Unfortunately the new year has kicked off with a series of terrible dog attacks which are always of great concern. One doesn't realise the huge ripple effect and gravity of such a tragedy until it actually happens to someone close to you. The scary part is every one of us, including our children are at risk of being bitten, or worse still, being savaged in an attack by an unstable animal. The culprit could be the dog next door where our children play after school or perhaps a neighbourhood dog that jumps the gate and ambushed passers-by. Or maybe a strange dog going walk-about in the street or, even more chilling, our own family dog.
The recent death of a five-year-old child killed by her grandmother's pit bull terrier is an incident too horrible to contemplate. Not only will the child's parents and her grandmother be psychologically scarred for life but the lives of everyone else who knew the child will be changed forever - her entire family, members of the community, school friends and teachers, dog owners and more especially pit bull owners, not to mention the hundreds of truly innocent dogs that will be destroyed in the fear frenzy that always follows a human death caused by a dog.
My intention is not to cause panic but rather to make people aware of the dangers that could be lurking in their neighbourhood or the potential risk your children may be facing because I believe it's always better to be aware and forewarned.
Here are some questions and answers which I hope will be of interest, if not of help.
Q Three houses up from me there is a young pit bull terrier that is climbing over the gate and mockcharging pedestrian in the road. I don't think he's bitten anyone yet but I'm worried he may get more courageous as he gets older. I have phoned the SPCA but they are not really interested as they say I should talk to the owner, which I'm reluctant to do because it's really none of my business. Please give me some advice.
A I admire your concern and you are quite right to assume young "bully" is just rehearsing for when he grows up and gets the T-shirt. That is if he doesn't get run over beforehand or carted off to doggie heaven by some irate victim. Again the poor animal is not to blame. But this a very serious situation because if these dogs do become antihuman, which is on the cards, they make formidable biters and to add to the mix, bull terriers are fine-tuned to attack other dogs and take home the trophy. This extreme-sport breed have all the advantages of a terminator piled in their corner because of their cutting-edge, state-of-the art body design, which is virtually impenetratable, along with killer genes that empower them to take no prisoners. Please do not be complacent, there is a accident waiting to happen in your street, which is most definitely everyone's problem. Your first step should be to approach the dog's owners and discuss your concerns. With a bit of luck they are decent, considerate, responsible people who will apologise profusely and take immediate steps to sort out their dog… yeah right, in your dreams. But, assuming the owner is no-compliant, a neighbourhood petition is a good idea as a start. Select a cool-headed representative who will approach these owners and negotiate a deal. If this fails-put your concerns in a letter and deliver it personally to the senior superintendent of your closest Metro police office. Insist on a reference number to avert another saga of "missing without a trace". Request a reply and keep following up if necessary. Should you still not be satisfied, contact the Metro Police head office in your area and continue your pursuit of justice. Time is of the essence because master bully is a time bomb in a coat.
Q I am worried about my dog after reading about all the recent attacks. How do I know he won't suddenly turn on me? Please help.
A Dogs do not suddenly attack out of the blue unless they have a sudden brain tumour or a medically-related problem. They are very predictable animals and the trick is to understand the signs and act upon them. Dogs are very much like people in that they all have individual personalities. For example, some people are lovers and some are fighters. The only difference is we have a huge influence on our dog's behaviour because we can mould or shape them in just about any way we choose. A shocking fact is that most aggression, attacks, irresponsible or complacent human owners. To answer your question, here are some red light, warning signs to look out for:-
- Biting, nipping or snapping.
- Baring teeth.
- Guarding possessions.
- Pinning children on the ground.
- Growling of any discription.
- Stiffening and giving you "the look".
- Past history of biting or aggression.
If you have noticed any of the above behaviour you need immediate, specialist advice. If not, enjoy your dog; he really is your best friend.
Q I have a pit bull pup that I hope will grow up and protect us from burglars. Is there some training I should be doing with him to achieve this or will he naturally attack intruders?
A Pit bulls are traditionally bred for pit fighting, which means they are both mentally and physically programmed to be rough, tough and blindly courageous. Pit fanciers, like any other breed fancier are usually fanatics and will seriously tell you their specific choice of breed is the best because they are good with children, make excellent guard dogs, are very obedient, very clever and altogether so perfect in the every way the pit bull can virtually vacuum the carpet and start the car. These people suffer from an over-whelming affliction called love, which we know is often blind. So in order to get a true picture, one needs to ask the opposite faction its opinion of that specific breed. Ask someone like me who deals with all breeds on a daily basis, and I will tell you it's absolutely true. German Shepherds are simply the best because they are not only loyal, highly intelligent, faithful companions who would lay down their lives for their owners but they can also drive the car and do the shopping… and I'm certainly not biased. Now the answer to your question is yes, you most definitely do need to socialise your pup at a puppy school so it grows up cool headed, dog-and-human friendly and well adjusted. And your dog may or may not protect you from burglars depending on its individual make-up and how you raise him or her. If you encourage your dog to mix with dodgy strangers or transient workers on your property it will probably also allow them in at night to help themselves to your TV, cellphone and computer. But if you take the trouble to restrict your dog's contacts at home and keep it in the house with you, it should get the message and protect you from undesirables. Under no circumstance attack-train your pit bull because you will finish up with a lethal weapon on your hands, which will not discriminate between burglars or your grandchild -which is exactly where we came in. Keep your eyes and ears open and remember it's always better to be safe than sorry.
- Glynne Anderson is a pet behaviour consultant and professional dog handler who has appeared on radio and TV to talk about animals and their problems. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 031 765 1958
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