The aggressive dog, the responsibility rests with YOU

Small dogs can be dangerous tooI received a phone call from a friend of mine the other day. It would seem that she needed to take a break from grooming a 4 pound landshark of the Poodle variety, who had just laid her hand open when trying to extract the dog from a crate.

Needless to say, my friend was shocked and irritated, not because the aggressive dog bit her (trust me, in any profession that involves animals, it’s not a matter of “If” so much as “When”) but because the owner failed to tell her of the dogs’ proclivity to do so.

After the bite, my friend dutifully made the call to the owner to inform them of the incident, to which the owner cavalierly responded “Oh, again? She does that all the time.”

Further discussion revealed that not only does the dog attack it’s care-givers, it attacks its owners, too. Pretty much on a daily basis, and has for quite some time. This dog is 4 years old.

They find it “cute” that she can empty a room of it’s occupants and have never done anything to discourage her behavior. She has ‘left her mark’ on those who know her, in more ways than one.

Later that evening, I was surfing the social media sites I frequent and another friend of mine had made a comment regarding a mature adult Rottweiler attacking a groomer in their employment and taking her to the ground. Thankfully, another employee was close by to stop the dog from what could have likely been another sensationalized headline on the local news.

The ability to audit the posts of the shop owner revealed some interesting things, that the dog was a new client, that the owner did not disclose this information when they dropped the dog off for it’s appointment, that there may be a history of previous acts.

I know for a fact that the Poodle has had no previous training, but I am unclear as to whether the Rottweiler has. I also know that the owner of the Poodle will not seek training for her aggressive dog, since they have permitted this dog her indiscretions and since “she’s only 4 pounds!

Well, the Rottweiler isn’t. The nature of the breed is of considerable substance, and by all accounts, he could have killed this groomer.

The responsibility for aggressive dog behavior isn’t with their groomers or vets or any other care-giver, it’s with their owners. The fact that neither owner was willing to disclose their dogs’ penchant for defensive biting is negligence at the least, criminal at it’s worst. If either of these dogs were being groomed for the very first time is no excuse either. And considering the nature of the Poodle at least, and the age, it is unlikely.

News programs, social media and water-cooler conversation is fraught with discussions about dogs. How good they are, how bad they are, how cute they are. Narratives that are rich with anecdotal evidence of the behavior of dogs, their silly acts, their seemingly loving acts, their naughty acts, their violent acts.

Rarely are these conversations directed at the human component; they seem to find themselves somehow exempt from any liability relating to aggressive dog behavior. Somehow taking credit for their dogs’ cooperative deeds, and assigning defect to the dog for it’s dogness. The chewing, the barking, the pulling on the leash, all emotional observations peppered with “He’s just a puppy!” or my favorite. “He knows better, but sometimes he is so stubborn!”

When it becomes growling, defending, the use of teeth, owners are convinced it’s always some external force that caused it, “He was ‘protecting’ me!”, “He doesn’t like it when I do (insert act here)!” or some other misguided trope that alleviates their responsibility for their dogs’ act, however innocuous.

Cruising random sites on the internet and a variety of social media outlets find such narratives resplendent with excuses as to why a dog is a certain way, without taking into account that the owner is largely responsible for their dogs’ behavior.

The current trend towards blaming some external force for ones actions is by no means a new one, and it certainly does not exonerate one of their ultimate responsibility.

It assures it when Animal Control appears on your door with a writ to seize your aggressive dog to hold while you go through the embarrassing and expensive process of a lawsuit for the damage your dog has wrought on another human being, or another human beings’ property.

A quick analysis of my 2011 client statistics show 70 residency board and train clients, of which 45 dogs presented with issues related to acts of aggression. The mean average age was over 3 years, predominantly male, predominantly neutered and predominantly mixed bred dogs acquired from shelters or rescues. Most of these dogs had a protracted history of aggressive acts, earliest age of onset was pre-pubescent, and lasting for several years before the owners came to the realization that the behavior needed addressed. Usually as the result of an aggressive act on a family member, guest, or in one case, a police officer.

Most startling was the revelation that in almost all of these cases, the aggression appeared either shortly after acquisition (of adult dogs) or within a few months of it. In the case of dogs acquired as puppies (under the age of 6 months), owner descriptions indicate the appearance of aggressive acts at the onset of puberty, which the owners were all under the impression could be resolved by de-sexing their animals. Using no other medium with which to address this problem, the aggression either continued  or escalated shortly thereafter.

Several of these training students were court ordered by an Aggressive Dog Board hearing, some of them were owners seeking alternatives after many other failed training attempts (either unsuccessfully on their own, or through seeking help of other trainers), some because they finally decided it was time to address a problem that has diminished their dog-owning experience, opened them up to potential liability, permanently scarred themselves or a member of their family, or the behavior has become so bad, they are afraid that someone may be seriously injured and they, subsequently sued.

But it all could have been resolved, easier, less expensively, without risk of injury or liability, if they had come to the conclusion sooner.

Statistically, this really proves nothing, once it is disclosed how owners addressed certain problems themselves, or were instructed to do, either erroneously or through misunderstanding.

Permissiveness leads to bad dog behavior. If you cannot foresee the “cute” behavior of the puppy in the larger, more mature individual that pup will eventually become, perhaps a quick review of why you want a dog may be in order.

To relegate a dog to a crate, tether or kennel run, in the pervasive assumption that he will “outgrow” what ills he possesses will only lead to more heartbreak in the future.

Surely, it is never the intent to acquire a dog as an ornament, but as a companion to be enjoyed, not endured. The notion that ownership of a little dog alleviates one from their responsibility for the dogs’ behavior should be replaced with the fact that indeed, small dogs can cause serious harm.

It would be a comedy of errors if it didn’t cause scars. Punish responsible people. Kill innocent dogs.

The arguments for increased, more restrictive laws don’t even begin to address the root of these problems.

Responsibility rests with the owners, not the dogs themselves. If you want to own a dog, any dog, regardless of size, or breed, or status, it is imperative that you assume the mantle of that responsibility seriously.

After all, when an aggressive dog bites someone, destroys another persons’ property, attacks and or kills other animals and so on, not only is it unrepresentative of “all dogs”, it’s the responsible owner that ends up footing the bill. It’s the other insured homeowners, responsible dog owners, well cared-for and trained dogs that inevitably suffer.

Before you decide on that dog, be it a Poodle, or a Rottweiler, or a Chihuahua, or a Labrador, remember this.