The Dog Box

2017-11-16 06:00

Hi Susan, in the news recently there have been reports of a dog mauling a six-month-old child to death. There has been a lot of argument about this on internet forums. If dogs are such wonderful pets and “man’s best friend” how can this child’s death be explained away? My feeling after reading this horror story is that dogs should be banned.

NOT A DOG FAN

I’m sorry you hold this opinion and I have to argue that it is a thoughtless one. I have seen the opposing views on one such news site debate about this recent tragedy. A number of people who understand dogs and humans have been focusing on breeders and ‘owners’ of the dogs who commit deeds such as this, while the anti-dog side have been blaming dogs almost exclusively.

It is arrant stupidity to call for a blanket “banning” of dogs because of isolated tragedies, in this recent case a Pit bull killing a child. After just a moment’s thought it must become obvious that we humans ourselves are responsible for umpteen times more murders of our own species.

Murder, culpable homicide and accidental deaths at the hands of humans are a daily norm. For these murders we blame not the whole species, but the responsible and accountable individual. Why should we apply a different criterion for animals? How many dogs have given their lives for humans? How many dogs spend their lives in our service? What about dogs for the Blind, alert dogs, search and rescue, companion dogs, therapy dogs and so on? These are not raving lunatics.

The Pit Bull Federation has released a statement suggesting that in their informed opinion 99% of Pit Bull owners should not own these dogs. What does that tell us?

It has to be acknowledged that the breed is popularly sought out by unsuitable bully types as an extension to their egos.

Pit bulls are also the dog of choice of the depraved who are involved in the dog-fighting business. Of course this is a generalisation, and it is not to denigrate the many good people who keep these dogs. It must also be recognised that there are disreputable breeders who are selectively producing human-aggressive Pit Bulls.

The Pit Bull Federation of South Africa is discussing the practicalities of banning owners who breed dogs exhibiting human aggression, so that these people would no longer be able to show their dogs. The underlying problem is not a canine but a human one. It is to our own species that we should look for a solution.

A dog’s genetic make-up cannot be eliminated and is bound to influence its behaviour traits. If people are actively breeding for aggressive traits and/or bite potential, or choosing to breed from dogs with a known human-aggressive propensity, they are complicit, and they should be held accountable. If we have a sense of justice, they should be held responsible for the mauling or death that ensues from their selective breeding, together with the type of person who knowingly and irresponsibly takes such a dog into his home.

Not only that: the dogs these kinds of people are breeding and homing are also themselves unwitting victims. An inclination towards aggression to humans in a Pit Bull is considered to be a fault, not a norm of the breed.

Another point that needs to be made is that the “nanny dog” is a dangerous fallacy. No dog should have to tolerate being crawled over, climbed on, provoked and harassed.

Responsible parents should supervise the interactions of their children and family pets and guide appropriate behaviour on both sides. The ‘cute’ videos of toddlers jabbing at the eyes and pulling at the jowls or ears of pet dogs are evidence of gross stupidity. When stressed, well-adjusted dogs communicate their discomfort in ever-increasing signals until it becomes necessary to growl, snap, and finally bite.

Please, parents, if you have children and dogs, educate yourselves about cut-off stress signals and general interaction between humans and animals. Also make sure that the interactions between your child and dog are supervised by an informed, responsible person.

In light of the points raised here, Pit Bull owners in particular need to be aware of the importance of a full understanding of the breed and the genetic lines of the dogs they are taking in.

They also need to make sure that they are suitably equipped to be guardians of these powerful dogs, and that they are willing and able to devote the necessary time and energy to ensuring that their charges are properly trained by an educated modern trainer experienced in non-aversive techniques.

The Pit Bull Federation of SA endorses force-free training with Animal Behaviour Consultants of SA or a COAPE SA trainer. These trainers are not only expected to be qualified with recognized bodies but they have much practical experience under their belts. Selecting the wrong dog, failing to train or using a bad trainer all add up to a tragedy in waiting.

Many living creatures and inanimate objects have the capacity to harm or kill. If you get behind the wheel of a huge truck, lacking the necessary skills and temperament, and in your ignorance and negligence you kill some innocent fellow motorist or pedestrian, it is you who are guilty.

The responsibility to ensure that the truck is roadworthy also falls to you. By the same token, you are responsible for taking the necessary precautions and responsibilities if you own or breed a dangerous dog.

Most dogs are man’s best friends. Most of the exceptions are a consequence of man’s wrongdoings.

• Susan Henderson (accredited animal behaviour consultant) info@dogboxtrainingschool.co.za or 082 386 5805.

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