My heart breaks for the child that a dog recently killed. Interestingly the papers already state the dog had been a nuisance on the estate where the family lived. I'm not sure what a problem looks like in this case, but when a dog hurts a person, there will be many warning signs and incidents leading up to a tragedy.
The dog may not have started out being bad, but for sure was an out of control feral dog.
It's what you can't see...
Many people have borderline feral dogs; if a dog chases, hunts or kills wildlife, how long before they move up the food chain? Yet many people find it acceptable to allow their dogs to chase, hunt and kill, believing it is what dogs do and therefore must be allowed. Some won't even know they are hunting, killing and eating game as they are too far away from them to know.
In my career, I hear all too often of dogs taking down deer and killing them, attacking and seriously hurting other dogs, all of which mostly goes unchecked and unprosecuted. Isn't it time as a nation to decide what the boundaries are for keeping animals and what we are prepared to tolerate from dogs and their owners?
Little in the law to protect us and our best friend
Right now, I know dog owners who are intelligent and generally responsible, law-abiding citizens, but because there is little in the law to protect wildlife and dogs from dog attacks, they see no harm in letting their dogs do as they please.
One client that came to me lived on several acres of land that he owned; over the years, his dog had learned to hunt, kill and eat game, he wanted to be able to walk his dog on other land besides his and had put a tracker on the dog. He wanted me to help him train this dog not to do this, but only away from his property! Now he could see that the dog was covering miles of land, and the tracker showed red spots when the dog attacked and killed wildlife.
Identifying the problem
I know in my job some factors make my work more difficult, mostly to do with owners. No one wants their dog to be viewed as dangerous, and even while coming for help and giving me a long list of unsociable behaviour, they always hasten to add, but he is a loveable and sweet dog.
Here is a recent example:
He pulls badly on the lead
If he's not pulling, he's hanging off the lead, barking aggressively at dogs
Runs after dogs if off the lead
Barks at people and birds
Wees and poos in the house
Wees up my other dog's beds
Tries to chase cars or barks at them
Seeing the signs
A dog that is this badly out of control is often also physically very rough with people, jumping on them and knocking into their family, who often read this behaviour as affection.
This week I had a call from a man asking for help with his 15-month-old Giant Schnauzer cross Bulldog; the dog had never been taken to any training in its life; they had him from a puppy. The dog sounded very boisterous and rough with the family; the guy told me how he played with the dog, how the dog would "mouth". That just recently, the dog had started to bark at visitors and at the weekend had frightened a 12-year-old girl that was visiting, though of course "he is not aggressive, or dangerous," the guy stated.
These are warning signs; this is what it can look like. The man did not book up with me. I hope he has booked another trainer, though I suspect he was fishing for free advice.
Are banning breeds right?
The answer is not to ban certain breeds; banning adds to the kudos of having one of these dogs. The reality is that most dogs that have offended are often mixed breeds or of unknown origin. All dogs start sweet, fluffy, cute and cuddly, and the problem is people don't realise they are living with an animal, not a soft toy!
Improving our knowledge
What is needed is education; people need educating on how to train their dog but which dogs will suit their lifestyle, that training any of the working breeds is a two-year job, not just a few weeks of puppy school. Most puppy's around six months are delightful and wouldn't hurt anyone on purpose, but the job is far from done. This is when the real work must begin when the dog can be shaped into the pet that will fit society, that isn't allowed to run wild and learn to hunt.
If you don't want to invest in that education, please avoid getting a puppy, instead go to a recommended rescue and take on a mature dog that needs a home through no fault of their own.
Do seek advice on the best dog for you, and please, please get help if you recognise any warning signs. Bad behaviour caught early enough; dogs can behaviour changed for the better!
Again, our heartfelt sympathies go to the family of the 10-year-old boy who passed after the dog attack. It is a true tragedy.