This post is going to come across as a bit of a rant or a bit patronising, so I apologise in advance – just off a 27 hour flight ☹
As you lot know, the research I carried out on dog bites in Ireland was published a few weeks ago. Since its publication there has been a lot of support, but also a lot of criticism, generally with the same theme – that, regardless of what peer reviewed scientific research says, Joe / Mary’s opinion trumps this research, and, despite what experts with years of studying and experience under their belt have to say, Mary and Joe are right, and the experts are wrong.
Now the journalists are jumping on the band wagon, taking my research, misinterpreting it, and publishing (incorrect) results of the study.
There’s something about dogs that makes everyone an expert! I’m no mechanic, I’ll believe what the mechanics say. I’m do medical expert, I’ll believe what the doctors have to say. I’m no historian, I’ll believe what the historians have to say.
However, if it’s a topic I’m super interested in, and I have the time, I will research the area more to educate myself.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand. I am still being met with two common strong opinions.
Group A, the “yeah, well, some breeds are made to do x, y, or z”.
Group B, the “No matter what you guys have to say, when one of THOSE big dogs go for you, they’ll do way more damage than a smaller dog”.
Let’s look at it with some common sense, shall we? (wow, I’m cranky today!!)
“Yeah, well, some breeds are made to do x, y, or z”
The group that think that each dog is destined to fulfil their destiny. To grow up and become an exact stereotypical replica of their breed.
What the hell are breed traits? Following scents? Pulling sleds? Herding? Barking at intruders? Swimming? Killing rats? Being affectionate toward people? What are breed traits so? Eh, they’re THINGS THAT DOGS DO!!!!
What are we saying when we say certain breeds are selected for to perform x, y, z behaviour? THEY ARE LIKELY TO BE SLIGHTLY BETTER AT DOING THAT DOGGIE THING THAN THE DOG NEXT DOOR.
Breed traits are real, and yes, on average a beagle is likely to follow a scent more successfully than a pug. But what about Jack the pug who is better at following a scent than Charlie the beagle? What about Babe the pig who is better at herding than Sam the collie?!
I'm a Unique Individual
As a professional, making assumptions on a dogs behaviour simply down to its breed is foolish and hinders my success.
Every dog is a brand new dog.
I may be dealing with Charlie, a beagle who has little interest in nose work, or Jack, the pug who follow’s his nose everywhere.
Both are, first and foremost, dogs.
Then they are a combination of their genetic makeup and their life experiences.
Breed will play a part in their genetic makeup. But not completely. I can list lots of dogs that I know personally that aren’t ‘typical’ of their breed. Diego, the Jack Russell with the personality of a stereotypical King Charles. Daisy the husky (my dog) who shows no typical husky characteristics. Lynx, the springer spaniel, who’d choose snuggles over ‘springing’ any day. And we’ve all heard horror stories of collies being shot, or dumped, because they’re no good at herding.
At the end of the day, breed often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who want lap dogs, choose lap dog breeds, then treat them as lap dogs. Snuggle behaviours are reinforced, so increase. However, affection toward humans is a DOG trait.
People who want security, or ‘tough’ looking dogs choose the breeds with reputations of being aggressive, then reinforce aggressive behaviours hence aggressive behaviours increase. However, aggression is a DOG trait.
“No matter what you guys have to say, when one of THOSE big dogs go for you, they’ll do way more damage than a smaller dog”
Next, Group B, the “No matter what you guys have to say, when one of THOSE big dogs go for you, they’ll do way more damage than a smaller dog”.
Yes. A large dog is likely to have more potential strength in a bite incident than a small dog. In the same way as a large Land Rover having more potential to cause damage than a Smart car.
From 3 weeks of age dogs are learning all about their mouths, and the pressure they put on bites. Mum quickly teaches her pups how hard bites hurt, then their littermates do, then, all through the dog’s life, they develop an acute sense of how much strength to put behind each bite. They know the difference between picking up their tennis ball or crushing their tennis ball. They know the difference between play biting their buddies softly, and play biting their buddies with too much pressure. They use their mouth to nibble on an itch. They know their mouths!
So, when it comes to dogs biting people, they almost always show a level of inhibition in their bite. When we evaluate a dog bite professionally, many of us currently use Dr. Ian Dunbar’s bite scale, where part of the evaluation is how deep was the bite in comparison to the dogs canine tooth. This is used regularly to determine whether or not the dog applied full pressure.
I've been bitten!
Full disclosure?! I’ve been bitten a couple of times. Each time my fault, each time avoidable. One of the incidents I still cringe when I think about it!! German Shepherd with hip problems, but also petrified of the vets. He was in for behaviour issues which I believed were related to the hips. I sent him to the vets but he completely panicked so the vet rang me. We agreed it would be best to send him home and the next day I would go with the dog and meet the vet in the carpark to examine him outside.
As I met him outside he was already distressed. I played a bit with the ball and he settled down. I had a thundershirt (used to calm dogs down), and once he was OK with me I went to put the thundershirt on him by, you guessed it, dummy over here grabbed him by the hips (WTF like!). The dog, in a flash, turned, grabbed my fore arm, held it, and stared at me. It was completely obvious what he was trying to communicate. “Do NOT touch me there”. I apologised to him and he let go. Did my arm fall off? No. Was the skin pulled off? No. Was there a little bit of bruising? Yes.
Case two. Cocker spaniel that was in for grooming. When removing a tangle she turned and snapped at me, taking a nice chunk off the top of my finger. It bloody hurt!
With both cases, the dogs used a different amount of their potential pressure, one resulting in more serious injuries than the other.
What About The Victim?
The victim or body part also makes a substantial difference to the risk a dog bite possesses. Yes, once again, a large dog will have more potential to apply more pressure in a bite incident than a small dog. However, if the victim is small, a serious bite from a small dog can be catastrophic.
The body part matters. A small dog bite to the face, or to delicate skin tissue, as can a large dog bite.
Size can matter, but size doesn’t always matter.
What does matter, is WHY bites occur.
A chilled out large dog is less likely to cause an injury than a small, frightened, cornered dog.
A chilled out large dog is less likely to cause an injury to a small dog in pain.
A large dog being left alone is less likely to cause an injury to a small dog who’s tail is being pulled.
I wish common sense was more common!!
Lots to share !