The tragedies that have recently been in the media concerning the Woman who was off leash running with her dogs and was found dead with the dogs guarding her were identified as pitbulls. The police have also said that her wounds were consistent with a mauling. The other incident being a Petsmart groomer who was bit on the arm by a dog identified as a pitbull during her grooming session with the dog. These are extremely troubling incidents but, we should not start pointing the finger at a certain breed or the dogs who committed these acts. At Backcountry K-9 Training we believe that breed should ever be classified as “aggressive”or unfairly labeled. As bully breed advocates we believe that the most important part of owning a powerful breed is proper training with qualified trainers. In the case of the Petsmart incident the dog was actually brought into the groomers with a muzzle on because the owners knew the dog had the possibility of doing this but the policy in the store was that no dog could be muzzled in the grooming room. This is putting the dog in a bad situation and setting it up to fail. Remember in anything your dog does, they have to feel successful and having fun. We do not agree with the assessment that was quoted in the articles on the Virginia incident in that most dog aggression issues come from fear, there are multiple causes of aggression in dogs. Some trainers just do not have the skills, tools, and knowledge to handle some of the harder forms of aggression that are not fear based and that is ok, but admit it to your client before someone or the dog gets hurt. The key is finding what is a trigger to a dog whether it be fear, having places touched, etc. Then once triggers are identified you can begin the rehabilitation process.
Our Hope in writing a response to these events is that more people will not be jumping to conclusions about the breed or any stereotype associated with them. This is not a time to consider any rash action such as Breed Specific Legislation(BSL) because there are studies such as the one done in Toronto that show BSL does not work. They enacted a breed specific policy and then look at their dog bite statistics and what they found what that bites actually stayed the same with a small uptick. These solutions such as BSL are not a solution, it’s a band-aid to bigger problems in our interaction with dogs.
I think this has a lot to do with humanizing the dogs we have. Dogs are becoming more and more apart of our families which is fantastic but with this comes the need for more high level training to be able to allow our dogs to go most places with their family, which some dog trainers simply cannot offer or are going about it incorrectly. What happens when we put a dog in situations where we are not sure how they will react and on top of that we have little control of them? Disaster. Let’s look at the bully breeds, they are extremely strong and are commonly used for weight pulling and what do they use for weight pulling? A harness. This is because a harness activates the very strong opposition reflex that dogs have. Even the front pull harnesses are not very helpful when we need them to control our dogs in certain situations. Sure, you can say avoid those situations, but don’t you want to have confidence to take your dog most places you go and to let them explore our great world that you leave them to go out in everyday? I understand for your smaller dogs and large dogs with trachea damage or other medical issues harnesses are a good option, but I do not understand why we are using tools that will not work for a lot of dogs. All dogs regardless of age, size, breed should be on your standard 6 foot leashes as well, unless working on recall, hiking, trailing which are times for using longer leashes and/or retractable leashes.
My opinion as well, is that a lot of aggression is coming to light because the media is more interested in dog bites, more specifically “pitbull” attacks where the dog at times is not even a pitbull. We need to have a villain in these stories and most of the time the dog gets blamed. Not the owners or the sometimes even the person who was bit is to blame. Our dogs are not robots, they are not humans as much as we wish they were. They are dogs: they need exercise, structure with clear rules and expectations. If we cannot offer these rules to our dogs they begin to start having behavior problems. Dogs who are not doing obedience training or some sort of metal and physical stimulation are going to find ways to get rid of that pent-up energy in ways such as chewing household objects up, or begin to manifest into aggressive acts. The term is coined “Suburban Dog Syndrome” in some circles and basically it occurs when a dog is exercised by a walk in the same neighborhood or simply by the owners letting them just run alone outside in their fenced in yard. The dog is not receiving any stimulation to meet his basic needs for the drives he/she has. Some of the best dog owners are ones that live in tiny apartments with no yard because they walk their dog all the time and in different places this is very stimulating to a dog and requires them to focus more on their owner for commands. Another cause for increases in aggression is mismatched dog trainers to dogs. I agree that dog training should be positive, fun and engaging to a dog 95 percent of the time but we need that 5 percent of correction for bad behaviors or not following commands that we are sure that they know, but following a correction when we get the behavior we want we explode in praise and treats because our dogs are amazing. That is key, we cannot be correcting dogs for not listening to commands they do not even know. Teaching commands should be a lot of praise and yummy treats as well. WHY DO SOME TRAINERS BLAME THE CLIENT AND DOG? It should be the dog trainers job to make sure your client and their dog is successful! Dog Trainers as a community need to stop arguing over what technique is supreme because there is not one way to train a dog, we need to get back to the important aspects of our jobs as a profession and that is helping clients with their dogs. Find trainers like Backcountry K-9 Training that want what is best for your dog, not a dog trainer who says they need to think about the trainer first then the dog, ask my clients I always will do what is best for their dog and sometimes it means doing a little extra long session or doing more for your clients. A trainer should leave their ego at the door and always be there for the client and their dog. I’m tired of hearing stories of dogs with food guarding, resource guarding, dog aggression, people aggression, that are not fear based that result in dogs being put to sleep. I know this because of my experience in shelters, we need to look at the way we train and approach dog training before we ever are blaming dogs for being themselves. Some dog training organizations spend millions of dollars a year to push one style of training through advertising and paid studies, clients should pick the trainer they feel most comfortable with and their dog seems to respond best to right away, the dog knows what your energy is and how that makes them feel, you simply cannot lie to a dog they will make you a liar every time if your try. Owners should be looking for trainers who are well-studied in multiple training disciplines that will be able to create the best training plan for your dog using multiple strategies.