Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Breed Issue

This is Chapter 5 from Karen Delise's book "Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics." There's so much valuable info in this chapter that makes SO much sense that we couldn't NOT share it with you all.

It is important to emphasize that the breed of dog is never the sole determining fact in a fatal dog attack. A fatal attack is always the culmination of prior and present events that include: inherited and learned behaviors, genetics, breeding, socialization, function of the dog, physical condition and size of the dog, individual temperament, environmental stresses, owner responsibility, victim behavior, victim size and physical condition, timing and misfortune.

If breed were the primary or sole determining factor in fatal dog attacks, it would necessarily stand to reason that since there have been millions of Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and German Shepherd Dogs that have existed over the past 37 years there would have to be countless more human fatalities. Obviously this is not the case, as only an infinitesimal percent of any breed's population is implicated in human deaths.

Definition of a Breed

A breed is defined as: a relatively homogenous group of animals within a species, developed and maintained by humans.

Domestication is defined as: to tame (an animal), esp. by generations of breeding, to live in close association with human beings as a pet.

The definition of both "breed" and "domestication" are based on the principal of human management and control. There are no bad breeds of dogs. There are only different types of dogs designed by man to exhibit specialized behaviors or traits.

A breed is a man-made creation. There are breeds of horses, cattle, sheep and of course, dogs. A more precise definition of breed was offered by the Arabs centuries ago as, "a grop of animals raised by man so that it possesses certain hereditary qualities, including an uniform look which distinguishes it from other members of the same species."

Only recently has a uniform look become the primary concern of many dog breeders. Throughout the centuries, dogs were mostly classified by their function. Dogs were grouped according to their use as fighting, herding, guarding or hunting dogs. Today the American Kennel Club still uses the groupings of working, herding and sporting, but few dogs actively function in accordance with their groupings and appearance is often the primary trait considered when breeding.

Animals have been selectively bred over the centuries to maximize their capacity to serve man. Cattle have been genetically manipulated to maximize milk or meat production. Horses have been selectively bred to increase drafting abilities or to increase stamina and speed. Of all domesticated animals, dogs appear to have been selectively bred for the most varied and diverse reasons. From hunting, guarding, herding, retrieving, tracking, guide dogs, and companion animals, dogs have served man in dozens of capacities over the centuries. Breeds of dogs have come and gone as they sited the needs of man.

Breed, Function & Behavior

Besides the obvious diversity in size, shape and colors, different breeds also have innately different behaviors. Generations of selective breeding have made some breeds superb retrievers or herders, while others excel in tracking or hunting. With these specialized skills come specialized or accentuated behaviors. Besides being valued for their hunting and herding skills, dogs have been bred and maintained throughout the centuries for their ability to provide personal protection for their owner and his possessions.

The Doberman Pinscher breed was developed in Germany in the late 1800s by Herr Louis Dobermann. As the local tax collector and part-time policeman, Herr Dobermann set out to create the perfect guard dog to protect him from bandits while making his rounds. It is believed he started with the German Pinscher and added the Rottweiler for courage and guarding instinct. The old smoothcoat German Shepherd type was bred in for hardiness and intelligence. Interbreeding wth the Manchester Terrier was the probable source of the trademark black and tan coloring of the Doberman Pinscher. Other breeds, such as the Greyhound and the Weimar Pointer were introduced to improve the overall condition of the breed. After the death of Herr Dobermann, Otto Goeller continued to develop the breed. A breed standard was drawn up and accepted by German Kennel Club in 1900.

Selective breeding continued with the Doberman Pinscher breed throughout the 20th century. Many breeders in the United States no longer considered the initial aggressiveness associated with the earlier versions of this breed an advantage and began to selectively breed against this trait. Today, the Doberman is still an alert and watchful guard dog, but much of the fierceness originally associated with this breed has been selectively bred out.

This is rather an encapsulated version of the creation of a breed, in this case a breed developed to guard and protect, but it serves as an example to show how man can genetically alter an animal to exhibit a temperament and appearance to suit his needs. It also demonstrates that when a particular trait, for example, fierceness, is no longer desired, it can actively be bred out of the population.

The prior function or purpose for which a breed was created and the subsequent uses the dog serves in the life of his owner are vitally important factors in explaining temperament and behavior. Temperament can be explained as: genetics + environment = behavior (temperament).

It should come as no surprise when a breed of dog which has been selectively bred over generations for protective or aggressive traits is involved in an attack or an occasional fatality against a human. Over the decades different breeds of dogs have gained popularity as protection or attack dogs. Great Danes, German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and Pit bulls have all been hugely popular at one time or another as private and professional guard or protection dogs.

In July of 1923, an 11-year-old boy was killed by two Great Danes in Florham Park, New Jersey. The boy had sneaked into a park where the dogs were kept as guard dogs and was immediately set on by the Great Danes. As the boy vainly attempted to escape the dogs witnesses gathered and a handful of men attempted to beat the dogs off the boy. A park attendant arrived and was able to easily call the dogs back. The owner of the dogs stated that he had trained them to protect himself and the park premises.

In June of 1995, a young boy scaled a fence and entered into an equipment yard to retrieve a ball. The yard contained trucks and cement mixing equipment that was guarded by three German Shepherd Dogs. The dogs attacked and killed the boy. The dogs were taken to the local shelter, where they showed no signs of aggressive behavior.

In July of 2001, two Pit Bulls were being rented out as guard dogs for a business in a crime infested area of central Phoenix, Arizona. An intruder scaled the fence sometime during the night and was found dead in the morning by employees of the business. The 50-year-old man had died from blood loss due to dog bites. (Employees of the business reported that on two separate occasions security dogs had been killed - one was found wrapped in razor ribbon and the other had been beaten to death with a board that had nails in it.)

While the breed have changed over the last 80 years, the function of these dogs were basically the same: protecting or guarding a business or location. There was no distinction made on the part of these animals as to the status of the intruder. A child retrieving a ball or man intent on burglary is seen simply as an intruder and these dogs behaved instinctually and as agents of a human interest.

None of the animals involved in the above incidents could be considered "vicious," as all were easily controlled after the attack. Their behavior was in accordance with innate canine territoriality, human-managed breeding goals and their individual selection and training as guard dogs.

With dogs that seemingly act without the auspices of their owners or employers, it is important to remember that the creation, maintenance and continuousness of any breed is wholly dependent on human management. When a particular breed of dog begins to attack humans with little or no provocation, it is not because the breed is bad or vicious, it is because we as managers of the breed have either willingly encouraged this behavior or have irresponsibly allowed this behavior to be expressed genetically. (genetics + environment = behavior). Allowing a dog to behave aggressively and allowing aggressive animals to breed will ultimately produce a breed that exhibits increased levels of aggression against humans.

The Right Breed for the Right Onwer

By design, different breeds of dogs have innately different behaviors. This by no means implies that Rottweilers are dangerous and Golden Retrievers are trustworthy. What i means is that the individual breeds have traits and behaviors that have been selected for service to man. The problem arises when uneducated or irresponsible owners obtain dogs without knowledge of the breed's history and are not capable or willing to train, supervise and take responsibility for the behaviors that come with the breed.

A person who obtains a Border Collie without knowledge of the intense herding behavior and high energy level of this breed may have many trying days of dogs ownership. A person who obtains a Bassett Hound in hopes of the dog doubling as a jogging companion or watchdog will be sorely disappointed. While these are rather obvious examples of how certain breeds are not right for everyone, it should be just as obvious that a Rottweiler, Pit bull, Doberman Pinscher, Akita or Chow Chow is not the right dog for many people.

In the case of the uneducated Border Collie or Bassett Hound owner, the results are usually frustration for the owner and a very uncertain future for the dog when the breed does not live up to expectations. in the case of an uneducated Rottweiler or Pit Bull owner the price for ignorance can be higher than simple frustration.

A significant part of the problem with dog aggression as it relates to attacks to humans is not the breed of dog, but rather the inability of many owners to control, supervise, and properly train the breed of dog they choose to keep.