Sometimes a bark is just a bark, squinty eyes are just squinty eyes, and standing still is just being still.
But sometimes they are not.
Sometimes when a single innocuous behavior appears in a cluster of behaviors, it becomes a sign of something very serious that is underlying, and professional help is needed.
As with all symptoms, sometimes it is something and sometimes it is nothing, and that is on a very large spectrum. It takes keen observation and diagnostic skills to sift through what is really going on.
For example, growling in play is not the same as a hard growl, with tight body posture, tip toeing forward, pilo erect, and hard staring eyes. It is important to always have context and perspective.
Dogs are allowed to have opinions, just like we are. But it is what they choose to do with these opinions that interests me most.
Believe it or not it takes effort to build a dangerous dog. In any litter you can witness a puppy or two that act a bit iffy from the get go, physically or temperamentally. And this iffiness can be a little or a lot. But it is the human choices that are made that act as a trip wire of sorts, that allows a dog to go from iffy to dangerous, or even deadly.
Dog bites are very common, as in the 23 million range and higher each year, and those are only the reported ones. Human deaths caused by a dog attack are extremely rare, as in 12-38 per year.
“It happened out of the blue”
“My dog has never done this before”
There are specific indicators of a dangerous dog that will either cause great harm to another dog or human, or a potential deadly attack. Keep in mind, nothing happens out of the blue and dogs are usually rehearsing their behaviors just like we do, but again, it takes keen observation to notice what is ‘building’ and being rehearsed.
One indicator does not a bad dog make. Context and perspective. But put all eight of these together and you have a real problem, and most of the time a problem that will result in euthanasia. There are just somethings you cannot do without changing the path you and your dog are on forever. Knowledge and choice, knowledge and choice.
Indicators of a Dangerous Dog –
HEREDITY – The apple does not fall far from the tree. Temperament is what separates a stable balanced dog from an unstable dog. Just because you want a dog, it does not mean that all dogs are equal temperamentally. Resource guarding, cautious, leery, protective, guarding, can all be hereditary.
OPTIMAL – know the temperament of the line of dogs you are looking at and don’t just rely on the breeders opinion. Hire someone to test the temperament of a potential puppy or dog from a shelter.
SEX/REPRODUCTIVE STATUS – Male intact dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than an intact female. Sexually intact dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered/spayed dogs.
OPTIMAL – Whether you choose to have an intact or desexed dog you have to be knowledgeable about who you are living with and what environments are appropriate. Taking an intact dog to a dog park is totally irresponsible.
EARLY EXPERIENCE – The lack thereof. Whelping, neonatal environment, handling by breeder. Inconsistent new owner behavior, erratic interactions. If this is all negligent you start to tip the developmental stacks, and this can never truly be changed, but possibly supported with a great deal of effort. Backyard, garage, and puppy mill breeders, stay far away. Inconsistent human behavior creates inconsistent dog behavior, period.
OPTIMAL – This all counts, and like the saying goes, “we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. Quality breeders that know about development, care, and creating an enriched environment are the breeders we should be supporting. New owners who did their research before obtaining a puppy or dog, and have a consistent plan, healthy environment, and provide love and safety.
SOCIALIZATION – Lack of socialization to people, places, things, events, and other well socialized dogs will cripple a dog socially and emotionally for life. Chained up dogs are the best example of dogs that never receive adequate socialization, but it is also the dog that is left in the yard, separate from the person/family, and is left with no options, no interactions. NOTE – chained, tied out, or yard dogs, living apart from a person/family are no longer pets, they are called ‘resident dogs’. All deadly attacks in 2009 were caused by resident dogs.
OPTIMAL – Kind and considerate socialization to people, places, things events and other well socialized dogs from the day your puppy comes home through their golden years.
TRAINING – No information. Lack of interaction, no communal skills between dog and handler, no fluent understanding of each other. Heavy handed, physical corrections, intimidation, humiliation, and isolation style of training.
OPTIMAL – Teaching and interacting between human and dog. Forming a bond through working together, and learning from each other. Be a human worth trusting.
HEALTH – Poor quality of food, water, medical care, or underlying conditions. Possible injuries to the body through abuse, to much physical work, or no outlet for physical movement. Dogs that do not feel well do not act well.
OPTIMAL – Attention to social, emotional, nutritional, and physical health. It is the whole dog.
QUALITY OF OWNER – Dangerous dogs are not a socioeconomic, race, or religious issue. Poor quality owners are billionaires all the way to illiterate street people, and everyone in between. A lack of ethics, morals, ego, and poor choices all play a roll.
OPTIMAL – It takes effort to care for another living being, and this means gaining knowledge, skills, and spending a great deal of time with your dog each and every day. Great things don’t happen just because.
VICTIM BEHAVIOR – Unmanaged environment, tension filled abusive environment, assertive or aggressive human behavior, running, screaming, playing.
OPTIMAL – If you have a dog in your home, you should have a managed home, and know where people are and where your dog is. Leaving a dog unattended is never a good idea.
Here is a VIDEO CLIP of a dog that has all eight of these indicators. It is rare to get something like this on film, in a normal family setting, so this is a good educational clip. He was owned by a South African dog trainer, and this was the third time he had exhibited predatory behavior on children in public. After this attacked he was off leash on a family beach and mauled a two year old child to the point of permanent physical damage. He was then euthanized.
During a twenty year study that was conducted from 1979-1998 there were some other significant findings –
Chained or ‘resident dogs’ were 2.8 times more likely to kill a human or cause significant damage, than unchained dogs.
58% of all dangerous attacks or deadly attacks happened on the dogs own property, only 24% happened off of their property.
Protecting and guarding played a significant role.
Are breeds a factor?
American Pit Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Huskies, and Rottweilers are at the top of the list for dangerous or deadly attacks. Every year. But there are also Springer Spaniels, Great Danes, Doberman, Border Collies, Cattle Dogs, Jack Russel’s, Labradors, Weimaraner, Golden Retriever, etc. Any dog that has teeth has the potential to cause harm, it is the care and well being that is provided that indicates how this will most likely play out.
And the two most vulnerable groups of people are always children and the elderly. Care, management, consideration, and knowledge.
NOTE – Every week I meet a dog that has 3-5 of the above indicators, and the owners goals aren’t even close to matching the dog they have built, purposefully or accidentally.
Be kind, be thoughtful, and always be on a path of knowledge. Your dog appreciates your efforts ~ Nancy