressful. However, baby starts becoming mobile and no longer can dog escape so easily. What is the dog supposed to do? Sit there and take the abuse from a pulling pinching hitting child all day long? Dog thinks he has to protect himself. Ironically, this dog is a bully breed relative. Such breeds have temperaments specific to be tolerant towards humans. Again, there were signs. There were probably lots of signs. They were either ignored, forgotten in the tragedy or through neglect, or the owners didn't bother to do anything to learn what their dog was saying.
Second issue appears that this dog had no bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is obtained when a puppy plays with other puppies and learns to control puppy's mouth. Teeth are sharp so when puppy bites siblings or parents they squeal and stop playing. This is no fun, so puppy learns not to bite so hard. Bite inhibition is often destroyed by well meaning but ignorant owners who scold their puppy for biting. This teaches a dog to suppress opening it's mouth in the first place, but does nothing to teach the pup that its teeth hurt, which is the reason. In more mouthy puppies, such constant scolding can cause the puppy to become defensive or simply confused as to the humans behavior, and encourage a lack of trust. Puppies taken away from their parents too soon also develop limited bite inhibition, which can be encouraged by the intelligent owner but there is no substitute for a mom and siblings communicating in your own language.
It all comes back to the parents. They fostered a house of ignorance and mistrust. They did not look for or see the signs. Their child's death is tragic, but their own fault. Perhaps next time (if) they get a dog they will not be so negligent. Personally this kind of thing happens so often, I do not find the human-dog relationship to be so often loving and happy as propaganda implies."


  1. Did you hear about the shepherd who was put down by the law because it jumped on and scratched a burglar? Not even a bite and it was still deemed vicious, we live in a cruel society.

  2. WOW- what a sad story! I had a mastiff myself- and she was really ...weird. When she became aggressive it was out of the blue without a sound/growl or hint of body language. I socialized her to death but had to relent in not take her places because she would play with a dog for hours then suddenly grab it and try to shake it...much like the poor babe in the article. I finally gave her to my parents as they lived in a VERY secluded mountain home where Elsa would never have to deal with dogs or kids. She lived out her life fat and happy, although she did try to kill my Dane when I visited once. It was so fast, and they had lived together for years- but I was walking them in the woods and she just calmly grabbed my danes face and tossed her around like a doll. Needless to say I will never own another mastiff. I worked with the rescue and had much the same behavior from other mastiffs and breeds of mastiff. But then again ....they gave the dog high energy type toys, in relation to the baby- have to wonder - did this dog 'kill' squeaky toys? Was the kid in that outfit on the article, looking a lot like a toy himself?