SOMEONE didn't read my dog-bite-prevention series…

This past weekend I went to this huge canine event.  There were dogs and people and kids and golf carts all over the place.   I would say the vast, vast majority of dogs were being walked on prong collars or choke chains.  I’d say about half of the dogs were pretty well trained (or it was hot and they were too tired to pull) and about half the dogs were… not so well trained.  The event had vendors, rescues, and a variety of sports/activities/games/contests that people could play or try with their dog.

Given the number of dogs and the number of ‘high octane’ events at this event I expected some snarking between dogs.  I saw about 4 scuffles or intense snarking between dogs.  This was an extremely small number considering the lack of awareness that people seemed to have about dogs.  People had dogs on flexi leashes 10+feet away, dogs were rushing up to other dogs, dogs were jumping on unknown dogs, people were not asking to allow dogs to greet before letting their dog rush to the face of another dog, and were ignorant of the body language of the dogs in general (both their own and of others).  I must have heard “Oh she must not be hungry, she doesn’t even what this hot dog” 3 or 4 times… your dog isn’t full he/she is stressed out and uncomfortable–he/she’s also not yawning because he/she’s tired.  There were, of course, many extremely social, friendly, confident, and comfortable dogs in attendance–this was really exemplified by how few problems I saw even with poor handling.

There were a lot of kids and kids who had dogs but who were not necessarily appropriate with their dogs.  Nearly all of the children asked before petting–though some pet inappropriately.  The only two kids who didn’t ask to pet …. well, the adult male (probably dad) didn’t even ask before approaching and petting Shayne and encouraging his kids to follow suit.  I mentioned as they pet and walked passed that, “Even though she’s friendly, it’s always safer to ask before you pet a dog.”

So this was a huge event with surprisingly social dogs but with people who were … not always super keen.

I had entered a fun “best trick” and was in the ring with Shayne when I caught an incident happen out of the corner of my eye.  There was a man and his son (presumably) sitting in two folding chairs watching the people in the trick contest.  In between them laid a St. Bernard mix of sorts.  The dog was facing away from the ring but was laying down plopped to the side on one hip with his head on the ground.  I am unsure if he was sleeping or just resting comfortably but he was tucked in between his two handlers.  The handlers were focusing on the contest as the dog relaxed in between them.

A man and a woman approached the dog from the back of the handlers (the front of the dog).  The handlers continued to to watch the contest, seemingly unaware of the strangers behind them.  After a moment of standing still behind the handlers, the woman reached down to pet the dog and the dog bit her.  Now, Due to a railing of a split-rail fence I didn’t see the bite actually happen and couldn’t tell if the dog had acknowledged the person before biting.  I know the woman never asked the handlers if she could pet–when the dog bit, the handler just pulled back on the leash (I’m assuming they jsut thought the dog went to sniff someone) but when they turned to see the dog they noticed the shocked woman holding her arm.  They asked her what happened (I couldn’t hear her response) and then yelled at and delivered 2 hard leash pops to the dog.

The woman asked about vaccinations and was really shaken up.  From a distance it looked like there was one puncture wound that was mildly bleeding–this was an inhibited bite given that this dog was probably 85-95lbs.  The woman was clearly upset and the handlers were equally as upset and they all walked off…probably to the first aid tent and to a staff member.

While I felt bad this woman got bitten, I feel worse for the dog whose future could be in limbo.  This woman made quite a few mistakes and if she had just read my blog she may have been spared.  Her very first mistake was approaching to pet a strange dog without asking the handler first.  Not only did she not ask to pet, but she approached a dog who was either sleeping or resting in a somewhat cornered position.  Although I cannot confirm it, I would guess that her hand approached the dog from above and moved in to pet his head.

So do you think this dog was an aggressive dog?  A dangerous dog?

I cannot say for certain, but the pieces of information I have lead me to believe that this stranger startled a sleeping or resting dog who didn’t have an escape route.  Since the dog couldn’t easily escape, it chose to deliver and inhibited bite.  I do not know what the future holds for this dog but I hope that it is nothing bad because my guess is that the whole situation could have been avoided if the woman had 1. asked to pet the dog (and listened to the handler’s instructions) 2. waited for the dog to acknowledge her and approach her before trying to pet 3. had waited until the dog was out of the cornered position and 4. had not tried to pet from above his head.

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17 Comments
  1. It’s too bad the woman didn’t know the proper way to approach a dog. You would think someone who was at a dog oriented event would have some knowledge.

    I hope the dog is ok, it really upsets me how many people have dogs but still no nothing about them.

    • Agreed…it’s really sad that this dog’s future could be in danger because of an uneducated person. The bite would have never happened if the woman was appropriate. In life I try not to blame the victim but in this case she was NOT an innocent victim (to harken back to that post about the commercial) and really the bite was her fault on a variety of levels.

  2. What a shame. Your description of the event sounds like almost any dog type of event I’ve been to, and as unfair as it sounds, I think people with dogs that even have the slightest possibility of biting just not bring them. You can’t literally have eyes in the back of your head, and horrible things like this happen. I feel so bad for that dog, and like you said, his future is now at stake.

    • I absolutely agree that if you think your dog has a chance of biting someone you shouldn’t take them to an event like this…but It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that the dog was typically very friendly and social. Startling a dog from sleep or rest is a bad idea… even owners/handlers can’t escape this… many of the dog bites to owners/handlers happen because the dog had been startled out of sleep.

      • What also disturbs me about this story is that the owners collar corrected the dog, and worse, they did so after the fact. Just a bad situation all around. Many of these events are just accidents waiting to happen. You know, you’re a trainer, and most of the people reading your blog are probably already ‘dog people’ and more aware of dog body language, or at the very least, how to approach a strange dog.

        But the sad truth is, much of the general population is NOT dog savvy, so anytime you take your dog to a place like that, (even a really friendly dog), you are taking a risk of an incident occurring. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t take their dogs places, but it is up to the handler to know what is going on around their dog at every moment – even if the dog is sleeping. Or, if you can’t focus on them, you put them in a fold up crate.

        PS – I voted for you…good luck!!

        • Yeah, the after the fact corrections bugged me a lot. It’s an example (and sadly not the only one I saw at the event) of WHY people shouldn’t teach training to ‘lay people’ using corrections. There were more inappropriately timed corrections than i could shake a stick at. They weren’t really even corrections but were delivered out of anger/frustration which shouldn’t be the case if using corrections (not that you need them).

          Yep there are risks in taking dogs to events like this, no doubt! What’s interesting to me is the difference you could see between the ‘dog people’ and the ‘people who like dogs’. People who like dogs were VERY distracted looking at all the vendors, at the rescue booths, and at the shows/contests and were barely paying attention to their dogs. The dog people, on the other hand, would be glancing at the goods, checking in with the dog–watching the event rewarding for a down-stay in front etc.

          thanks for the vote!

  3. I agree wholeheartedly…people need to be sensible in their interactions with dogs, and not just assume that every dog wants to be pet!

    I’ve had few dogs who were really OK with stimulating, crowded events like this. The humans in my family love fairs and festivals, and it is tempting to bring the pups along, but it’s just too much for them.

    I’ve thought about this in the context of adoption events too–rescue groups usually ask that all foster dogs go to them, but they’re not right for every foster dog!
    http://peacefuldog.blogspot.com/2010/11/on-adoption-events.html

    I hope that poor pup is OK. When are we going to develop sensible laws and policies that don’t blame dogs for the lapses of humans?

    • Exactly, not all dogs are cut out for that environment. I’m very careful about bringing Shayne to events like this. She isn’t aggressive and is friendly with people BUT if the wrong dogs gets in her face and the handler doesn’t listen to my words, she very well could snark at the dog and cause a problem. When I bring her to events like this i rarely bring Rio with me… I need to be focused on her and keeping her comfortable. She has never gone over threshold in terms of the environment–she always readily takes treats and listen to cues but… the potential is there so i’m very careful.

      Good blog post by the way!!

  4. So sorry to hear this. :o( I hope the dog does not face retribution for the humans’ shortcomings.

    Oh, and of course we voted for you! :o)

    • Thank you! The support is appreciated! I dont think I have much of a chance of winning but I can see i’m getting some views from the contest and hopefully someone learns something new 🙂

  5. I had thought the lady got bit, but then wasn’t sure because they were sticking around and I believe the man with the lady ended up petting the dog!?!?!? Might have just been my imagination. But she kept holding her arm up awkwardly so I figured she must have been bit or slobbered on.

    • She was really holding back tears and she had blood dripping down her arm–her face really told me it was more than just being snapped at or startled by the dog. I didn’t see the man pet the dog after that… wow!, that’s interesting maybe she knew she made a boo-boo…

      it’s a sad situation… no one should be bitten but at the same time the woman shouldn’t have pet the dog like that.

  6. What disturbs me is the woman reached through a fence to get to the dog. We actually paid to remove the fence that was here and replace it with the highest allowable privacy fence in our area because we had neighbor children who would not respect the dog’s right to privacy and knew it was the dog the would get the life sentence should something negative occur. Even with a six foot fence they still tried to atagonize the dog. I can only say having neighbors like that makes the next neighbors appear so much more reasonable without much effort on their part.

    The fact she was reaching through a fence should have been a clue that this was not the right choice. Fences are barriers for a reason and are meant to be respected.

    • Oh she didn’t reach through a fence, i was on one side of a fence and they were all on the other. She just walked up behind the handlers and then leaned down to pet the dog. Through a fence would have been WAY worse.

      but you are absolutely right reaching through fences, through crates, over baby gates, etc are all really BAD ideas! Dogs cannot escape their confinement and dogs who cannot escape are more likely to bite.

      I was at a frisbee competition with Shayne once and she and 3 of my friends dogs were all crated under a tent and these kids (maybe 9 yrs old) came up behind the tent and nearly put their hands in the cages of dogs who were barking snapping and making a fit. Did these kids want to lose fingers? i mean it’s not like the dogs were calm and happy looking, they were barking, lunging, and being dramatic… yet the kids almost put their hands in the cages until I yelled at them… oh and the parents were no where to be found.

  7. Your description of the event gave me the heebeejeebees and it’s a place I wouldn’t be able to take either of my dogs. Most dog events I’ve been too have been quite dog-friendly (in terms of handler behavior), though, and I’m a little surprised to hear how ignorant people were.

    I wouldn’t label the dog “aggressive” but I would like to see a lot of growling (prohibition) before a bite and more inhibition if a dog does decide to use its mouth (not breaking skin).

    • Yeah, I think the sheer size of this venue and that it included a lot of interactive activities (try frisbee, try dock diving, try agility, try rally, try lure coursing) it is a huge draw to the community (as it should be because the event itself was really fun, i LOVED being able to try so manythings!)… but there were lots of uneducated people and POORLY educated people (in terms of what they ‘knew’ was wrong/inappropriate).

      I suspect, though don’t know for sure that the dog was sleeping or at rest and was startled by the person so there wasn’t an opportunity for a warning. Dogs who bite becasue they were woken out of sleep don’t growl, they are scared and just bite (i don’t blame them). I absolutely agree that i’d like more warning but i’m not sure it applies in this case because if the dog was startled out fo sleep or was resting and didn’t notice the person before she had her hand in his face… i’m not sure i expect a dog to growl in those cases.

  8. Hi Y’all,

    You have my vote! Woof! I did a series Aug 14, 15 and 16 leading up to “don’t pat the strange dog”.

    I’m a well socialized and obedience trained retriever, far better trained and socialized than the average dog. But my Human does not allow anyone to pat me. Once at the vet, after being treated for an ear infection, I almost bit a lady to bumped my ear trying to pat me. My Human was busy paying my vet bill. That has nothing to do with not allowing strangers to pat me. (Oh, and no I was not corrected…I know my Human understood what had just happened and she chastised the woman who tried to pat me, who apologized.)

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

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