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Alan

Why do dogs attack? One man's view

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Why do dogs attack?

At the end of January 2003, seven-year-old Carolina Anderson was badly mauled by an American staffordshire dog while playing in an Auckland park. This was the first of a spate of dog attacks.

Quite simply we don’t know. One would need to have seen how the child, the dog and its owners behaved in the minutes before the attack, and one would need to know more about the dog’s background, specifically its breeding and training.

There is little information available on the background of dog attacks in New Zealand but international research suggests that the majority of dog attacks on humans occur at home with the victim a family member or visitor. This observation is supported by the stories reported in the media over the last two months, although in general dog attacks reported in the media are on strangers in public places.

Dog attacks on children in public places are more common in the summer or during weekends. Children under five are more likely to provoke dogs than older children, and the present thinking of many dog behaviour specialists is that when children behave erratically they provoke predatory behaviour in some dogs. Thus the dog that attacked Carolina may have responded as a predator to some aspect of her behaviour, but it is also possible that it was responding to something else, such as an unintentional behaviour of its owner. Running is known to trigger dog attacks, but the excitable behaviour and shrill squealing of young children may be interpreted by dogs as prey behaviour. Dogs that are used to children are less likely to attack and cause serious damage.

An analysis of children treated in A & E departments for dog bites found that the dogs involved were usually of the larger and more powerful breeds. Bites from pitbull terrier-type dogs are more often associated with serious injuries or fatalities. This is probably a consequence of the physical structure and abilities of these dogs, but is perhaps also influenced by the fact that these dogs may lunge, become airborne and injure the head and neck of the victims. The severity of injury influences the likelihood of its being treated and recorded and so there is a tendency for data to show large dog breeds as being involved in attacks. This does not prove that large dogs are more aggressive than small breeds, but that they are potentially more dangerous.

Dogs are social animals and attacks on family members are thought to be due to the dog being unsure of its status and using aggression to determine rank. This is generally why the majority of adults treated for dog bite injuries (75 percent) are injured by their own dogs. Dogs are also territorial: when visitors are bitten it is usually by dogs defending their territory. Posties and meter readers are often the victims of territorially aggressive dogs.

Attacks on strangers in public places may be predatory, may be due to fear, or may be a trained response. The trained response is often unintentional but aggressive behaviour may be encouraged inadvertently by the owner. A dog attack is the culmination of the dog’s breeding, its experience and training, and the circumstances immediately before the attack. The severity of the attack is influenced by the dog’s size and ability to injure and the size and ability of the victim. Thus when dog attacks become an issue of public concern, powerful dogs and small children are usually involved.

Karen Overall, a leading American dog behaviour specialist, recently reviewed the literature on dog attacks and concluded that the breeds most represented in dog bite data (1) vary over time, (2) are popular and (3) are not in proportion to their actual population. In almost all studies mongrels are the most common type of dog involved in attacks on humans. The variation in breed over time suggests that if specific dog breeds are legislated against, then another breed or type will be developed to meet demand for aggressive canines.

In the late 1980s a list of breeds involved in 40 serious dogs attacks on children in Adelaide included German shepherd dogs (10), German shepherd crossbreds (5), rottweilers (7), pitbull terrier-type dogs (4), Siberian huskies (3) and one akita, doberman pinscher, labrador retriever, chow chow and Australian shepherd. Pitbull terrier-type dogs have been involved in many of the recently reported dog attacks and are the target for those promoting breed control legislation. But dog aggression was a public problem in New Zealand before this type of terrier became common and some of the breeds listed above may come under scrutiny in the near future. In a 1995 study of veterinary opinion in New Zealand, rottweilers were considered much more aggressive in the veterinary clinic than any other breed of dog. Intact male dogs are also much more likely to be involved in dog attacks than females or desexed animals.

Protecting the public from dangerous dogs requires good legislation that is enforced, and public support. Many of the attacks that have occurred in the past few months could have been avoided if the 1996 Dog Control Act and local by-laws were enforced, and if people were willing to report inappropriate behaviour in dogs. Dogs were not supposed to be let off the lead in the park where Carolina was attacked. However, maintaining effective animal control services is expensive and enforcing breed control legislation, if it comes about, will also be costly. Local councils will expect dog owners to pay for animal control. Regardless of changes to the legislation, dog owners can expect a significant increase in dog registration fees in the future as councils attempt to improve dog control to reduce the risk of attacks such as that on Carolina. Dog ownership may easily change from a right to a privilege.

Associate Professor Kevin Stafford
Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences.

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good article, and what most of us here have been saying like for what? forever now?

let me throw something out for suggestion....

why is it happening so much more NOW, then even it did in the 70's and 80's? or is it? are there really more aggressive dogs, or is there more media exposure when an aggressive act happens?

I remember when young, hearing about dog bites, sometimes on the news, but mostly from friends-of-friends at achool and at home, so-and so got attacked by a big mean dog out after dark by himself last night....
the common question then was "why was he out after dark by himself?"
and "Do they know who the owner is?" or "was it a stray?"

if the owner was known, they generally didnt know the dog was out, would pay for the damages, and the medical bills, and the dog would be
then more strictly kept inside (sometimes outside as well) or the dog would be euthanized if this was a second or third bite. the law was rarely involved, the biters owner and the bitee's family worked it out themselves in most cases.

rarely did I ever hear about maulings, and people being torn to shreds back then....yet PB's existed, rotties and dobies existed, GSD's existed....
GSD's in fact had one of the worst reps back then, as aggressive dogs.
my neighbor owned one who got loose and bit my Golden.

so what happened in the interim? did the dogs get more vicious, the people get stupider, or the media simply find their newest freakshow to slam down our throats?

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[quote]so what happened in the interim? did the dogs get more vicious, the people get stupider, or the media simply find their newest freakshow to slam down our throats?[/quote]

Oh, a combination, I'd say. People, more and more, seem to want to train a dog to protect their home. Quite frankly, I think this is ridiculous, as most dogs are naturally territorial already. They'll come to your aid if you need them to, without the aggression training. Making them more aggressive is just asking for trouble.

Also, people seemed to be more responsible with their pets when I was younger. Very rarely did I see a dog running loose, or unsupervised children walking a dog that was too large for them to control. (These children are often acting aggressively towards the dog, as well)

As for the media, well shows like "Extreme Animal Attacks" and the like get great ratings, so of course the news programs are going to jump on the band wagon. It's guaranteed viewership.

Stupidity reigns, and then they pass the buck to the pups. Makes you want to euthanize a few people, doesn't it?

Shel.

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[quote]Oh, a combination, I'd say. People, more and more, seem to want to train a dog to protect their home. Quite frankly, I think this is ridiculous, as most dogs are naturally territorial already. They'll come to your aid if you need them to, without the aggression training. Making them more aggressive is just asking for trouble[/quote]

I couldnt agree more with this, and I have been telling people this for decades...they just DONT get it that a guarding breed dog (a dobie, a rottie, to some extent a GSD) will guard NATURALLY upon reaching maturity because thats what it was bred to do....its in their genes already, and unless you are police or military, and need a trained guard dog to help you do your job, there is NO reason to do it. a watchdog and a naturally protective dog is good enough for the average household....

:roll:

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[quote name='BuddysMom']This was all very interesting; the article and responses. Thanks![/quote]


I also agree but let me throw in something to make you scratch your head. I am not saying I believe this, just asking.

When I grew up, it was common for everyones dogs to run loose in the neighborhood. Everyone knew whose dogs were whose and everyone got to know each others dogs. People didnt fear the Pit Bull because they knew it belonged to the Jones family and the big Mastiff belonged to the smith family and everyone petted and fed everyones dogs.

The bad part is, everyones male dog was getting everyones female dog pregnant. So stiffer laws came and the dogs were secluded from all the neighbors and only a select few got to meet them. When a strange neighbor saw a strange dog, he reacted in fear, and was bitten, wich made other neighbors fearfull and escalated into an epidimic. Could it have happened anything like that?

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[quote name='Alan'][quote name='BuddysMom']This was all very interesting; the article and responses. Thanks![/quote]


I also agree but let me throw in something to make you scratch your head. I am not saying I believe this, just asking.

When I grew up, it was common for everyones dogs to run loose in the neighborhood. Everyone knew whose dogs were whose and everyone got to know each others dogs. People didnt fear the Pit Bull because they knew it belonged to the Jones family and the big Mastiff belonged to the smith family and everyone petted and fed everyones dogs.

The bad part is, everyones male dog was getting everyones female dog pregnant. So stiffer laws came and the dogs were secluded from all the neighbors and only a select few got to meet them. When a strange neighbor saw a strange dog, he reacted in fear, and was bitten, wich made other neighbors fearfull and escalated into an epidimic. Could it have happened anything like that?[/quote]

Maybe ... The part about people reacting more fearfully to dogs is a good point.

But I remember a similar kind of "good old day" and it wasn't really so good. Such as when I was a kid, our lab-shepherd mix killing a neighbor's small dog. (No one knoew what exactly happened; they were both running loose as was the norm.)

I personally see almost an epidemic fear-to-hatred of dogs among people who grew up in ghettos, etc ... I think that can be traced back to the 1970s when dobes, especially; followed by other breeds, began to be used on a large scale as an accessory; a bodyguard, status symbol, security system ... but not a friend or a pet.

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