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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 24 December 2002 Issue

The “Bite Back” Premiere!
By Jill Conner, pH, D

Hello Readers! And welcome to my first rant!

I don't call this column “Bite Back” for nothing. I am a nationally recognized specialist in the diagnosis-of-cause and rehabilitation of active dog to human aggression and, as such, I'm pretty fed up with the species Homo Sapiens.

In the past ten years, I've counseled (in person, by telephone and email) hundreds (at least) of dog owners whose dogs developed problems of aggression toward humans. These dogs ranged in age from three or four months on up into real maturity (age 6 +).

In a loose (very loose) attempt to statistically graph the cases I have seen in my practice, I came up with the following results, based upon a 100% guideline:

Very young onset of aggression: 10% of the total case histories of aggression.

Misperception by owners: 8%

Serious future issues: .1%

Fear induced aggressive response: 1.9%

Future dominance issues: 0%

Adult Dog Showing Front Door Aggression 50% of the total case histories of aggression.

Acquired from owners, or induced by owners: 15%

Misunderstood by owners and mishandled: 34%

Fear or dominance related: .5%

Actual threat: .5%

Young Male Dog Obtaining Dominance 10% of the total case histories of aggression.

Owner neglect in not choosing appropriate breed: 2%

Lack of Clear Cut Pack Guidelines: 7.5%

Breed related Dominance Problems: .5%

Wrong Dog, Wrong Place, Wrong Time: 20% of the total case histories of aggression.

Mismanagement: 10%

Careless or Inhumane Training: 5%

Neglect of Issues: 3%

Stupidity: 2%

Undiagnosed Physical Problems: 10% of the total case histories of aggression.

Cognitive Dysfunction (varied causes): 3%

Serious Physical Illness: 3%

Continuous Pain: 4%

In other words, the vast majority (and in the true analysis, NONE) of domestic dogs for whom my expertise is necessary are innocent of any wrongdoing. Rather, the humans with whom these dogs live bear the burden of responsibility. In my case histories, I have dozens upon dozens of situations where dogs are behaving quite normally, given the dysfunction of their owners or environment, but where owners have totally misunderstood the original intent of their dogs’ behavior. These include: misreading the dogs’ body language; humans reacting inappropriately; neglecting to understand the nature of the breed of dog with which they live; unwittingly contributing to a serious problem behavior in their dog (or in fact, creating it.)

I choose to bite back. I do it with the intention of educating YOU, the people for whom dogs are important companions. I can’t reach the rest of humanity, those who perceive animals as dispensable. I don’t think they can be reached. But for YOU, those who choose to read this column, allow me the privilege of being a voice for dogs who have suffered, who have been misunderstood in large numbers, and whose lives mean something even if the majority of “humanity” doesn’t think so. I stand here for them and I will heap upon you stories that you might not want to hear. But you must. You are reading this. You matter. You COUNT. Stand up and be heard!

In ensuing columns, I will share with you the record of my professional life as an Animal Behaviorist. I will bring into your space a dog whose owners just didn’t “get it” and tell you how that dog was redeemed. This first column, however, is not about redemption. It’s about abandonment. It’s about an innocent creature whose life came to an end because of the failure of the humans in his path. It’s about YOU, Reader, taking that first step into the Real World of so-called “rescue”. Oh I’ve got an awful lot to say about “rescue”! Just listen to the story of Max, whose only crime was that he was the “wrong dog, wrong place, wrong time.”

Last week, I received a phone call “out of the blue”, which is how I get many phone calls requesting my assistance. It came from “Linda Sue” who was attempting to do a good deed. Within the very large corporation for which she works there is a “Buy and Sell” electronic newsletter that gets passed through the electronic mail program. Linda read that a three year old Labrador Retriever was soon going to be put down (i.e., killed for no good reason), since his owners were moving to Florida and could not take him. Being very pro-active in animal welfare, Linda decided to take the bull by its proverbial horns and find this dog, Max, a home.

She set about her task by networking within the huge corporation, and finally found an employee who was enthusiastic about having Max as part of his family. This man, whom I call Number One, brought Max home the very next day. Number One had five children, the oldest of whom was 11 and the youngest 3. Max seemed fine, acclimated to the household within a couple of weeks, and appeared to have settled in. Number One really loved Max and considered him the perfect dog. Max was obedient, non-destructive, totally housebroken, and good with the kids. That is, until one night when the oldest son was left alone with Max in the living room. Suddenly, a commotion occurred and the oldest son went into the kitchen to talk to his Dad, Number One. The boy’s explanation was that he had attempted to awaken Max and that Max had “bitten” him. He had only a bruise on his hand, but it was still an indication of aggression. Number One was no longer so confident about Max. The next day, Max found himself in the home of Number Two.

Number Two was a young mother with 3-year-old twin boys. On Max’s very first exposure to his new home, Number Two was feeding her twin toddlers at the kitchen counter. Max expressed an interest in the food on the floor so Number Two moved the tall chairs that the children were sitting in. This startled Max who then crawled under the counter. Number Two and her husband coaxed the dog out and he eventually went happily off with a cookie bone to chew. The twins were put to bed and Max spent the remainder of the night sitting at Number Two’s feet and being walked by her husband. He was docile, affectionate, quiet and sweet. Number Two thought little of the incident at the counter. She and her husband retired to bed, leaving Max downstairs free to roam. The next morning as Number Two came downstairs, she found Max waiting for her at the bottom. He was very glad to see her and she proceeded to let him out when her twin sons made an appearance. Max growled at them. That day, Max went to the home of Number Three.

Number Three had decided that his own dog needed a companion and, since Max was reported to be friendly toward other dogs, he wanted to adopt Max. Unfortunately, he didn’t bother to ask Dog Number One. Dog Number One attacked Max, drawing blood at his neck, and when Number Three attempted to touch the wound, Max snarled and snapped. On to owner Number Four.

Number Four owns a farm in upstate New York’s Dutchess County. She has a great many barn animals and a female dog. Max was turned out onto an enormous 5+ acres), fenced in property and expected to behave as if he had been raised there. Of course, Max was terrified and refused to go out of the house unaccompanied. Number Four decided that he was “incorrigible” and she began to “discipline” him. (Nobody knows what that means.) At one point, she cornered Max in a narrow hallway and he began to bark at her. She felt threatened and decided to kill the dog (put him down, horrible euphemism.) Unfortunately Number Four found a Veterinarian who believed her story that Max was “dangerous” and the dog died on Friday, December 13th.

What went wrong here?

The original owners purchased a puppy (probably from a pet store or the dog would have been returned to its breeder) with the full knowledge that they were going to move to Florida and not be able to take the dog.

During his puppyhood and young adulthood, Max developed a “guarding” behavior with retrieved objects. This is a common problem in Retrievers of all types and is generally the fault of mishandling by the owners.

Instead of calling in a qualified Behaviorist, original owners just let the situation go. Rather than cure it, they left Max alone with any object he was guarding until he lost interest. In the dog’s mind, he won.

Number One falls into the category of “misguided”, the false concept that Labrador Retrievers are always “good with children”. He introduced a 120-pound adult dog to FIVE children, allowing them to interact with him without supervision. Max had most probably never been socialized to young children and it’s to his credit that he left only a bruise on the 11-year-old’s hand when awakened from a deep sleep.

Number Two falls into the category of “witless and clueless”, since she obtained a large dog from someone who knew nothing about his history and immediately allowed him to roam her house without supervision. Three-year-old twin boys are in no way to be considered as the ideal companions for ANY dog, let alone a dog about which nothing is known.

Number Three falls into the category of “no brain”. This man actually procured a living thing, Max, as a present for another dog! Worse than that, he had never socialized his own dog to other dogs. The most obvious result of this would be aggression on the part of the original dog to any interloper (Max) who suddenly (for no reason, to the dog) appeared on his territory!

Number Four falls into the category of “moronic Neanderthal.” She took a totally confused and terrified Max, who had been passed around for weeks, and expected him to instantly be able to become an “outside dog” on her farm. When he followed her around out of anxiety, she decided he was “too demanding.” When he had enough of her “discipline” and barked at her, she decided he was “dangerous.”

There was nothing I could do for Max except to offer to take him myself and rehabilitate him. Unfortunately, the last “owner” had already made her decision to kill him.

Max’s original owners obtained him under false pretenses, knowing they were going to have to “get rid of him” in a mere three years.

They failed to do what was necessary to correct a serious problem.

They used the pretext of “euthanasia” (i.e., in this case, murder) to re-home the dog.

They did none of the work themselves, but relied up the electronic newsletter.

End result? A perfectly good companion dog was subjected to enormous stress, fear, abandonment, dislocation, grief, and ultimately death. All because his original owners chose to satisfy their own desire for a puppy, knowing that they could not offer the dog a lifetime home. All because they were too cheap, stupid, ignorant, careless to fix a problem behavior in a young dog before it rendered that dog un-adoptable, KNOWING that his life would ultimately depend upon that adoption.

Many more reasons, Reader. The greed of puppy mill “breeders”; the lack of appropriate supervision of puppy mills by the USDA; the abundance of “puppy stores” where these unfortunate creatures are sold to unwary humans; the seeming inability of adult human beings in our society to understand the meager needs of the domestic dog. My GOD! Cavemen could have done better and, in fact, did!

SO! What can YOU do??? Tell everyone you know NEVER TO BUY any puppy from a pet store, for one thing. Encourage everyone you know to see that dogs are LIVING BEINGS and are entitled to lifetime commitment! Educate everyone you know about positive training and that any problem behavior, if caught in time and treated by a real professional, can be corrected! There are GOOD veterinarians in your area. FIND THEM by referral of neighbors and friends and pass their names along to YOUR neighbors and friends.

No creature should suffer confusion, terror and death because it was mishandled, obtained for the wrong reasons, improperly “trained”, too big, too small, too hairy, too black, too white, too anything! Everything on Earth which lives deserves any quality of life available to it. Dogs are LIVING BEINGS. They deserve lifetime commitment. Go tell someone.

Staff: Psych4Dogs@aol.com  

Return to Animals in Print 24 Dec 2002 Issue

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Please send comments and submittals to the Editor: Linda Beane Ljbeane1@aol.com

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