Dog aggression: Why does it happen?

May 18, 2019

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” -Mark Twain

Recently I have seen a rise in aggressive dogs in our community. I have dealt with at least three different stray dogs that were being overly aggressive towards myself or officers that respond to the call. It is an unpredictable situation when you roll up on a stray. Most are happy to see you and are excited to go on a car ride. Some are apprehensive towards strangers and they will shy away from you. A few will openly try to attack when they are approached.

In the five-and-a-half years I have served as Animal Control Officer, I have never needed an officer to shoot a dog that was aggressive.

Many other jurisdictions are not so lucky. Almost weekly in the news you will see a dog that had to be shot by an officer. A simple Google search of “Police shoots dog,” returns hundreds of results. I opened up and read about 30 articles that occurred just in 2019.

It is very disheartening reading multiple incidences that could have been avoided with proper training and tactics. On the other hand, I feel that many of these officers had no other choice but to defend themselves.

Once believed that everything was born Tabula Rasa, a black slate. Early philosophers and some psychologists believed that we were all born without built in mental content. Saying that we learn from experience and perception. This was all due to the nature versus nurture debate. As science advances our understanding of genetics increase. Genes play a large part in who we become. The same can be said for our pets.

Though a dog can be trained, it still is driving by its genes. This is something we look at in bite cases. After a dog bites someone, we need to determine why. By state law, the dog can be deemed dangerous, potentially dangerous, or not deemed at all. Therefore, when the dog bites someone we try and look at all factors.

We look for provocation, which is a situation that an expected reaction is to bite or attack. Dogs are territorial animals. Your home is its home. It needs to protect it. In many instances, the dog will bark and growl as someone approaches the home. This is a warning to stay clear. If that person ignores this warning, the dogs only other option is to bite. When looking at this scenario, I take into account where the bite happened. If the victim entered your residence or yard then that could be provoked. If they were just walking on the sidewalk and the dog attacked them then it is unprovoked.

Another provocation can be startling the animal. When startled their first reaction is to turn and attack. I know that this is a fact when I scare my dog. She will turn around snarling and ready to bite. You can actually see her face change from anger to happy when she realizes it was me. Along with this, a dog is prone to chase. Whether you are running or riding a bike or driving a car, dogs like to chase. It is a form of play. You see this behavior when they are playing with each other. They will chase and either tackle or bite to bring down each other. This is what some dogs are doing when they chase you running or biking. Now some dogs are being vicious in these cases.

More reasons a dog might bite is if it is injured. Trying to assist an injured dog could result in it biting you. Trying to capture a loose dog could also end in an attack. In the many stray dogs that I have picked up some of them did not want to be grabbed. This is why we have equipment to assist us. This is for our protection, the dog’s protection and the public’s protection. I know that I have had cases where citizens trying to get a stray dog would be bitten and then the dog runs off. This only results in a series of rabies treatments for them.

Animal Control will not do breed-specific laws because we still feel that in many cases a dog biting is because of provocation. I know that there are some breeds that are innately violent but not all animals in that breed are that way. We know that some dogs are just raised to be mean, which is a shame.

Shawn Flowers is lead animal control officer for Columbus Animal Control.

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