Thursday, December 29, 2011

When Dogs Bite

Over the 4th of July, a cousin had his annual party.  He lives in a house on a river with split level acreage.  It's a huge bash every year with at least 20 people coming.  The day is filled with drinking, eating and fireworks. 

I'm already setting the stage.  Can you see it coming?

This year, one of the relatives brought their lab.  This lab is a family pet.  He's neutered.  He lives inside the house with the family.  He's well socialized, well trained and loves everyone including the three year old in the household.  She's remarkably gentle given that toddlers tend to like to pull, poke and prod, but she has parents who are generally on top of things.  She is never left unsupervised with the dog and has been taught "gentle" (yes, you can teach a child commands as well as you can teach a dog).

Concerned about the noise (but not enough to leave the dog home), the owners took him to the vet ahead of time and got a prescription for an anti-anxiety pill to help him deal with the fireworks. 

Fast forward to the 4th - we now have a well socialized dog around 40 people, more than half of them strangers and most of them drinking.  Add in the fireworks, the rush of kids and a new drug.  You've got a recipe for disaster.

But they added another one.

Because he was still acting nervous, they chained him up down by the river.

So now you have a nervous dog on a medication that he's not used to, terrified by the loud noises and sights and he's chained up with nowhere to go. 

The older kids saw him growl and backed away.  Because older kids can be better at reading dog signals.  But the three year old girl who lived with him and loved him?  Didn't see a threat.  Unfortunately, everyone thought someone else was watching her.  She went in search of her dog, found him and went right up to him.  Since she was all alone when it happened, we don't know the entire situation.  He was right next to the water so we're very lucky she ended up with some bites than in the river where she could have drowned.

The evening of the 4th was spent in the hospital getting stitches in her poor little face and back.

Do we blame the dog?


The owners took full responsibility.  They had him evaluated by the vet, who took responsibility for prescribing the drug and felt that added to the situation.  In hindsight, he said it was poor judgement on his part for giving the dog a drug it had never had (and a full dose at that) and not warning the owners about the possible side effects. 

They had him evaluated by a behaviorist, who pointed out that chaining the dog was the absolute catalyst in the entire poorly thought out day.  After thoroughly assessing the dog over the course of days in many different situations, the conclusion was that the aggression shown in the bite at the river was situational and the cause of a frightened, drugged up dog with nowhere to go.

The dog is still in the home.  He is still not left alone with the child.  But he hasn't shown a single sign of aggression toward the child.  Their relationship has returned to normal.  He will get to stay home for the 4th of July next year - drug free and off a chain.

People like to just blame an animal for biting, but no dog bites without a reason and without warning (unless that dog has been punished for showing warning signs in the past).  It's easy to simply blame the dog, but to keep bites from happening, we need to learn from them.  We need to step back and thoroughly assess the situation with the help of experts to determine the why and see what could have been changed in the situation.  Education is key.

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