I was brought up on a farm and have been around dogs for most of my life. Dogs of all breeds – Daschunds, Spaniels, German Shepherds, Alaskan Malamutes, St Bernards, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, Boerboels… and the list goes on.
I read on the Sky News website yesterday that the UK government is considering heavy prison sentences for owners of “killer” dogs. This follows a spate of dog attacks in recent months. The sentences which are being proposed are from 10 years to life.
In most of the dog attack cases, the victims are children. I had always wondered why this was, until I visited the DeWildt Cheetah Sanctuary a couple of years ago. They request that children under the age of 9 (or possibly 6, I can’t recall) are not brought close to the cheetah enclosures, and do not accompany their parents on game drives. When I asked why, I was told that cheetahs would look upon anything smaller than themselves as prey. I actually witnessed this when a parent approached the cheetah enclosure barrier with a small child. The cheetahs immediately went into stalking mode, and rushed the fence. They had not done this when adults approached.
I know cheetahs are cats – but I have a feeling that the same kind of thing could be happening with dogs. I actually witnessed this with one of my boerboels when a child who was visiting fell. The dog rushed up to her and lay next to her, with his paws on her legs. I warned her not to try and get up, and the dog left her once I approached. Was he protecting what he considered his “prey” ? Or was he going into protection mode for fear of safety of the child ? I don’t know.
One thing I do know about dogs is that they reflect the situations in which they are raised. I never took my dogs (boerboels) to training – my vet said I did not need performing dogs. What I did need was to understand the dogs’ needs, and these needs were very basic – food, love and exercise, with some freedom to be themselves thrown in – with boundaries which they know and understand.
Same as us humans.
Dogs should not be chained. I did not need to take my dogs to expensive training for them to know how to “stay” when told to.
I never hit my dogs with anything bigger than a blade of thatch grass. And it was not the thatch grass which did the trick – it was the tone of voice used, or “the look”.
Dogs DO understand when you talk to them. If one of the dogs was sitting in my husband’s chair and I said “The boss is coming”, he would get off the chair. Like children, dogs will try to push you – even the best-behaved children sometimes need to be told 2 or 3 times to do something, or not to do something.
Anybody who visited often knew my dogs, and knew they had nothing to fear from them . Anybody visiting for the first time, especially with children, would be given some guidance before they came into contact with the dogs.
And not one dog attack.
So perhaps 10 years to life imprisonment is not a bad thing for the owners of “killer” dogs.
However, I believe that the sentence should be for negligence in the raising of the dog, and not for the harm inflicted on the unsuspecting and perhaps uneducated victim. Dogs are, after all, predators and originated from wild animals.
Perhaps it would be more fruitful to teach the owners how to interact with and treat their dogs. Perhaps this should be mandatory before a person is allowed to acquire a dog.
Because if treated well, dogs truly are a man’s best friend.