I completely agree that proven, frankly aggressive dogs need to be tightly reined – literally and metaphorically. But there is a huge range of reactivity / aggression – the vast majority of it produced by mind-numbing fear – a Flight or Fight response. The science says that dogs don’t think like we do. They don’t do guilt, or revenge, or hate – they do what works. They also share 99.9% of their DNA with wolves. As in the wild, rarely are dogs out for an actual fight as it’s very expensive behaviour for them with a high likelihood of injury.
All dogs have what’s called an ‘Acquired Bite Inhibition’ and that stays the same for life. So essentially if a dog hasn’t bitten – and by bitten I mean caused puncture wounds and/or extensive bruising, not air snapping or displaying teeth – by the time they’re 2 years old, the likelihood of them doing so is extremely low. Also, even if a dog has bitten a dog, it doesn’t automatically translate to biting a child, or a cat, or anything else. That ‘across the board’ biting is also unlikely as dogs are highly context-driven.
So when people say their dog was ‘attacked’, I’d urge you to think about the following:
Did the dogs actually touch?
Was blood drawn?
Did it last for longer than a few seconds?
Did either latch on?
Did you have to physically separate them?
If not, but instead the dog lunged, barked, snarled or postured, they were doing what dogs do and asking the other one to go away in the only way they know how. Likely through nature and/or nurture they haven’t been taught how to do it politely and for us humans it can definitely be really noisy and frightening. I was taught, imagine a human never having the chance to grow up with other well-rounded humans, and then suddenly turning up to a party when they were 18, and eating all the food, barging past people, shouting and swearing, utterly incapable of reading the social cues. That’s what these dogs are doing.
My job is to help dogs like this, and their humans, to be less afraid, and therefore react less. Dogs who I know will not bite, or if I’m not sure will always be muzzled. And the only way to do that is to work, in a controlled way, off-lead. Snapping a lead on a dog every time it sees another can actually cause reactivity and exacerbate the problem dramatically.
Of course, this must be very tightly managed and I have a number of dogs I’m lucky to be able to use as ‘Teacher dogs’ , who can tolerate rudeness and show these dogs the right way to behave. And in no way whatsoever am I advocating letting them run wild. That’s why recall and distraction are so important for these dogs, and why my own are walked in carefully chosen places at very quiet times.
That said, accidents will happen – dogs’ impulses can be overwhelming for them. But honestly, there are very few owners of reactive dogs who want that to happen. In the nine months I’ve been working there have been many tears and feelings of utter hopelessness from the owners. It’s awful. Every walk needing razor-sharp vigilance and constant horizon-scanning.
I guess all I wanted to say, on behalf of my own wonderful dogs and dogs like them, and their owners, is that there is an enormous range of reactivity/aggression with often very specific triggers for individual dogs, so occasionally if a dog runs up and barks or snaps, as long as the owner is sorry, recognises their mismanagement (as I’ve had to on numerous occasions) and is not a repeat offender, maybe be kind and tell them it’s OK. Your dog will have been instrumental in helping these dogs how to ‘dog’ properly 😊.