…by it’s cover. (STYLIZED VERSION)
Since I do bite prevention education and extensive rehab of allegedly “vicious” dogs, I couldn’t help but use this photo to press a very important point. Which is that what we think we see is not always what is – especially when it comes to aggressive behavior in dogs.
Most dog bites, in my experience, are not indicative of poor temperament, but of human error. Yes, simple human error. It’s amazing the things that people do with/to their dogs – even moreso, the things they have children do to/with dogs – and the consequential disbelief that the dog does not sit back and tolerate what in it’s perception is clearly very threatening and/or inappropriate behavior. The most common example is how many people have children manhandling, commanding, or “disciplining” dogs. To a dog, even those respectful of human leadership – a child is not viewed the same as an adult, and that is not a flaw within the dog. They are at best littermates and small kids are more accurately viewed as puppies. It’s our ideal that adult dogs bow down to “human puppies” and accept reprimand etc, but it is not animal nature, and I can’t tell you how many bites I deal with originate from this very basic and very common mistake on the part of adults. Sadly, the dog is usually immediately labelled not worthy of trust and given away or put down, rather than the handlers being able to assess impartially the situation and accept that handling errors, not unsound temperament, are the more likely reason; and just making the appropriate adjustments to see that the dog, and child, are not put in that position again.
A big part of this is the horrible trend of misinterpretation of pack theory which is spurred on by popular TV “alpha-style” dog trainers like Cesar Milan and Brad Pattison. Yes – you do need to show leadership to your dog, and you cannot let a dog walk all over you or you could be in trouble. In my behavior consultations I avoid the words “dominant” and “submissive” like the plague. To me they describe an action, not an entire individual. And even where you may want to describe a dog’s personality in “alpha” terms, most people – including many trainers – are sadly misinformed about what constitutes a “dominant” dog; so more often than not, a dog’s inherent nature is mislabelled and deeply misunderstood.
I am in the process of writing two books on dog behavior – one on behavior, one on aggression – I look forward to the day I can devote more time to completing them. In the meantime, do understand that most bites occur because someone has set a dog up to fail – someone has misunderstood or misjudged dog behavior and frankly, probably made a simple mistake. It does not make them a bad person, but sadly taking ownership for a situation where a dog in their care bites someone – esp a child – is apparently something few adults are capable of doing.
In this photo, Sam barks for his stick. I’ve had a few comments from having this on my facebook for a while, to the effect of how nasty he looks. He is happy as a clam (though full out drivey!) :) in this photo. Sam does therapy work, obedience and recreational agility & tricks, he is a demo dog, a test dog, and he’s started in herding, where he is apparently extremely natural. He did come to me with 3 unprovoked human bites and a muzzle order. He has never been unsound, he just was not in the right situation for him, and he did his first bite prevention seminar with me 7 months later. Handling, diet and exercise go a long way in determining a dog’s behavior.
Not every case of a dog appearing aggressive is as it seems!
Feel free to email me at SamTheCowdog@gmail.com for direct purchases.
NIKON 18-200mm lens
July 2010 in Quebec, on our road trip to Atlantic Canada. :)