It was a beautiful fall day and a 3 year old little girl asked her aunt if she could go out to swing on the swing set. Her aunt told her yes and reminded her to put on a jacket. The little girl was so excited, she hastily threw on her jacket, flung open the storm door, jumped down onto the stoop, and landed directly on the tail of the family’s Labrador Retriever.
Jake awoke surprised and in pain, turned lightning quick to defend himself, and grabbed the little girl by the throat. When he realized who it was he released her, lowered his head to the side and gave a low tail wag, but the damage was already done.
The little girl went running back into the house crying that Jake had bitten her. Her aunt called on her way to the kitchen from the other room, “Honey, Jake would never bite you, he loves you!” Then she saw the blood pouring down the girl’s neck. The little girl was taken to the emergency room for stitches, Jake was taken out in the woods and shot.
Things I know to be true 28 years after the incident:
1. That girl still feels her heart stutter any time she meets a black Lab.
2. Despite being bitten, she grew up to work with, and love, dogs.
3. There is not a time that I think of this incident and don’t feel responsible and so very guilty for Jake’s death.
When my mother spoke with the E.R. doctor that stitched me up he told her that he saw more bites by Labs than German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, etc. And my mom’s response was, but I thought they were good family dogs? (We’ll come back to this.)
Dogs have teeth. All dogs bite. They may not bite people, but they bite other things, they bite food, they bite toys, treats, and sticks. They explore their world by mouthing things as puppies. If raised properly they learn what is acceptable to put their mouths on, and what is not.
Sadly for dogs, people forget this. They form prejudices against certain breeds of dogs. When I got my first German Shepherd my parents were horrified. “Take her back, she’s going to bite people,” and “She’ll turn on you,” were things I heard, not just from them, but from a few other people I knew. Anyone who knew my Heidi would laugh at this now. She was one of the sweetest, most gentle dogs to ever walk the earth.
Now it seems the “pit bulls” are the target breed to hate. I often hear, “You can’t trust them, they’ll turn on you,” sound familiar? The fact is that there is no “pit bull,” the dogs often misidentified as such can be American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers, American Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, and many mixes that are unrelated. (Click here to see if you can identify the breeds correctly: findtheAPBT)
Many people who try to prove that “pit bulls” are inherently dangerous will site dogsbite.org, an anti-pit bull propaganda website. The site if full of misinformation and hatred. If you want scientifically accurate research on dog aggression, you can read a thorough study here: http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(08)00114-7/abstract
Here’s a tidbit from the study if you don’t want to read the whole thing: Breeds with the greatest percentage of dogs exhibiting serious aggression (bites or bite attempts) toward humans included Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers (toward strangers and owners)…
Why don’t we hear stories in the news about vicious attacks from these breeds? They often go unreported, and because of the size of the dogs, do considerably less damage than a larger dog would do.
Want more evidence from a reputable source? Check out the official position statement on breed specific legislation from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
The CDC doesn’t even keep track of the breeds of dogs that bite anymore because of the problems correctly identifying breeds, they are instead more interested in what caused the dog to bite. Which is what everyone should be interested in!
Many dog bites come from dogs who are chained, under-socialized, and/or in pain/ill. Many more come from dogs who are unsupervised.
Which brings me back to “But I thought they were good family dogs?” Any dog, no matter how good, how loving, how sweet, how tolerant, can only take so much.
Let’s say you let me sit on you, you don’t enjoy it, because I’m kind of heavy, but you tolerate it because you like me. How many times would you let me pull your hair and poke you in the eye before you slapped my hand away? You’re already uncomfortable, and now I’m hurting you, so I think chances are, you won’t allow me many pokes. A dog can’t slap the toddler’s hand away, so he may growl, or snarl, if the parent and the little one don’t heed those warnings, the dog may feel his only option left is to bite. Whose fault is it? The toddler shouldn’t poke the dog, certainly, but why didn’t the parent intervene? Dogs and children should never be left unsupervised. EVER. And being in the same room doesn’t always count as supervision. If a dog seems stressed (panting when it isn’t warm, excessive yawning, lip licking, ears back) they should be removed from the situation to a quiet place where they can feel safe.
For more (wonderful) information on dog and child safety, what to look for in the dog’s body language, and some great material for the kids too, check out www.doggonesafe.com
Working as a dog trainer, and volunteering with rescue, I have worked with a lot of dogs, hundreds of different breeds, many who showed aggressive behavior. When you work with “aggressive” dogs, you’re going to eventually receive a bite (or more). Not once have I been bitten by a pit bull type dog, not a Rottweiler, a Chow Chow, a German Shepherd, or an Akita. I have been bitten though, by 2 miniature Dachshunds, 2 Pomeranians, 1 Bichon Frise, 1 Maltese, 1 Chihuahua, 2 Beagles, a Great Dane/Shepherd mix, and had scary close calls with a mastiff mix, a Bernese Mountain Dog mix, and a Great Pyrenees. (I’ve had many more dogs snap at me, but these were the ones that made contact, or came close to it.) My point? Any dog can bite. ANY DOG CAN BITE. It’s our job as humans to prevent it from happening.