9.15.2011

I Lied: One More Post

Last week, I said I would be taking a break from the blog until after my nuptials. So.....I lied. And I apologize - usually my writing is much more put together and has more photos - but I really didn't have time to make this as Computer Friendly as usual. So without further adieu, this really is my last post before the wedding....I swear!

You all know my stance on Pit-bulls and Breed Bans (for a refresher, check out this post).

My dad called me yesterday to tell me something that he thought I would find interesting. The Police Chief of Waterville Maine, Joseph Massey, is on a mission to keep Pit Bulls and large aggressive dogs out of homes away from kids after a 2 year old boy was bit in the face by the family owned pit bull. The dog was euthanized.

No one doubts that aggressive dogs should be kept away from children, but to generalize that all Pit-bulls are a danger to families is blatantly false. Chief Massey is currently scoping out Breed Specific Legislation  laws (commonly referred to as BSL) around the country to see if those ordinances will hold up in court. If the communities that enact BSL are deemed successful, he’ll present a similar ordinance to the Waterville City Council.

So for those who think Pit Bulls are bad, here are the facts of the case as mentioned by the Portland Press Herald: a 2 year old boy fell down next to the dog, and they started “rough playing” – the dog ended up biting the child in the face.  This is really tragic - especially when you hear the rest of it.

Just a couple weeks prior, the dog bit a 6 year old child that lived in the home. 
Massey said the 2-year-old's mother told police that before the dog bit the boy, she asked the child to go into the bathroom to wash up for dinner.
"She said when the 2-year-old comes out, he falls next to the dog and she said they kind of started rough-playing and the dog ended up biting the 2-year-old on the face," Massey said. He said the woman pulled the dog off the boy. He was taken to the hospital, and then to Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Norman St. Michel is registered as the dog's owner and it was his 6-year-old son who was bitten Aug. 18, Massey said. He said police officers and Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez went to the home and spoke with St. Michel.
St. Michel, 42, was summoned for keeping a dangerous dog and is scheduled to appear in Waterville District Court Dec. 6, Massey said.

The owner of the dog is going to court to face a summons, as he should, but the bigger issue is why the mom allowed for the dog to be around her kids, especially when that dog had a bite history.   It seems like there was a huge management issue to allow a kid near a dog with a known bite history. 

My professional advice? Absolutely DO NOT allow for “rough housing play” with any animal that has a bite history: that animal could be a Pit Bull, a Border Collie, a Corgi, a Chihuahua or a cat. 

Chief Massey states that “every time one of these maulings happen, I get self-proclaimed dog experts who will immediately respond that it's not the dog's fault; it's the owner.”

Well, according to the report, it does look like the owners (or at least the responsible adult in the home at the time) fault. There is absolutely no management, and if any dog was to bite a child, another dog, anything, the onus is on the owner. The owner should get proper training. The owner should know when their dog is being pushed. The owner should know that kids are not to be around their animal, especially when that animal has a bite history, and absolutely under no circumstances should that particular dog have been near that kid.

The Chief goes on to say that “the bottom line is, there are some breeds we have that are more aggressive by nature than others. You cannot predict with certainty that they won't turn on not just a child, but other people." He said the size and temperament of the dogs can be a dangerous mix. "These are powerful dogs -- they cause a lot of damage," he said. "They're powerful wounds, ripping of skin and muscle and tissue. They're disfiguring in some cases."

And again, he’s right – size and temperament should be taken into consideration - but that should be the case with EVERY DOG, and not just size. It is also factually incorrect that a Pit-bull is more aggressive by nature than any other dog. 

The American Pit Bull Registry (APBR) notes: “The odds of being struck by lightning
are 1 in 600,000 in the USA. Comparatively speaking you are 6 times more likely to be
struck by lightning than you are to be killed by a dog of any breed. When you further
break down the odds of being attacked and killed by a Pit Bull the odds are in your favor
– approximately 1 in 145,000,000.

As an animal trainer, I can attest that there are Dachshunds I wouldn’t go near, and to this day, the only animal that has ever landed me in the hospital as a function of my job, was an 8 pound cat.

Half of dog bites occur to children who get bit in the face.  Children move funny, the squeak and run away really fast, they poke and prod dogs in the face, pull tails, and rough house in ways that are totally inappropriate.  A warning nip to the face of another dog with significantly tougher skin and a fur coat to protect them is really dangerous to a child who is eye level with that dog and has very sensitive human tissue. 

77% of dog bites to children are in the face. Severe injuries almost exclusively happen in kids under the age of 10, and 90% of serious bites occur in the family home.   

So it seems as if there is a huge disconnect between what management really is, and what dog body language is trying to say. People think its play, and it’s cute when a kid is roughly petting a dog, but that dog might have a very short fuse. If a kid poked me in the eye, or pulled on my face, I’d get really angry. People also need to understand that “hugging” is a primate behavior, not a canid behavior, and most dogs really don’t like it. There are dogs (mine included) that get hugged every day. If you look at photos of that behavior, I look thrilled, and the dog looks annoyed. 

She tolerates me. Look at her face - and look at mine. Who's this hug really for?

They tolerate me, and they know they will get a good payout for it – like a cookie. But when they get assaulted by small children wanting to hug them, and they get annoyed because in dog-language that’s a threatening behavior, when that dog bites, it’s to the kids face, which is right in the hug position.


Not all animals love to be hugged. (This is me and my younger brother before we had a dog to hug) If he was a dog, I'd deserve to get bit. Thankfully, Matty didn't have teeth yet.


The thing that cracks me up is when he states: “I’ve always had an issue with families that have dogs that are not well-suited for the family,” Massey told the Bangor Daily News in a telephone interview Monday. “They don’t do research.”

Yes, there are dogs out there that can’t transition to life in a home, there are dogs that have neurological issues, there are dogs out there that are unneutered and kept frustrated on a chain all day and lunge at anything that come into their space (and Maine is one of the states where keeping a dog on a chain out back all day for the duration of that dogs life is still really quite acceptable).

There are dogs, Pits as well as Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. who would do rather well with a family without lots of commotion, or with a single owner, or live anywhere that is not in the city. Take each dog on a case by case basis and go from there. Shelters need to do a better job of selecting where dogs go (dogs living in a city need way more evaluation to determine if they can survive in the city); breeders of all dogs need to start looking at personality as a characteristic to breed for, just like coat type and height; dog fighting rings need to be shut down; and dogs with a bite history should not be around children. Period.  

A couple decades ago, people would get married, have kids, then get the kid a dog. Now, people move in together, get a dog, see if cohabitation works, and then they decide to have kids. That dog they originally got might not be suited for a home with kids. So when the Chief says that they need to do research, he’s right – but not just with dogs that he deems as Big and Aggressive. If an individual wants a tough looking dog, or a dog to protect the home, they should be doing way more research than the average family, especially if they want to bring children into that home. Then, everyone (not just the owners of bully breeds) needs to do some research as to what dog body language is, what a growl means, the points of which the dog is uncomfortable before things escalate.







Kids need to be educated on how to play nicely with a dog, how to say hi to a dog, and how to interact with a dog safely – and only when parents are around. The kids also need to stay away from the dog if the parents state “stay away from the dog” for their own safety. The dog can go in a crate, in a room, or have some space that is exclusively theirs where the kids do not go. All of the signs above are clear indications that THE DOG NEEDS SPACE.



If Chief Massey wants to make a real difference, he needs to start an education program and start cracking down in the areas that need cracking down. Putting Breed Specific Legislation on the table is not going to help – it’s a band aid on much bigger problem. The bottom line is that children and dogs NEED to be monitored, and not just watched as they play – they need to be actively monitored, as evidenced by this case. The mom watched her kid rough-house with the dog before the bite - but did she notice if the dog was stiff? Did she notice if the dog was panting? Did she notice if her kid poked the dog in the eye, or pulled on the face? Did she just wave it off as if to say "he's just playing", while ignoring the signals? Did the dog give any? If the dog wasn't a signaler, and has a bite history, WHY WAS THE KID BY THE DOG? Rough housing with a dog that has a bite history is not management or active monitoring. 

People NEED to be educated on subtle signals that dogs give (such as ears back, stiffening of the body, face aversion, tail position, puffing, etc), people should not punish their dogs for growling behaviors because if a dog that is uncomfortable is punished for growling, they won’t growl next time they are uncomfortable – they will just bite. That is a far more dangerous dog. Back yard breeders and dog fighting rings need to be investigated, breeders need to make sure they are breeding for personality and not just a tough look, and trainers need to stop using aversive techniques on dogs that look tough, because that dog is statistically more likely to hurt someone.

Victoria Stillwell said on Steve Dale’s Pet World not too long ago that it only takes a second – and I’m living proof of that. I have scars up and down my right arm from a dog attack when I was a kid – and my dad did not muzzle the rest of the dog sled team. My dad did not teach me to fear dogs – he told me that particular dog was not a nice dog, and that the other dogs on our sledding team weren’t like him. That story wasn’t on the 6’o clock news. I grew up to be a dog trainer. That specific dog was euthanized, and we continued our back yard sledding hobby.


When it comes to this Police Chief (and I have high regard for the men in blue – my dad is a police officer), I will defer to his status as a law enforcement official when it comes to things that are legal and illegal. When it comes to speeding,  I might try to lie my way out of the ticket, but he’s still the guy in charge.  When it comes to dogs, dog behavior, what works, and what doesn’t, he should defer to the actual professionals in that field – people in the APDT, IAABC, and not just back yard trainers without credentials or as he put it, “self-proclaimed dog experts”. He needs to talk to people who have the science and the experience in dog behavior, dog / child/ family experience, and where things went wrong.

As a trained professional (who occasionally swears like a sailor), everything about this story screams "for F*cks Sake - why was that kid allowed near that dog?!?!" This was an accident waiting to happen - a gun with a bullet in the chamber, and no one thought to check the safety.

If he wants to help, he can look at the shelters that do good work (really great evaluation techniques and placement) and compare to those that don’t have the facility or funds to put these evaluations into practice - and get the skills into those smaller, less funded shelters. Placing dogs in the right environment can make a huge difference.  There are so many things he can do that will make a HUGE difference instead of just banning a breed. If there were no Pits, the story would be Rotts. If there were no Rotts, you'd hear about Border Collies "herding" children and getting bit. If there were no Border Collies, you'll see Dachshunds on the news -they were bred to grab badgers by the FACE, and pull them out of a hole in the ground. That can do some damage to a kids face. BSL isn't the answer. It really, just simply, isn't.