Investigate serious dog attacks – seriously!
I just read a report last night of the death of a 2 year old little girl in Chicago in the US. She was fatally mauled by a dog described as a Pit Bull. I have said before that whenever I hear of these incidents, I find it totally gut-wrenching, not only because they are without exception most horrendous events, but also because I know as a dog trainer that the risks were well-known and predictable, and the situation was totally avoidable.
According to the report, the little girl was not at home, but being looked after by her grandfather while her mother was at work. The report does not give details, but says that the grandfather left her unattended with the Pit Bull. The girl’s father is reported as saying he was told that the girl fell. This is a well-known trigger for predatory aggression in dogs, and a good reason for very close supervision, more than just looking out the kitchen window every so often. What puzzles me, though, is, if the girl was left unattended, how did anyone know that she fell? These inconsistencies in reports are one reason that we need these events to be thoroughly investigated.
Police are investigating, and of course they will make an initial assessment about whether criminal charges are warranted.
What I have been calling for – for a long time now – is an expert investigation by a qualified behavioural expert, into the circumstances of serious and fatal dog attacks. The investigation would include the dog’s history, or as much of it as was available, the training and socialisation of the dog, the dog’s breed, as shown by DNA testing, rather than guesswork, warning signs that may have been given in the past, as well as a full account of the circumstances leading up to the attack. Simon Gadbois, a Canadian researcher who spoke at the US APDT Conference that I attended in Spokane, last October, said that aggression is not just “in the dog”. It is not even just an event. It has to be understood in the whole context.
It is time that we investigated the whole context of serious dog attacks and fatalities, in order to take strong preventative action, based on a sound knowledge of the whole context of dog behaviour and the responsibilities of dog ownership.
In the meantime, keep dogs and toddlers securely separated.