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Dogs that attack humans: is the dog to blame??

Dogs that attack people

Today I would like to deal with a topic that may be controversial, but also one that lies on the hearts of many animal behaviorists.

  • Sensational news
  • The vigilance of the dog handler
  • A broader perspective
  • "Charming " movies on the Internet
  • Stress signals
  • There is no alternative
  • Transferred aggression
  • Bad living conditions
  • Experts are the voice of animals

Sensational news

Quite often in the media there are news which in a more or less sensational form (depending on the medium) report that "the dog attacked an innocent child on the playground ", "the dog bit the owner severely and it was necessary to have a skin transplant for him "Or information that " an aggressive breed dog let an attack on an old lady who was just passing by with her dog ".

Depending on how big the case is, we can read about it locally, but there are also particularly drastic cases that are widely commented on by nationwide media.

The materials include recordings of industrial monitoring, testimonies of witnesses, surprised and surprised dog owners who cannot believe the behavior of their pet, and opinions of experts who are not always true experts.

In such a situation, it is not difficult to get carried away, especially since the life of a child or an adult may be endangered in such an attack.

And here we should immediately highlight an important thing - each dog attack should be analyzed, the dog should be secured, and the victim should be provided with appropriate medical and, if necessary, psychological care. Each such attack is an understandable shock for the family and often for the animal's guardian who has to put the dog to sleep or give it back because he was not able to adequately protect the animal against dangerous behavior towards people.

The vigilance of the dog handler

Therefore, you should never underestimate even minor aggressive behavior and "harmless" attacks, because they can turn into something really dangerous, which will eventually cause a media storm, because the guardian did not notice in time that his dog's behavior is disturbing. And then he will have to face the consequences.

But the truth is also that we only see a part of the media reality. What sells well will shock people and allow for a quick sentence that the dog should be put to sleep immediately, because it is a huge threat. And if it is already a dog that is commonly considered to be aggressive breeds, then there is nothing to think about!

A broader perspective

But let's put it into perspective. Dogs are animals that usually take an attack strategy as a last resort when they have no choice. Why? Because from a physiological and logical point of view, it is easier to escape than to attack, because thanks to this the dog does not run the risk of injury. Unless he is trained or bred in a genetic line that enhances aggression, but this is a separate case.

That is why dogs usually attack when they do not have much choice and the boundaries they set are not respected.

When we look at the cases described by the media, it often turns out that what we see is only the last link, which was preceded by a series of signals, negligence and in the end led to a visible tragedy.

"Charming " movies on the Internet

Take videos from the Internet as an example. Very often people in social media share "sweet " videos of their little children riding the dog like a horse, pulling him by the ears, putting bows on his head or hugging him so tightly that the dog cannot walk away. Trainers and behaviorists then shake their heads in horror. The child is not to blame for anything, but it is the parents' responsibility to explain to him that the dog is not a toy, but a living creature that experiences stress, fear and emotions but cannot express them in a way that is easy for us to understand.

Stress signals

But the truth is that just because a dog will not "tell us " that it is difficult for him to contact, does not mean that he is not communicating with us. It is enough to be alert to the signals it sends us. If, for example:

  • he turns his head,
  • nozzles intensely,
  • shows the whites of the eyes,
  • it growls and picks up the folds of skin in its mouth,
  • his hair bristles,
  • he licks his lips,
  • he yawns, even though he is not tired.

These are probably signs of stress that prove that the situation is very uncomfortable for him. In this case, you should not continue to interact (and record videos for the internet!), just let the dog go to a safe sanctuary where he can rest.

So if we are sensitive to the dog's body language and we do not expose it to such strong stress, there is a much greater chance of avoiding potentially dangerous situations.

However, if we do not teach the child a good relationship, we leave him alone with the dog in the room, it may end badly.

There is no alternative

The fact that the dog is on a leash is also important in the case of attacks. If in a conflict situation he had a chance to turn on his heel and walk away, he would probably do so, as an attack is a last resort and involves a high risk. But when he cannot do it, and suppose he has a difficult past behind him, he has been beaten, for example, then even the innocent leaning over him of a passerby to pat him on the head may be misunderstood by him. And this is another area to work for both a caretaker and a passer-by.

The guardian's responsibility

Since the guardian is responsible for the safety and comfort of his dog, he should be aware of how his pet reacts to specific situations and should avoid the situations described above. If someone wants to approach our dog and our dog does not like it or feels threatened, we have the full right to refuse and explain that it is the dog's welfare. Not all dogs love casual contacts, stroking and playing with random people. And they also have every right to do so.

In this situation, the passerby can also take care of the dog's comfort and simply ask the handler if he could say hello to the dog and how best to do it. In the past, children have a problem with this, but parents should also be present here to take over the role of mediator. However, it must be admitted that more and more children are taught to ask first if they can touch the pooch, and this is a great signal that the animal's welfare and common safety are also important to them.

And again - if we force the contact with the dog, lean over it, wave our hands quickly, look it intensely in the eyes, the dog may attack. This does not mean that I justify the dog - it is worth working over fear and aggressive behavior (which are often related to anxiety), but at the same time it is good to take care of our pooch's comfort.

Transferred aggression

This is the first example from the shore, but let's also look at another story. I often come across the following situation in parks and on walks.

Let's assume that our dog does not like other dogs very much (here we should look at the reason for such reluctance, but this is a topic for a separate article). We stare at the phone and do not notice that another dog is coming from the opposite direction, which evidently has no friendly intentions or is much larger than our dog. Our dog is on a leash, he starts lunging, but we hold him on the leash and try to walk past the other dog. Then our dog in amok, unable to reach the other dog, grabs us by the calf or by the pants and starts to jerk. Strange behaviour? Not really. The so-called aggression redirection mechanism worked here, the dog had to unload, and only our unfortunate body was within his reach. And again - we see a dog attacking a human, but without a thorough analysis of what preceded the attack, we are not able to draw good conclusions from this situation and work on the right dog problem.

Bad living conditions

Dog on a chain

Let us now imagine yet another situation that also appears in the media. A dog that was chained on a farm attacked its handler (although the word keeper is hardly going through my throat if someone is holding the dog on the chain). And the commentators are immediately puzzled that: "Well, a country burek, not taught the rules, bites the hand that feeds him! Let him come back on the chain! ". Only now, let's imagine in what situation, often throughout his life, a dog is. He is kept on a short chain that chokes him, he has to go to the place where he eats, he has an eternal lack of sleep, because he 'watches over' the yard all the time, eats potatoes with scraps, so he lacks nutrients to function properly, and his guardian mostly yells at him and sometimes kicks him for fun. The dog is exposed to permanent stress, lives in fear and a sense of threat, so when it manages to escape from the chain and its handler raises his hand on it again, the dog will attack in fear. So, in a broader perspective, one should consider whether only the dog is to blame for his behavior, or also the man who brought the dog to such a state?
That is why I do not agree with such unambiguous and quick judgments, without looking at the issue from several points of view.

Of course, the media does not help, because even when it turns out that the dog attacked, because it was brought to a last resort and only tried to defend itself, the media rarely straightens the sensational news later and people's consciousness only leaves bloody pictures that sell well.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that each case of an attack deserves an individual analysis and the point is not to justify the dogs, but to consider how it happened and whether it could have been avoided.

Of course, there are also individual cases when a dog suffers, for example, from. to a neurological disease and attacks, unaware of what he is doing. Or we meet a dog that has been trained to attack and treats it as a very natural behavior.

Experts are the voice of animals

But I would like to end with an optimistic accent and I would not like to demonize the situation, because the landscape is slowly changing and for the better. More and more behaviorists and trainers are being invited to the media, becoming self-proclaimed dog advocates and explaining where the behavior could have arisen from. Earlier, such a voice of reason had been sorely lacking.
In addition, during bite hearings, behaviorists are invited to court as experts, thanks to which they can issue a reliable, knowledge-based expert opinion in which they analyze the dog's behavior.
What seems to me to be extremely important to prevent such dramas is, for example, the simplest training of a dog handler (in the adoption process or by breeders) so that he is sensitive to how his dog behaves.
When we choose a dog, we also take responsibility for it, its welfare and behavior. If something bothers us about his behavior, it is always worth consulting with experts to solve the problem before it grows to a dangerous size.


Dogs' behavior is often the result of improper handling by their owners, not satisfying their needs, causing animals to chronic stress, not paying attention to their warning signals or ignoring the causes of a given behavior, which can escalate in a very undesirable direction. Many attacks also take place in the absence of caregivers who carelessly let the dog loose, leave it in the room with the child or do not properly secure the property in an appropriate manner.
Therefore, whenever we witness a media storm, let's consider why some tragedy happened, where the owner was and how (and if at all) he worked on undesirable behavior of the dog. Because a dog's fault is not always as obvious as it might seem.

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