As we move into summer and the month of June “National Dog Bite Month” approaches, I think back years ago to when I was hired as a freelance writer to pen an article on Dog Bite Prevention for the National Safety Council. In the process I interviewed several top dog training and behavioral experts of the day. One of my questions to them was this: “In your opinion, what is the leading cause of dog bites?” One answer left me speechless…
I was speechless because as a dog trainer and behavior consultant, myself, the expert’s answer was so unexpected, yet so SPOT ON. His answer? “Owner denial”. Yes. The #1 cause of dog bites is OWNER DENIAL!
Dogs are dogs. They will always act as dogs, whether they are living in our home, or out in the wild. We must respect them for the animals that they are and the inherent danger they pose. That’s what should be, but here is what IS: Dog owners seem to be locked in “Lassie Syndrome”, believing that dogs are, instead, loyal and benign creatures that live to protect and serve their human families. Lassie would NEVER hurt Timmy! Lulled by this Hollywood depiction of dogs, when their puppy growls at a stranger in real life, they pass it off by saying, “Oh, he just needs a little socialization”. When the family dog air-snaps toward their child, they blame the child for frightening the dog or defend the dog by saying “but he didn’t break skin”. If their dog growls at them when they walk too close to his food bowl, they blame themselves for not giving the dog his privacy.
YIKES!! Talk about lost in translation! A dog growls, barks or snaps, he is telling you something! He’s saying, “Back off or I’ll do something more serious”. His message, however, falls on deaf ears if his owner and family are in denial – if they don’t want to believe there’s a problem or have been convinced that dogs are something they are not. Owners deny the obvious, continue in the behavior, and the dog – out of desperation – finally BITES. The real tragedy here is not just that a child, family member or innocent bystander is injured, but that the dog who tried his best to warn them, meets a more tragic fate.
Let’s all resolve to understand and respect dogs, listen to them and act responsibly around them. If and when you see even the tiniest hint of aggression, don’t brush it off or deny what you saw – seek professional advice. You may save your family heartache AND your dog’s life.