Logan Braatz, 6, was killed by dogs on his way to school Tuesday morning, and Syari Sanders, 5, was seriously injured, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
I am sick about this. My heart goes out to the family of the boy who lost his life, to the injured girl and her loved ones, and to all of those who witnessed this horrific scene.
Reports say that neighbors had seen the two dogs, a Border Collie and a Pit Bull mix, running loose in the neighborhood before. This time something happened — something unthinkable and horrific.
Why? I’m hopeful that a full investigation will shed light on this for the community’s sake. The owner, Cameron Tucker, has been charged with two counts of reckless conduct and one count of involuntary manslaughter, the newspaper reports. Police shot and killed one dog at the scene, and Fulton County Animal Control took the other into custody.
I’d like to focus here on how we can all come together to prevent incidents like these. To do so, we must better understand as a society how dogs move and breathe in the world we share.
Dogs are instinctual predators
Even though dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, their instincts to chase and hunt are extremely strong. Breed has little to do with this behavior, and any dog of any size can exhibit it; some do show their prey drive more than others. This predatory instinct, for the most part, is something many of us love about dogs. Fetching, herding sheep, hunting… shall I go on?
Predatory behavior is not recognized as aggression, though, as it is distinguished by the need to survive by chasing food, even if dogs no longer need to feed themselves. It’s just what they do. In other words, it’s a normal behavior. If it moves, they chase it.
However, a normal predatory chase can turn nasty in seconds. (I wrote an article about this exact behavior recently.) A dog behind a fence, on a leash, or in a car can become aroused to the point of aggression as seen in the image above. Dogs who haven’t been well socialized can become frustrated by everyday occurrences such as children or other animals walking by, and the constant exposure to these occurrences can trigger a dog to become overly aroused, turning normal predatory behavior into full-blown aggression.
This especially can be the case when there is a group of dogs (two or more would be considered a group) involved. We’ve seen this at the dog park when a fight breaks out and other dogs rush to join in. Dogs pick up on the energy, magnifying their own, and it can go from zero to 10 in a flash. The situation can turn deadly, especially if those animals are on the loose.
How to handle roaming dogs
We can take action to get potentially dangerous dogs off the streets. As a society, we also need to teach our children how to read dogs and how to behave around them. Here’s how to do both:
- If you see a roaming dog, ask around in the neighborhood to find out where the dog lives. If you do, go to the home and tell the owner to keep their pet contained. Tell them if they don’t comply, you will call animal control.
- Call animal control every time you see the roaming dog, and have your neighbors do the same, until the pet is picked up. Often, officers will wait until there are three complaints before going out. Be vigilant. Enter the animal control office’s number on your phone so you are ready to call when you spot roaming dogs.
- Use social media tools such as Nextdoor to post loose dog sightings and make neighbors aware. You may help reunite a pet who is not dangerous with their family, or you may help get a dangerous dog off the streets.
- Walk your children to school. If there are dogs loose on a particular street, choose another route and call animal control.
- Teach your children how to behave around dogs in general. Teach them not to scream, run, tease, or look directly at an animal. Doggone Crazy has a game that teaches kids how to have fun and be safe around dogs. Teaching kids to freeze like in the poster below can go a long way toward subduing a loose dog, as the dog may see them as boring. Teach kids not to panic and scream, but instead to look down, make no eye contact with the dog, and remain as calm as possible. This is easier said than done, but if kids learn this and practice, they have a better chance at recalling it when needed.
- Hold a neighborhood meeting and invite a behavior professional to speak about dog body language and how to behave appropriately around dogs. Ask your children’s school to do the same.
We must all work to keep another child, or adult for that matter, from becoming a dog bite or fatality statistic. Together we CAN make a difference.
Top photo: Courtesy Channel 2 Action News
About the author: Jill Breitner is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert. She is certified as a Fear Free Professional and a Fear Free Professional for Foundation for Puppies and Kittens, as well as certified in Animal Behavior and Welfare. She is the author of the Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language. Join Jill on her on her Facebook page.