Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How would your dog react to a firefighter?

Three pit bulls were found inside a Pontiac home that caught fire on Sunday. Two of them were in cages and the firefighters were able to simply carry the cages outside. The third, however, was loose in the house. Read the full story here.
The third dog growled at firefighters. I’m sure it was intimidating to be the firefighter in that moment — standing in a burning house and facing off with an aggressive dog.
Firefighters are amazing guys, though. They weren’t deterred from saving the dog and instead used a pole with a hook at one end, sliding the hook under the dog’s collar and leading him outside.
I know it’s easy to jump on the pit-bulls-are-wretched-beasts bandwagon and say this another reason pit bulls need to be banned, but in reality, how would your own dog react — his house burning down around him, the smoke choking him and burning his esophagus, and then to see a big, scary, monster looking thing approaching him?
The dog is already scared — his house is burning! Now, out of the smoke appears something he has never before laid eyes on.
And let’s be clear about something: A dog is not going to immediately recognize a firefighter as a human.
Think about the suits that firefighters wear. They’re big and bulky and look nothing like normal clothes, the hats are also large and odd shaped, and oftentimes, masks are covering their faces.
Try to put yourself in your dog’s shoes. Whenever I try to do this, I think back to a scenario introduced to me in Culture Clash, my favorite dog behavior book. Let’s say that you are a pet to an alien on a different planet — the aliens don’t talk, but communicate telepathically. You can’t do this, so other than picking up on some visual clues, you can’t communicate with them or understand them. You know nothing about their culture and because of the communication barrier, you couldn’t even learn about it if you wanted to.
Now, let’s say your resting comfortably on the rug provided to you by the aliens when all the sudden, you smell something wretched. It starts getting hot. You catch sight of flames out of the corner of your eye. You check for your aliens, but they left a couple hours ago and aren’t back. You have no way to get outside without them letting you out.
Wouldn’t you be pretty terrified?
And then, there’s loud banging on the door — a terrible crashing sound. You have no idea what’s happening, the alien world could be ending for all you know. Suddenly, the door swings open and in walks some large being that you have never seen before.
“The world is ending, or maybe is something is coming after me,” you might think, but honestly, you don’t really have time to think about anything.
You’re in danger and you’re terrified. So what do you do? You try to protect yourself from this strange, threatening figure as best you can. You yell, you swing your fists, maybe you even try to bite.
Now does it make sense why dogs growl at firefighters?
Unfortunately, firefighters are not something we expose our dogs to. Many dogs go through their entire lives without ever seeing a single firefighter in uniform and while that might be a good thing because it means your house has never caught fire, it also poses a serious question: how would your dog react if your house did catch on fire? Would he fight the firefighters? Run and hide from them? Could he die in the fire because of his fear of the firefighters?
The good news is, fire departments in Oakland County often host open houses at least once if not twice or more a year. This is an opportune time to introduce your dog to firefighters in a positive setting and teach your dog that there is nothing to be scared of.
You could even call your local fire department and ask if it’d be OK if you stopped by one day with your dog and had a fireman in suit give him some treats.
My guess is that firemen understand that dogs are distressed during house fires and react poorly to their advances to save them. Having your dog feel comfortable around firefighters makes their job easier and God knows there’s few jobs out there as tough as being a firefighter. Whatever we can do to make it easier for them save lives, including the lives our beloved dogs, is a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative and lots of good points. I would hope the fire departments would be open to being introduced to pets. I loved your comparisons so that anyone could see how scared your pet maybe in a fire! Thanks, June/Oxford