The Denver dog bite incident and BAD DOGS
February 14, 2012 at 5:09 am
There has been a LOT of internet discussion on this topic already. Everyone should read this article: A Perfect Storm. Also Sophia Yin: When A Kiss Can Get You Bitten (with my illustrations!)
The whole incident brings up some horrible memories for me, being the owner of a dog that has bitten people (even before I adopted him), and we’re talking Level 1,2,3, and 4 bites . I can personally relate to how traumatic it must be for everyone – the person who gets bitten, the dog, and the owners of the dog. The first time that this happens is especially traumatic.
I was fortunate that the person that Boogie had bitten with a Level 4 bite was a dog-lover and did not sue me, and that Boogie does not look like a pit bull.
But I did spend $$$$ as a result of that incident and I remember the emotional trauma I went through dealing with the authorities who wanted to take Boogie away from me and dump him back in a shelter. I fought really really hard to keep him, claiming as much responsibility as they would let me. Last thing I wanted was for Boogie to be back at a shelter or rescue. This was a life-changing incident as you can imagine and one that has led to me learning everything I could about dog behavior, and sharing all these illustrations.
The news reports are upsetting because the implication is very clear that the “aggressive dog” is to blame. Max the biter was quarantined for 10 days not for rabies testing as they say (this is not technically possible) but because he had bitten someone and was therefore considered a dangerous criminal. His “crime” was worse because it was to the FACE (as opposed to a foot or hand, I suppose). Never mind that the news anchor was the one who stuck HER face in his face by kissing him on the nose and freaking him out. No doubt her intentions were loving. Most people don’t know how to correctly greet a dog and/or don’t know how to read signs of discomfort in dogs until something bad happens.
What remains so disturbing is that after the storm, there has been no apology from the Denver News crew – nobody is taking any responsibility here for human errors and so Max still looks like a good dog gone bad…
“Max has no history of aggression. Max is a gentle, loving, family dog. Max is well-mannered and obedient, and he hardly barks. This incident truly is unfortunate and does not reflect Max’s disposition towards people.” (statement from Max’s owner)
And I suppose things don’t bode well for the breed –
Argentine mastiffs, also known as the Argentine Dogo, are known as big-game hunters and historically have gone after wild boars and pumas. While they are now used as pets, they were bred from a rather violent group of dogs. Because of the dogs’ violent nature, several areas have banned the breed, including Aurora, Colorado. Aurora is the neighbouring city to Denver, where the broadcast took place. The animal is also banned in New York City public housing, and laws in the UK allow police to take the dogs away from their owners and prosecute them.
And so poor Max has become a dog “with a history of aggression”. Branded a bad dog.
As I was writing this blog post, there was a loud knock on my door, Boogie rushed to the window (the one that isn’t covered) and growled his head off. The mailman was outside with a package that I had to sign for. I put Boogie in his crate (where he was howling and crying) and stepped outside. Our conversation went something like this:
ME: Sorry for the wait, I was putting my dog in the crate.
MAILMAN: You said that three years ago.
MAILMAN: You really love that dog don’t you?
ME:Yes I do.
MAILMAN: That dog bit me, you know?
Several years ago, the mailman reached out to pet Boogie and Boogie snapped at him. No skin broken. I started looking for a trainer around this time.
ME: I know, and I am really sorry. He hasn’t bitten anyone since I started training him.
MAILMAN: Yeah, three years ago you said you were training him. Three years ago. Why is he still barking at me?
ME: He has not bitten anyone since. As for barking, this isn’t personal. You have to understand – you are the mailman, you are someone who comes and goes… you are not part of the family. And a lot of dogs have a problem with mailmen. There is really nothing personal in this and it’s something I am trying very hard to control. In fact I can’t control everything that my dog does. It’s not easy.
MAILMAN: That dog is a problem.
ME: I know he isn’t the perfect dog and this is why I keep working with him. Did you see I put frosting on the windows?
MAILMAN: It has been three years. I don’t know how you could love a dog like that.
In light of reading about the Denver incident, my own memories being dredged up, the drafting of this blog post, the last thing I needed today was to have someone try to make me feel guilty (in a passive aggressive way) for keeping and loving a “bad dog”, and for putting me on the spot to explain Boogie’s behavior. This mailman has had Boogie’s barking explained to him so MANY TIMES before by myself and by dog trainers. (barking is reinforced by mailman leaving etc etc ) He clearly does not want to understand dog behavior, accepts no explanations, hates my dog, and I really don’t know what else to say.
When the mailman left, I burst into tears. Even though I personally don’t believe Boogie is a bad dog, and why should I care what other people think, it is still upsetting. I can’t help feeling immense empathy right now for “bad dogs” and the owners of these “bad dogs” everywhere…especially those of us who are trying so hard to educate ourselves and others.
*Edit to add* This comment from a pet dog behavior specialist (on this FB post about the Denver incident):
One aspect of the video overlooked in most commentaries is the owner’s behavior. The owner held the collar tight,but the dog was on leash. The owner may not be a great reader of canine body language, but he knew his dog was uncomfortable. The owner held the collar tight because he felt his dog had the potential to act out in the situation. Why couldn’t he express this feeling? Because it would require a tacit admission that his dog might act “aggressively.” Dog aggression is taboo, especially from a Dogo Argentino. So the owner pretended his dog was fine, while tightening up on the collar. Now, after the bite, the owner is forced into a defensive position regarding his pet’s behavior, with no lesson learned. Dog owners need to feel more empowered to tell people when their dog is uncomfortable.
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