By now, most readers are aware of the tragic dog bite incident that happened to Channel 9 newswoman Kyle Dyer. While the bite seemed to happen "out of nowhere,"
a series of events in the life of this dog named Max, combined with a lack of understanding of dog communication, played a major role in this split- second bite. What can we learn from this in order to prevent future tragedies? Dogs send us signals about how they are feeling and we need to understand what they are telling us.
I am sure Max's owner loves him. However, part of love is making good decisions for our pets. This includes getting them vaccinated for rabies. It also includes being honest with our-selves about whether or not our dogs have 100 percent recall with high distractions. Max begins his journey with a visit to the local open space park. He is off leash and chases a coyote onto a lake. They both fall through the ice. The coyote drowns. Max swims for his life and is rescued; scared, exhausted and traumatized.
Max's owner is very excited that his wonderful dog will be featured on the Channel 9 news the next morning. Max, however, is likely still very tired and probably quite distressed. His owner does not understand how stressed Max still is from this experience. So Max makes the journey to the studio.
Imagine Max, picking up on the nervous, excited energy of the humans around him, now in the studio with bright lights against darkness, cameras moving in and out of the light and darkness, people he does not know close to him, touching him, and in his space. His owner is jerking and popping on his leash. At the very least, Max is very confused. At worse, his stress level is rising to the point where he is over his threshold. Max tries to calm himself down with yawning. He tries to communicate that he is very uncomfortable with the situation. He pants, his respiration rate is high, he licks his lips repeatedly, roles his eyes, his body is tense and vigilant. All of this can be seen through the camera's eye.
Someone he does not know approaches from behind. This woman also loves dogs and has been a wonderful advocate for their cause. She is moved by his story and in the moment, leans over to kiss him. Max growls. He is saying he wants space. The woman does not hear him and comes closer. Max's owner does not understand anything his dog is trying to communicate. Max resorts to his last alternative and bites.
Max's next journey is to a 10-day quarantine in a kennel, away from his home, people and the routine he knows. He is still there. Nothing in these last few days has made sense to him.
Love is important, but understanding is crucial. Learn to understand your dog's body language. When they are saying they are nervous, remove them from that situation to a quiet, safe place. Make decisions for them that keep them safe. Be not only their best friend, but also their interpreter, protector and advocate. And when dogs ask for space and peace, let us all grant them their simple request.
Louisa Morrissey is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and owner of Skijor-n-More. She is also a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a licensed Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer. www.skijornmore.com