Today we have heard of a dog attack that has resulted in a “Woman Killed by dog in Canberra”, a man injured and Police having to shoot the dog dead to contain the threat.
Amongst all the angst of dog lovers the country wide going through, the ranges of emotions that come when a dog is involved in an incident like this, there have been several news articles from, I am sure well meaning but largely inexperienced journalists.
It is true that when such an event takes place, the iron is hot so it is a must to get the article out fast, facts aside.
There are a number of ways that we can reduce these problems, and it is not to: –
- Limit what breeds we can own
- Restrict certain breeds from being bred or being kept as pets
- Feel that only dogs of certain sizes are safe as they cannot kill us
I feel the number one problem we have in Australia is our lack of commitment to raise, train and or manage our dogs effectively.
Australia as a nation loves dogs, we have approximately 4 million (registered) dogs and most of us want the best for our dogs. What is “best for them” though is not always actually best for them or others.
In one article I read it stated a few things I would like look at with some detail.
- 13000 people each year are admitted to emergency departments after suffering dog bites.
This may be true but when you accumulate how many of anything happens per year it allows you to really punch home the effect of your argument.
So let’s say that as dogs are biting 13000 people per year requiring hospital treatment, I guess the answer would be to get rid of dogs?
Well before we up and do that, 40 000 to 50 000 people are involved in Motor Vehicle accidents in Australia each year, so we should start with the very dangerous car right?
Well it seems not because in every attempt to reduce this number we are told that we need to focus on the cause of the accident!
Whether it be alcohol, fatigue, road conditions, bad driver education or what ever we are not so focussed on the “vehicle” but on the way we can make road travel safer.
- Burkes Backyard conducted a study and found that a number of breeds were more likely to bite than others.
I am not sure that a “Gardener” is the right place to get your research from and base an article on anything but gardens.
- Small dogs cannot kill you so they are no risk.
A bite on the face of a child leaving a scar both physically and emotionally is a very serious problem, and small dogs can do this just as easily as large dogs.
- These attacks only occur due to poor temperament or poor training.
Well, no, not really. Certainly some do, some from other reasons and some are just plain accidents, one offs, bad management, bad understanding of what “poor” training is and what “good” training is.
Even many breeders do not know what a good or bad temperament is, but the MAJORITY I believe come from owners who do not set effective rules, boundaries and management strategies.
I touched above on what I feel a major issue is and that is due to the love we have for our pets, we want the best for them. What many deem to be the best may compromise others and their safety.
A REAL problem that we have is that people will allow their dogs to rush and greet people or dogs both on a off leash and have very little to no control over this behaviour.
This IS a major contributor of dog problems in Australia and whilst this would not have changed the outcome of today’s dog attack fatality, or our latestest headline “Woman Killed by dog in Canberra“, dogs killing people is a very rare thing, but getting into fights, biting nipping, jumping on, harassing etc is at epidemic levels.
Almost every responsible dog owner I have ever met will jump to agree with me here and I will guarantee you that the many of the dogs that are killing people are 100% in the not enough rules, boundaries and management category.
I take dogs out frequently to train them in real world environments, beaches, parks and even just walking down the street. It is very common to encounter off leash dogs racing up to me being followed by the sound of the owners voice “it’s ok, he is friendly!“.
Whether he is friendly is really not the problem, and they are not actually saying “he is friendly“, that is code for “he won’t come when I call him“.
So what happens when I am walking with a person who is frightened, phobic or allergic to dogs? What happens when I am walking a dog that is going through rehab and the dog I am walking is fine to be around other dogs, but is not quite at the point where he will accept other dogs jumping on him, racing up to his face or forcing him to play?
Now if you ask the people with the off leash “he’s friendly dog” to put him on leash, they get very angry because their dog: –
- Likes to run off leash
- Likes to approach all the dogs he sees
- Likes to play
- AND they have been told off by so many people, THEY are now angry.
Whether any or all of those behaviours upset the other person or their dog is too bad.
How about when you go to people’s homes and when they open the door, their dog meets you and is barking and they usher you inside saying “oh ignore him and he will stop“.
This means that these people are trying to train and manage every visitor they have on how to survive their dog, RATHER THAT TRAIN THE DOG!
Many times when I say train the dog I get “but if I stop him barking he won’t protect me if someone breaks in“.
Me: “How many times have you been broken into in the last 5 years in which the dog needed to act?“
Dog owner: “well none“.
Me: “How many times has been allowed to bark at guests?“
Dog owner: “10000000000000000000“…
We as a nation have so much value for our dog, his freedoms and behaviours that it constantly compromises everyone else.
Rules, boundaries, management and trust is the only way forward.
Rules: This is basically training and preventing some activities that lead to problems, EVEN IF YOUR DOG LIKES THEM. The training must be effective, meaning, when you say sit, come, down etc, that is what happens even under distraction.
Boundaries: Preventing access to behaviours or things that have no benefit to you AND others, EVEN IF YOUR DOG LIKES THEM. Teaching a dog that when the door bell rings, he should stay on his bed or in his dog crate whilst you attend the door is placing a boundary around the door and keeping the dog outside that boundary.
I am certain of someone attacked you at the door, 99.9% of dog owners will not be so successful at teaching their dog to stay on their bed that he will not come to your aid, if he would have before…
Management: People feel that they will just tell their dog to stop a behaviour and their dog will. They are wrong, and even if they were right, you would end up being the person that said “no” to your dog every time he went to do something he wanted.
A leash, long line, muzzle, crate, bed, fence, dog run and even TRAINING are all forms of management and they are great for managing your dogs access to things he is not yet trained to deal with or that you are not there to give him instruction on how to deal with it.
Trust: Trust is not the blind faith that because you love your dog and he has not bitten you that he will not bite anyone or anything. Trust is an incremental slate that I would start with zero trust and throughout the times I interact with the dog, his behaviours determine how much trust he earns.
The amount of trust I have in him determines how much freedom he has.
Imagine that most people start by allocating 100% trust and 100% freedom and someone suffers…
If my dog is not getting enough freedom, this means he has not earned enough trust, this means he needs more training. It is a simple equation.
Where people go wrong is feeling that freedom without effective control is ok. It is not, it is in fact illegal also and a dog that is off leash and not under effective control can see the owner fined, the problem is that this law is not enforced enough.
Banning dog breeds has been proven in many countries to be ineffective, training has never been proven to be anything less than effective.
Our business is presented with the most aggressive dogs most people will ever see, every week. We get sent dogs other trainers just will not touch. We are not covered in bites, regular visitors at the emergency department and dogs do not hurt each other here.
* They are assessed and tested on arrival so we can see and test their behaviours and reactions to stimulus.
* They are effectively (over) managed when we are not directly supervising, training, or exercising them.
* They are given no trust or freedom or access to other people or dogs until they prove multiple times that they have earned trust.
* They are educated on how to behave, what to do in what circumstances and they are taught to regulate their emotions.
So this means that they do not have the opportunities to display behaviours based on temperament, history, education or the lack of and or instinct or breed related behaviours.
When they have gone through our program, we teach owners to understand their dogs and apply the same rules, boundaries, management and trust system that we have here, and the problems in most cases go away.
In the cases that they don’t we work with the owners as long as they will work with us to resolve the problem but in every cases, every dog has gone home significantly better, safer and less problematic.
This system is applied to every dog, regardless of what size it is or its history.
In situations in which a dog has attacked or killed a person, authorities almost always instantly euthanize the dog. This is a mistake, a very big mistake.
The dog should be assessed and tested AND THEN it can be dealt with, very possibly by euthanizing, but why not learn from it?
There have been many councils that have contacted me and asked me to examine and test the dog in question and I have of course willingly done so, but it needs to be done in every single case if we are to learn and avoid such outcomes in our futures.
In one article I read the author states a few things that I do agree with:
Dogs never bite until they bite: Very true, dog owners need to come to terms with this fact and be more careful.
When you mention a breed people do jump up and say “not my [insert breed here]”: The correct response would be to make sure it is not their [breed] by applying my rules, boundaries, management and trust system.
But there are things that I disagree with too:
“The American Pitbull was bred for fighting”, yes, dog fighting not fighting people.
Every single year someone’s “perfectly behaved pet” kills. No, this would indicate that dogs are highly unpredictable, and of course that is not true.
The dogs were not perfectly behaved before that at all, even if the owners say that they were and call them furbabies. The dogs were not trained or managed effectively and likely were given more trust than they had earned, this repeated often enough produced a horrible outcome for everyone.
If you have a dog that has you concerned or you are in trouble, this article may help or email us and we will point you in the right direction.
Finally, every year lives are saved by dogs, Guide Dogs, Assistance Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Detector Dogs, Police Dogs, Pet dogs that stop their owners feeling alone, Puppies that make children smile and feel better, the list goes on.
You CAN control almost any level of danger by treating it with respect, same goes for dogs.
I have a Pets as Therapy program called K9Angels, a very dedicated bunch of Angels that visit children, the sick and the elderly weekly, would you believe that the program manager’s TWO therapy dogs that work with children are German Shepherds?
Now how could that be…
I always want to add some tips for people who are worried about their dogs so here they are, let’s call them today’s top five.
- If your dog is displaying any concerning behaviour, aggressive or not, seek out an expert in your area or contact us. This might be the best thing you ever do. Waiting until your dog has bitten or even rehearsed the behaviour more is not going to make rehab easier, act now.
- Increase the management and decrease the dogs freedom. Don’t let your dog roam off leash where no one ever goes, believe me people seem to get bitten a lot where no one ever goes. Use a muzzle if your dog may bite!
- Do not give your dog the opportunity to rehearse behaviours that do or can lead to aggressive behaviour. Fence fighting, chasing the postman, pushing dogs around at the dog park etc. Manage them until you have better control.
- Train your dog, this means teach your dog what to do in a given situation. Can your dog sit when a person offers them food from 3 metres away? or if they throw a ball or if they have a dog? If not your dog needs more training!
- Let your dog EARN your trust and EARN his freedom, rather than just give it all for free. After all, anything that comes free has no percieved value, right? Children that are given everything free are not often nice to be around are they? Is that your dog?
You might notice in this article I have described every dog as a male purposely, does this mean only male dogs have behaviour problems, of course not, no more than it means certain breeds do…
As always, love to hear your comments!