Most of us saw the election news clip of Barney, President George W. Bush's feisty Scottish Terrier, taking an unexpected chunk from a reporter's finger as he reached down to pet him. For eight years we watched this amusing little guy ham it up for photographers. Barney bite someone? No chance. Never happen. I'm sure the person walking him that day thought that too. Perhaps he'd never shown that side before, or his owners never read the volumes published on Scottie temperament, or if they did, had forgotten or ignored it.
We love our dogs. Because we do we sometimes have a hard time facing the reality that they are, after all, dogs. Like people, they react to stimuli in different ways. Our pet can be the most schmoozie, loving animal within the family unit. Strangers, however, may be another matter entirely. Bottom line: because they can't tell you how they feel owners must at minimum show caution when it comes to allowing pets to interact with people.
Many owners fail to heed this advice because they simply can't imagine their pet ever behaving aggressively. We develop relationships with them as pets that blind us to that possibility.
“Oh, not Fido. He wouldn't hurt a fly.” Truth is that may be so because the fly is too fast for the dog. What the dog might do if it wasn't could be quite another matter. With humans, dogs can be similarly unpredictable.
Our last dog was a good example. The dog was the perfect representation of her name, Sherpa. Calm, sweet, obsequious even. Everyone loved her and she indeed never attacked anyone. Squirrels, however, were another matter. I'll never forget the night I walked into our darkened living room and kicked something. It was the head of a squirrel she'd brought in without my knowing it. It gave me pause.
Non-pet owners also make the mistake of getting too cozy with dogs they don't know. Any number of times I've discouraged a neighbor from allowing her small child to hug my dog, to no avail. This is the same person who watched our Donnie, when a puppy, jump up and rudely snatch a stick from her child's hand. She was angry yet apparently learned nothing. The child still tries to hug him and I'm the bad guy who has to pull him away.
Before we chose a Scottie we did thorough research on the breed's personality. One important in this discussion is its tendency toward being overly loyal and protective of its owner. Like many breeds, the dog will defend this person from perceived danger in an aggressive manner. In lashing out at the reporter Barney was perhaps exhibiting this behavior. Or maybe the dog felt threatened, or wasn't feeling very well that day, or was sick and tired of the “paparazzi.” The point is, who knows? We can only assume.
And what about this myth: if you let a dog sniff your hand first, it won't bite. Not-necessarily. It's certainly a better more sensible way to approach an animal, but even the sniffing might not satisfy its urge to nip. You're still taking your chances.
Speaking to “pit bull” owners (which can include several different breeds or mixtures thereof), there is a tendency to dismiss well published information on the breed's history regarding aggressive behavior. Too often owners blindly insist the dog's behavior reflects its nurture over its nature. “He won't bite you because we are kind to him or her.” Or, “Dogs that bite have been abused, or taught to be aggressive. Oh he's just a pussycat,” they insist. The dog approaches and you edge backward, not wishing to offend the owner but instinctively protecting yourself just in case. Granted, this fear reaction has a lot to do with what's been published. And it is true that the term, “Pit Bull” is applied to any dog who even looks like one.
My advice to owners is simple. Given statistics on bites from breeds associated with the generic “pit bull” designation (and there are quite a few)-err on the side of safety. Don't try to convince reluctant visitors that the dog is harmless. It only makes the fear factor worse. You may love and trust your pet, but you may also not know everything about your pet's genetic background. If dogs in the Malosser family have been given an unfair “rap,” so be it. It is not our job as pet owners to assume that a professional assessment of breeds isn't at least somewhat true. It is our job to behave responsibly as pet owners.
No matter what breed or combination thereof you own....