How society should deal with the “dog bite problem” if it wants to solve it

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Let’s face it: eliminating dog bites completely is unrealistic, but that’s not to say that a lot can’t be done to lower the number of times it happens.

Every time the media covers a dog bite, the number of commentators calling for the dogs death (even in cases where no one were injured beyond superficial cuts and scratches) always amazes me. Adding to the stupidity, is that there’s always those who make ridiculous claims like “once a dog has tasted blood, there is no going back and the dog is a lost cause, therefore it should be killed”.

These people speak out of ignorance. There are so many documented cases of dogs who have bitten, and then successfully been rehabilitated, that you’d be hard pressed to finish counting them all.

What all these people, the media and the government at large fail to realize, is that no matter how many dogs they kill, it will do nothing to lower the number of dog bites in the long term. You’d think this was common sense, but apparently it isn’t. So in the interest of being clear: always dealing with the superficial effects (dog bites) instead of attacking the root cause of the problem (dog owners), will ultimately never improve the situation.

We’re applying short term fixes to a problem that requires long term solutions.

Killing a dog is unfair because it cannot be judged

A dog’s mind is on par with that of a 2 year old, and let’s not forget, it’s an animal. It is both irrational, immoral and ignorant to uphold a dog to the standards of a human (we go even further than that, as we usually hand out death sentences without any reasonable trail taking place). The dog will never be able to comprehend the consequences of its actions on the same level as humans do. Yet, we treat them as if that was the case anyway.

Evaluate the seriousness of the the individual case

If a dog kills someone, it’s easier for me to understand putting the dog to sleep. I still don’t condone it, as even in such a case, the dog is not at fault, but it is easier to understand. In a case where a dog barely scratches someone however, I’m appalled at the utter lack of perspective people have when they call for the dogs death.

When a dog “scratches” someone..

Should we just let it go? Probably not. But should we kill? A resounding no!

If it’s too much trouble to evaluate each case, set up a system where short of a dog killing someone, the dog owner is severely fined, and sentenced to take the dog to a modern trainer specializing in problem behavior and working on the problem to help the dog become a functioning member of society again. If it’s obvious that the dog owner is an idiot not capable of following through on this, at least look for an alternative home, before destroying the dog.

Always ask the question: was the dog provoked? And if so, how?

A dog won’t bite without reason. Even though it sometimes seems like that’s the case, the truth is that’s because most of us aren’t trained to look for the right cues. Cues include, but are not limited to, growling, raised lip, raised tail, change in posture and so on. The cues are there because dogs want to avoid confrontation. It’s only when the cues fail, that biting can become the next step.

A child for example, will rarely be able to look for these cues, which explains a big part of why they get bitten. Does that justify a bite? Of course not, but it’s still important to be aware of.

As a disclaimer, dogs should always be socialized with children from an early age, and children should not be allowed around dogs without adult supervision. Further to that, the child should not be allowed to act in a way that might be perceived as a threat by the dog, and vice versa.

The number one reason dogs bite is when they feel threatened

The threat isn’t necessarily real to us, but it certainly is to the dog. So even when the dog attacked for “no apparent reason”, the truth is it probably did so because it felt threatened.

Ultimately though, it comes down to two things, 1) not being able to spot the warning signs (cues), and 2) bad owners, which brings me to the root of the problem.

Bad owners = dangerous dogs

As a disclaimer, I will leave puppy mills and backyard breeders and their impact on problem behavior out of this discussion in the interest of keeping it as short as possible.

Between the bad trainers, books and “your friends who don’t know any better” who advocate dog abuse in the form of punitive, harsh, negative “training techniques” - it’s no wonder that we create ticking time bombs ready to bite.

If you follow the advice of Cesar Millan for example, which largely consists of suppressing the dogs natural behavior and warning signals in favor of having the dog become almost apathetic, you risk teaching your dog that there is no reason to give warning cues. What happens next is that instead of warning a potential threat to back off, the dog will go straight for the bite instead.

It’s situations like that which are often interpreted by humans as “the dog attacked without reason”.

Unless someone can provide sufficient evidence to the contrary, I will never stop stating my position on this, because based on current scientific evidence, this is shown to be the truth: Dogs are not the problem. Their owners are!

Author: Stian Karlsen

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