If you are a dog lover and travel the virtual halls of Facebook it's likely you've read the story, Pit Bull mauls four year old in Phoenix. The story is tragic. As the father of four young kids I ache for this young boy who will be forever traumatized and will go through excruciating pain. Since this story came out, though, I've been asked several times for my opinion. In thinking about the case and reading the information that is available online I came up with several thoughts. They don't form a narrative, essay-type response. Rather, my thoughts are formed in bullet points, random thoughts strung together. I'm not a guy who uses foul language. So understand that my following language is about as rough as I get. In other words, I've got some strong opinions on what is going down:
- What the FRACK is wrong with you people? By 'you people' I'm referring to the thousands of people who have rallied in support of...the dog! I love dogs, I think that goes without saying. As of the last reading (this may have changed) the public had raised more money to save the dog from being put down than had raised for the boy who was sitting disfigured in a hospital bed. How is this possible? Now I know that you can advocate for saving the dog, Mickey, AND have full sympathy for the poor kid. These aren't mutually exclusive sentiments. But the fact that the dog is raising more money than the kid is the public's way of voting with their wallets and saying that saving the dog is more important than helping the kid. It's shameful.
- Yes, you can train the FRACKING dog. So what? I've seen many people commenting online that 'hey, we can train the dog and fix the problem! Don't put him down!' Let me get this clear. I am 100%, unequivocally in favor of putting the dog down. I don't arrive at that conclusion lightly. I am typically the last guy jumping into the swimming pool of 'kill the dog!'. In fact, at my company we've successfully trained hundreds of dogs who have bitten in the past.
But look at the facts here. The kid approached the dog. There may or may not have been a bone depending on the report. The dog attacked the kid with some insane intensity. Tell me...what amount of training will make you feel comfortable ever putting this dog near a child again? As a dog trainer I'm hugely confident (read: massive ego) in my ability to fix aggression cases. As a father, however, there is no way this dog is ever coming near something I love no matter how much training. I'm not mad at the dog. I don't wish to kill the dog in revenge. I simply recognize that there is no amount of training on this green earth that would ever make me feel comfortable with this dog.
"It's not the breed, it's the owner!"
- Pit bull apologists. What the FRACK, guys? Let me be clear. I'm a fan of Pit Bulls. I like them. I think they're fun. I defend them when given the chance. But here's the problem. Those of you who are Pit Bull apologists are often doing more harm than good. You'll say things like:
What about all the great Pit Bull owners who have Pit Bulls with aggression problems? You know there are a lot of them, right? We get plenty of dog owners who come to us with Pit Bulls that have aggression problems. You want to know the common denominator with every single one of them? They're all good dog owners. If not, they wouldn't be coming to a trainer and paying through the nose to fix an aggression problem. Could they have done things better? Sure. Everyone can. But these are not bad dog owners.
"Pit Bulls only do this when they're trained to be aggressive/neglected/abused/beaten/etc."
Bull crap. I've worked with dozens of Pit Bulls who have aggression issues. None of these dogs have been trained to be aggressive or have been beaten and most haven't been abused. (Side note, I've also worked with dozens of Labradors, German Shepherds, Dalmatians, and Chihuahuas who were aggressive who also weren't beaten or abused.)
Every time you apologists pretend that the Pit Bull isn't an insanely powerful breed, with a propensity for strong drives, with an intensity that other breeds don't always have...and you pretend that all of them are sweethearts until some jerk of an owner comes along and turns them bad...YOU. AREN'T. HELPING. PIT. BULLS!
Your heads are in the sand. Yes, I'm fully aware of the statistics that other breeds bite with more frequency. I'm not saying that a Pit Bull is any more likely than a Labrador to bite someone. But I am saying that a Pit Bull is infinitely more likely than a Labrador to maul a kid and put him in the hospital... or kill a dog (which this dog Mickey has also done)...or cause some real damage to another pet. Does that make all Pit Bulls bad? Or most of them? Or even a decent percentage? Not by a long shot! But stop pretending that you are doing your favorite breed a favor by pretending that they aren't capable of mayhem. They are. They're capable of it when they're treated poorly. They're capable of it when they're treated well. So is any dog. So stop thinking that all other breeds have their warts and the Pit Bull is a saint unless provoked. Recognize that your breed is a powerful animal, often with powerful drives, who has often been poorly bred and comes to the table with a weak nervous system.
- What the FRACK is wrong with these dog owners? I do not understand the mentality of someone who buys a dog and puts it on a chain in a yard where someone has access to that dog. This should never happen. Ever. Not ever. Not with a Pit Bull. Not with a Samoyed. Not with a Saluki or a mixed breed or a jungle cat.
If you put any dog on a chain it becomes infinitely more likely of attacking. I won't get into the deep psychology of what I'm referring to but there is something I'll call 'barrier aggression' that makes a dog more likely of attacking. Even very sweet dogs can do something really stupid when they are tied out.
So I haven't seen the set up at this person's house. I'm not sure how it looks, where the yard is, where the dog was tied up, etc. But I will tell you this. If you EVER
have reason to tie your dog out (and if you do, consider why you have a dog in the first place) you had better tie that dog out where you are 100% guaranteed that no one can ever come up to your dog. Period. Are we clear on that?
- What the FRACK is wrong with all of these online commentators? I recognize that I am awfully hypocritical at this moment. I'm harping on online commentators while being an online commentator. The difference is, though, that I'm right. I always am, after all. (Side note, my wife always gives me a hard time saying 'you always think you're right in any argument!' My response is 'of course! Who walks around thinking they are wrong?')
Let me be a bit more specific by calling out a few comments I see on a Facebook page for saving Mickey. The page has over 40,000 likes, by the way. Maybe we should see if every one of them could go give that poor kid a $5 note. Here are some comments:
"I can't believe his family just gave up on him without a fight! Dogs are loyal and would never betray their owners! Shame on you Mickeys family shame on you!"
What the FRACK does loyalty have to do with this? The dog did kill a dog and nearly killed a kid.
"I am thinking positive!! We will Save Mickey, he has done nothing wrong & he deserves to have true unconditional love for the rest of his life!! xo"
Nope. He doesn't deserve trust for the rest of his life. He has killed things and almost killed others. If there was ever a dog not deserving of trust it's this one. Seriously, what kind of mindset creates such an ignorant, idiotic statement?
If you head over to this Facebook page (no, I won't link to it here) you'll see thousands of comments. Most of them follow the vein of 'the kid never should have been in the yard, it's not the dog's fault!'
The sad thing is I agree.
The kid never should have gone into the yard. And in a sense it's not the dog's fault that he was put in that position, not supervised, not trained, not socialized, or whatever.
But fault or not the results are the same. He ate this poor kid. And no matter the fault why is there such an outcry to save this animal who has proven to be dangerous on more than one occasion? Why isn't more of this energy going to help this poor child? I'm an advocate for dogs but I'm also smart enough to realize that I don't advocate for dogs by pretending that some dogs aren't insanely dangerous.
This is an awful situation for everyone; dog, dog owner, child, children's family, and anyone who cares about this situation. But willful ignorance is not the answer to tragedy.
Dog Training- Many Dogs are Sick
There is a principle of dog training
that I often talk of with our clients.
That concept is of illness vs. symptoms.
When I'm sharing this concept I'll often tell someone to picture that they've got pneumonia. They've got a fever, their nose is running, they're coughing, and they've got pain in their chest and their head.
Now imagine that the doctor sees this person and says, "Alrighty, let's get you some aspirin. That will fix you right up!"
What would your thoughts be?
I'm no doctor but a simple google search tells me that pneumonia is caused by bacteria, virus, and even fungi. If you've got a serious case of pneumonia and the doctor sends you home with a bottle of aspirin you may get some temporary relief from a headache or body pain but the underlying illness isn't touched at all by this regimen.
How does this compare to your dog?
This exact same concept applies to your dog and your dog training efforts.
When you've got a dog with aggression problems
the aggressive behaviors are simply the symptoms. The underlying cause is typically a need for leadership that is more clear, a need for better understanding of structure and obedience, and a willingness to work within a system.
When you're dealing with some serious dog destruction
the fact that your dog chewed up your slippers or your couch is the symptom. The illness hiding beneath the surface is often a lack of supervision, not enough mental or physical stimulation, or other issues.
When you've got a 'dog who doesn't listen'
what you've really got is an underlying disease of you, the dog owner, not knowing how to clearly communicate what you want from your dog.
So what is the best way to treat a disease? Is it wrong to treat the symptom? I personally don't think so. In the case of pneumonia perhaps you take the aspirin for short term relief AND you take antibiotics
to kill the underlying illness. Herein lies the problem for most dog owners.
The problem for the average dog owner
The problem is that the average dog owner typically wants to treat the symptom. The questions we get often include:
'How do I get my dog to stop acting aggressive to other dogs/guests/people/etc.?'
They aren't asking- 'How can I help my dog not feel the need to be aggressive?'
People will ask:
'How do I punish my dog for chewing or digging?'
The question they fail to ask is- 'What needs of my dogs are going unfulfilled so that he's being destructive?'
I always encourage our clients to start asking different questions. The questions need to be asked from a foundation sense; what part of my dog's foundation is incorrect such that he or she is displaying this behavior?
Instead we've trained ourselves as people to look for the quick fix.
'Tell me what to do to stop the dog from doing this now!' is the common mindset we get when people email us through our website.
Most people want to hear that super-special word, or look, or thing you can do with your hand so that the dog stops being aggressive RIGHT NOW!
Or they want to know the secret formula of gross sauce they can put on their shoes to stop the dog from chewing TODAY!
The irony is that if you work on treating the root causes of your dog's 'training illnesses' you'll often overcome your problems much faster than if you tried to treat the symptom. In nearly every case we come across treating the root causes entail:
- Solid obedience training. No, I'm not referring to 'sit for a cookie'. I'm talking about a level of training where your dog is obedient in the face of distractions. Without treats.
- Good exercise. Being a member of the animal kingdom and not getting exercise can be a recipe for disaster.
- Proper supervision. Dog owners are too quick to want to give their dogs freedom before their dogs have earned that freedom.
- Common sense. Not everyone has to be dog savvy. But do try to think of potential outcomes and prepare for them with every scenario with your dog.
Treat the root cause of the illness and the symptom and your training efforts will be rewarded.