Friday, September 25, 2009

Culture at fault

Reading the article about the 3-year-old Waterford Township girl mauled by an American Bulldog staying temporarily at her family's home has compelled me to make a few points here.
First, let's understand that this is not a breed banned by Waterford Township's pit bull ban. The reason: it is not a pit bull.
It is a breed — one of many, in fact — commonly mistaken for a pit bull, simply because it is a large, powerful and often menacing looking dog.
I will not rip apart any dog breeds in this blog.
The problem in this situation, the reason this mauling occurred, I believe, comes back to popular beliefs about canine behavior.
Dogs are supposed to please us, some dogs have a natural instinct to attack, but most dogs are just good dogs — unless it's a pit bull, of course — and we don't have to worry about good dogs misbehaving.
It's all untrue, and if we humans would take responsibility to go beyond the myths we've been told about dogs and actually learn a thing or two about canine behavior, most maulings could be totally circumvented.
I wrote a blog, a while back, about how dogs lack the ability to generalize. This means, two identical objects, like a sofa set, for instance, can be completely different in a dog's mind.
Everything is this way to a dog. Every person is different — your dog is not thinking, "Everyone under 4 foot tall is a kid, everyone else is an adult."
Every situation is different to a dog. Your dog might sit perfectly on command for you in the living room, but how about at the dog park or even just in the backyard?
And, every dog is different. There are internal, inherent factors that go into making a dog's personality just as much as its environment and experiences do.
One thing remains the same for all dogs, however, and that is the imperative need for proper socialization starting from the time the dog is born, most important through the time the dog is about four to six months, and important to maintain throughout the life of the dog.
Dogs need to be introduced to all facets of human life it will encounter in order for it to be successfully well-balanced dog.
If you don't have kids, this means taking your puppy out to parks where it can meet kids and taking extra measures, like bringing along treats and asking the kids to give them to your dog, to ensure that new experiences are wholly positive.
Millions of dogs out there, who have not been raised with young children, are not used to kid's tugging and poking at them or simply hanging all over them, invading their personal space.
If you know your dog has not experienced this before and it is now an adult dog, it is simply risky to let a kid do so.
Don't put your dog in situations that it has not been proofed against.
But even so, if we as a culture made an attempt to learn about canine behavior, we would see warning signs and could circumvent such maulings.
For instance, did the dog turn it's head away from the kid, then maybe scoot its butt a bit so it was facing away from the kid?
Did the dog walk away from the kid? Did it sniff the ground for no apparent reason? Was it yawning a lot?
All of these are early indicators that the dog is uncomfortable.
Sure, you may see a growl or snarl, the dog showing it's teeth, but that's not always protocol.
A dog can go from yawning to biting in a split second and to write it off as, "the dog must have had a thirst for blood," or, "that's a bad dog, kill it" is just ridiculous.
Dogs are always communicating to us, we just rarely hear what they're saying because we, as a society, think learning about canine behavior is some sort of "doggie pyscho-babble."
I assume that in the situation with this recent mauling, it was a mixture of both a lack of socialization and a lack of knowledge about canine behavior that allowed for this attack to take place.
Perhaps the dog was really great with kids, but was tired and wanted some space. Perhaps the dog was trying to communicate this and no one had the knowledge of canine behavior to realize that the dog's frequent yawns or other small body language communications was its way of saying, "I want to be left alone for a bit, please."
And then, when the "please" communications didn't work, the dog did what dogs do — it bit. It's like dog's way of yelling.
So what's really at fault? It's not the dog's fault no one knew what it was saying, it's definitely not the kid's fault, and it's barely the adults' fault.
It was not necessarily the fault of bad dog owners, bad parenting, a bad kid or even a bad dog, but probably just miscommunication (between dog and human) gone wrong.
I put culture at fault, because until we as a culture begin to realize that a little scientifically proven knowledge about canine behavior might be useful and is not just psycho-babble, we will continue to allow popular myths and old adages guide us in raising dogs. We will keep passing on that ill-fated knowledge to our children, and them to their children.
We call the dog man's best friend, but we're not holding up our end of the bargain. If I were a dog, I'd be pretty mad that we humans aren't living up to that "best friend" title.


  1. (Applause!!!!)

    Way to go Karen! That was so very well-put. One cannot fault the dog for being a dog--especially if the dog was communicating and the owner didn't know the language...

  2. If the most popular breeds in America are Retrievers, Shepherds, and beagles why are the majority of dog related mauling deaths blamed on pitbulls, bulldogs and the mixes?
    You say: stay away from all dogs but the truth is not all dog breads are as dangerous as others. Are you are truly unaware that certain dog breeds are more likely than others to do harm to humans?