Yesterday, we determined that it is an exceptionally rare event when a person is seriously injured as a result of dog aggression. The recent increase in incidents of law enforcement officers shooting canines suggests that perhaps they did not receive the memo.
While it is perhaps right to assume that police officers, due to the nature of their work, will be brought into contact with unsocialized and dangerous dogs perhaps more frequently than the average citizen, they probably don’t come into contact with reactive dogs as frequently as those individuals who make their living working directly with these dogs. Yet, if you talk to many behavior professionals, you’ll find that the ones that know what they’re doing get bit relatively rarely, considering how frequently they are “at risk” by being in the presence of “red zone” dogs. The moral of the story is – the more you know about dogs, the easier it is to avoid getting bitten by one.
What can we as a community do to reduce the risk of this cop-on-dog violence?
Many of these incidents could be prevented through responsible dog ownership. That is not to say owners of victim dogs are necessarily irresponsible, but it is true that there are direct actions we as pet owners can take to minimize the risk of such tragedy befalling our best friends.
The solution is trifold – contain, train, and complain!
First, we must contain our dogs effectively with adequate fencing and follow leash laws at all times. I don’t care how good your dog is off leash, laws are in place for a reason. If you are breaking the law, it stands to reason that you will be more likely to have a run-in with law enforcement than those who are not breaking the law. Police officers are far from the only or even the most prevalent danger to off leash dogs. Off leash dogs chasing prey or livestock can be shot legally by hunters and farmers in many areas. Off leash dogs are also at risk to serious injury from traffic, and if your off leash dog causes a traffic accident, you may be legally liable for some or all of the damages. Off leash dogs may be stolen, impounded by the authorities, or consume toxic food items. Unscrupulous individuals may harass or abuse your off leash dog and if he uses his teeth to defend himself, he may end up paying the ultimate price.
There is a place and a time for allowing your dog off leash. The place should be your own property or public areas which are specifically marked as being designated for off lead dogs; the time should be as frequently as possible!
Let’s get over the idea right now that it is our dogs’ “duty” or “instinct” to protect us. There’s a reason well-trained protection dogs are priced in the tens of thousands of dollars – you are training against the nature of what makes a dog, a dog. We don’t breed dogs to be aggressive to humans – for millennia, those genes have been culled from the herd. If you want a dog not just to bark but actually aggress toward an intruder while remaining under control of the handler, this is a serious and complex bit of training and not every dog has what it takes.
I’ve always considered it my job to protect my dogs, not the other way around. Granted, the bark of a dog may be a deterrent to someone breaking into the house, or maybe it’s not. Regardless, a dog should never replace an actual security system.
In addition to abandoning our societal belief that our dogs should bear the responsibility for defending the homestead, we must all become accountable for the temperament and behavior of our own dogs. The vast majority of dogs with aggression and reactivity problems can see significant improvement if the right behavior modification protocols are established and followed with consistency.
Regardless of whether your dog displays aggression or reactivity, all pet owners are advised to train at a minimum some very basic obedience behaviors to reliability including: hand target, heel, and down at a minimum. Train these behaviors until they are so reliable you’d bet your dog’s life that they will respond to your cues; because some day, in fact, you may have to make that bet.
Responsible dog ownership is not limited to the microcosm that our individual parcel of the world and the dogs that we choose to have in our home. Truly responsible dog ownership includes a level of civic responsibility. We must work with our government to create harsher sentences for animal cruelty violations, bring an end to an industry which sees puppies only as dollar signs and burned out momma dogs as “collateral damage,” create laws forbidding the practice of unlimited chaining, etc.
Aside from being dog owners, we are citizens and taxpayers. We are the people, and as such, we are the employers of law enforcement. Pat Miller provides a possible action we can all take, in just a few minutes, to let law enforcement know their handling of dogs is important to our communities:
We need a grassroots campaign that insists our law enforcement officers be trained and equipped to appropriately and non-lethally handle situations in which dogs are involved. Call your own police department tomorrow to inquire about their department policies for handling dogs, and to ask if their officers are equipped with and trained in the use of humane canine capture equipment. Then ask three of your friends to call, and have them ask three of their friends. Get it started.
What are you waiting for? Get it started!