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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Paws for thought

I have a new puppy who is 11 months old. She is a Bullmastiff-husky cross, but I can only see Bullmastiff in her. This is her third home - my son got her and my partner as fallen in love with her so we have kept her.

I'm not sure of dogs, even though I have grown up with them, because of all the dog attacks you hear on the news. I am giving her a chance, but the most important things in my life are my children and my grandchildren and nephew, who are 9 years old, 14 months, 5 months, and 3 months old, and are around the dog all the time.

I have never met a dog who is so loving towards my family and out of the house. She has never even growled at the wrong time, and when my grandchildren touch her toys she just drops it even if she is playing! I'm falling in love with her as she is so soft and loving towards everyone.

With her breed and her being so big, am I right to let her live around my family? I don't want to keep moving her around to different homes as she really is a brill dog. What do I do?

Name supplied, by email

Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises…

HI there – thanks for writing in as I am sure your question will help many, many parents and dog owners.

There are some risk factors that have been identified regarding this.

I am taking my quote from a fantastic article by David Ryan, who is a very experienced and well-regarded dog behaviourist and expert witness, but who is also, I am sure he will not mind me saying, a family man:

“Fatal dog attacks are thankfully rare in the UK, as they are in the rest of the world when looked at in the pro rata of population, but of course even one is one sad case too many. Even sadder is that there is a degree of predictability that makes fatal dog attacks preventable in many cases.

“A recently published review of statistics from fatal dog attacks in the United States shows factors that play a large part in many fatal attacks: Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009) by Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD; Jeffrey J. Sacks, MD, MPH; Karen M. Delise; Donald V. Cleary, BA; Amy R. Marder, VMD published in the Journal of  the American  Veterinary  Medical  Association; 243:1726–1736; December 2013.

“An American study is useful because the factors are likely to be universal, and there are many more fatal attacks in the USA simply because there are both more people and more dogs. If we can predict these factors, through grouping them, we can also avoid them.

“So, what are they? Well, they will not be a surprise to anyone who deals with aggression in dogs. In order of predictability they are:

The absence of an able-bodied person to intervene (87.1%)

Incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs (85.2%),

Un-neutered dogs (84.4%),

The weight range of most dogs was 23 to 45 kg (approx 50 to 100 lb) (79.3%)

Compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs (77.4%)

Dogs were kept isolated from regular positive human interactions (76.2%)

Nearly three-quarters of the deaths occurred on the owner’s property (74.2%)

Nearly half of victims were < 5 years of age (45.3%)

Four or more factors co-occurred in 80.5% deaths.”

I advise every parent to read David’s full article here:

In addition I think it is worth making sure that you are well-read on dog stress signals. This is not always immediately obvious but dogs can become a little perturbed at certain things, and humans do not notice. Every time a dog tries to move away, turns his head away, rolls his eyes, even licks his lips, every parent must immediately check the context around which this is happening. There are more signals and details – perhaps this is a good subject for my next article in Dogs Today.

In the meantime I would always advise every parent that ‘supervision’ is not a strong enough word around children and dogs. We must only let them be together when we are able to ‘coach’ them in these same signals – the dog is not comfortable with that. I know you think it is loving to hug the dog but he doesn’t think so – dogs think hugging is scary.

In my opinion the real problems vary hugely but good management and understanding counts for a lot more. Think of risks and how to control them – that is a very positive approach.

The Blue Dog project is an absolutely brilliant resource for parents:

Please share far and wide and never, never ignore the small signals. Ask a qualified behaviourist from the APBC to help you (I am also a member) as we are professionals in these matters and there to help family dogs with not only problems but also, prevention.

1 comment:

  1. The one thing I must impress on anyone with children is to never ever leave any dog alone with children. Things can change so quickly and children behave in seemingly erratic and unpredictable ways. Having said that, from what you say this is a lovely, family dog that behaves well with your family. Do keep the dog well socialised and well entertained and exercised. Don't be put off by negative stories about bull breeds, the majority are wonderful, friendly dogs. You have a diamond dog by the sounds of things, just make sure you keep it that way.