When dogs bite who is really to blame?

In speaking to victims and victims parents one must always make sure that they understand that while I advocate for removal of BSL here in my home province of Ontario, and support worldwide efforts to wipe out the legislation, I still understand their pain, and their fear. I understand the trauma of a dog bite, I have had many in my career in animal rescue. However, if I advocated for the banning of every breed of dog that had ever bitten me, there would be no dog breeds left, save for that which my government calls a “pit bull”! I have never been bitten by a “pit bull” type dog.

Trying to convince a dog bite victim, or the parents of one that they themselves may have contributed to the bite incident is not an easy task. After all it is human nature to blame the animal for the “attack” without giving thought to how we may have contributed. It is for this reason that victims and parents of victims will very often call for a ban on the breed of dog they were bitten by shortly after the bite incident takes place. This is usually sparked by the trauma of the bite incident, and the need to “do” something about the perceived danger to other members of society. It is an attitude born out of fear, and the need to retaliate against the offending dog breed that has harmed them. It is not an unusual reaction, but it is a reaction that becomes the driving force in campaigns against “pit bulls” and the negative propaganda surrounding them. It is also a very one sided reaction, as generally speaking most victims or victims parents do not bother to examine the bite incident to determine whether or not their actions caused the incident in the first place, they just automatically blame the dog.

Society upholds this reaction by refusing to investigate dog bite incidents on a case by case basis. A minor bite that barely harms a victim will be treated in the same manor as a bite doing much more damage, and the dog will be incarcerated and their euthanasia called for despite the severity or lack of severity to the individual attack. All bite incidents are lumped together and treated in the same manor, as if the dog were an axe murdering serial killer that should not be allowed to live. In the eyes of society, any dog that bites is automatically considered a vicious beast, especially if it resembles a “pit bull” in any way.

It is easy for a victim to put all of the onus for a bite incident on the animal. Animals can not tell their side of the story, can not defend themselves, they must depend on us their human counterparts to defend them. However, there is no defense accepted when our dogs bite. They are condemned without recourse.

That brings me to accountability, when dogs bite who is really to blame?

Firstly, and although I hate to say it, it’s true, the dog owner is liable. When we decide to bring an animal into our home the onus is on us to ensure that it is properly maintained and controlled and poses no danger to the public. We are responsible as dog owners for everything our canine companion does while under our control. It is up to us to ensure that our dogs are properly trained and socialized, and that they are kept under control at all times.

Secondly, the onus falls on the victim or parents of the victim. It is their job to ensure that they are not invading the personal space of a strange animal, or that their children are approaching unknown pets in the proper manner. This means ALWAYS asking permission of the owner BEFORE approaching an animal, and monitoring your children to ensure that they do so, and are not running at and invading the personal space of that animal.

You have no idea how many children I have had to stop in mid flight as they run at my dog with an exclamation of “doggie!” The fact that I do stop them is me taking responsibility for my pet, and ensuring that her space is not invaded and she does not feel the need to strike out in self defense. Usually this action is met by surprise on the part of the parents who seem to think ANY dog is fair game for their child. They are further surprised when I turn the encounter into a lesson on how to approach a strange dog in public. This is me making an attempt at educating the children of parents who do not think proper animal approach is something their children need to be taught. I’m here to tell you that it is an important lesson EVERY child should learn and learning that lesson could be the difference between a traumatic dog bite and avoiding said bite.

I hear all you “pit bull” haters screaming about how it is ridiculous to blame the victim, and how in most cases the dog attacks with no warning, however, NO dog attacks without a catalyst, and that catalyst could be something as simple as you allowing your child to invade the space of an animal who is already in an anxious frame of mind. To the victim it may SEEM as if they have done nothing to provoke the attack, but in my experience there is always a catalyst even though to the human thought process that catalyst may not be obvious.

The major problem here is that the average person thinks that control and training of an animal is easy and can be handled by any dog owner. Truth be told, the average dog owner is woefully ignorant in their understanding of dogs and dog behavior. The average person takes the decision to share their life and home with a pet far too lightly, and is unaware of their responsibilities as a pet owner. Add to this the fact that the average dog owner does not understand that dog training is an ongoing thing, and therein lies the problem.

We who advocate for  “pit bulls” are always saying that owner responsibility is key. By that we mean that if you are going to have a “bully breed” as a pet, you must be able to train that animal properly, AND maintain that training on a daily basis for the life of the dog. There will never be a situation where one can say “well he’s trained, so I no longer have to worry.” You will be maintaining your dog’s training from the day it starts until the day they leave us for the next world. That is the job of ANY responsible dog owner. All too often however, owners treat their pets like possessions instead of living beings that react to the stimuli they are exposed to. They expect their pet to tolerate anything a human being might dish out and to take it all in stride. In short they expect a human response from an animal incapable of human thought, when they do not get the expected response they blame the animal, and label it “aggressive.’

To put this in perspective, look at it this way. We as human beings expect to be given a certain amount of “personal space” which we do not like invaded, especially by strangers. When that imaginary barrier is crossed it angers us or makes us anxious. How is it then we do not seem to be able to understand the same reaction in our pets? How can we expect them to be passive about having their personal space rudely invaded, when we ourselves take exception to it?

Okay “pit bull” haters, I hear you again screaming about how humans don’t bite when their space is invaded. Of course they don’t (well the sane ones don’t anyway) but that would be because as humans we have the advantage of spoken language and can say “hey! Get outta my space!” A dog does not have the luxury of being able to say anything in it’s own defense. Dog’s don’t speak english, or any other language known to man. The only recourse they have to tell people their space has been invaded is to show their teeth and possibly use them. We as their human handlers must speak for them, and this includes ensuring that we do not allow strangers to approach them in an incorrect manner.

Well I have gone on for long enough now I am sure! In conclusion the only thing I want to add is this; when dog’s bite, it is the human part of the equation that is to blame, not the canine. After all, dogs did not ask to be turned into human possessions, we as a species decided to make them our companions, and as such WE are responsible for all they do!

Peace, Love, & Freedom for Pitbulls!





3 thoughts on “When dogs bite who is really to blame?

  1. When my first child was born WE COULD NOT have any pets dogs included due to severe allergies where even saliva gave Caitlin a violent reaction which entailed a trip to our local emergency room. We still felt she had to be properly socialized to dogs in general as every other household owned a dog. It would amaze me then and even more so now to see what some parents would allow their children to do when approaching a unknown dog.

    I always had 3 very simple rules that my children had to follow then and my youngest still has to follow even today. If even one rule was or is broken or even pushed a bit beyond my comfort zone there are consequences.

    1. When a dog is tied up outside alone NEVER APPROACH THE DOG WITHOUT AN OWNER PRESENT, even if the dog is wagging his tail and trying to jump up on you, she is made to avoid the dog even if its a puppy. We will wait on the dogs human.(if Jade really wants to pet the dog.) YES I KNOW what harm can a puppy do to anyone? I always figured puppies turn into BIG DOGS THAT HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO BITE OR WORSE so lets not encourage bad habits and try to make a small child decide if a dog is a puppy or just a small dog. My children’s lives are nothing to play with, and the outcome of guessing games could lead to an injured child and a dead dog, SO NO CONTACT with a dog that’s alone.

    2.When there is ANY DOG with an owner getting close always ASK TO PET their dog, if the response is YES only then do you place your hand out slowly and let the dog smell you and only then do you move a bit closer to pet the dog.

    3.The third rule always applied to even a dog being walked with the owner, even after the ok is given to pet the dog come down to his level, instead of towering over the dog looking intimidating or mean, but keep your face out of the dogs face… Everyone needs there space dogs included.

    Unfortunately all these lessons were learned the hard way on a beautiful Sunday afternoon visit to my Aunt’s house where the neighbours dog was always running loose playing with us kids fetching the ball and so on, on that day for whatever reason this dog came to the road and my 4 year old brother leaned over and said “NICE DOGGIE” The dog jumped on him, grabbed his face and shook him and would not let go until my uncle came running with a baseball bat…The end result was my little brother with close to 200 hundred stiches in his face and the scars are still visable today.

    • I am glad to hear that you have set rules for your children concerning their approach to strange dogs. If more parents made an effort to educate their children in this manner perhaps there would be less bite incidents. I am just sorry that these lessons were learned through a traumatic experience. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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