“Sometimes Even Friendly Dogs Turn Bad”…Really? PT. 2

Just in case some of you missed it yesterday, we are discussing a commercial that has really come to bother me in the recent months.  I always had issues with it but now I get irritated to the point that I give the lawyer in the commercial some colorful back-talk (ie: I yell at him in the tv).  Here’s the commercial one more time for those who haven’t seen it.

So first of all… there IS something to be learned and appreciated in this video.  There are many, many people who would never believe that their beloved Fido would bite under any circumstances and who put their dog in dangerous situations over and over again.  Unfortunately, every dog is capable of biting and some ultimately do.  The one thing of value (from my perspective) is the implication that any dog has the ability to bite.  It’s not just the typically aggressive, typically fearful dogs who may bite, but if the situation is “wrong” any dog could choose to bite.

I mentioned yesterday the two phrases that really bugged me, but before I get to those, I did want to mention  something about the animation.  In the beginning of the commercial the dog goes from happy face (and angel next to him) to this menacing face (with the devil on the other side).  Look, the reality is that it is extremely rare for a dog to just switch from happy go-lucky to vicious like this dog did–and I don’t think it happens in the seemingly vindictive or menacing manner the animation implied.  There are, however, a few breeds who are connected to this type of sudden change in behavior and it’s been shown to be a genetic issue in at least one of the breeds.  But these type of instances are so very rare…the vast majority of the time there is human error behind the bite (more on this in a minute).

“…but sometimes even friendly dogs turn bad and someone is hurt…”

So where does that leave us?  All dogs can potentially bite–is that helpful?  How does that get us anywhere in terms of keeping people safe (*though keeping people safe is NOT a goal of the lawyer).  Why focus on this fear-mongering tactic (oh wait, to make a profit)?  In reality the vast majority of dogs who bite make clear their intentions (well, in their minds they were being very clear) either to the handler or the non-handler human.  In most cases it is the humans not acknowledging the communication that causes the bite–more on this in a minute.

Unfortunately, I think many times handlers fail their dogs by putting them in a situation where they feel the need to bite.  There was a local news story around the fourth of July where a “Pit Bull” (who was later identified as a purebred Rottie) bit a toddler pretty badly.  The handlers had brought the dog to a popular fireworks display, positioned themselves (and the dog) close to a family with a young child in a stroller.  At some point during the show the toddler put his hand down toward the dog’s face to pat his head and the dog bit the kid.  Was this a good dog turned bad?  Or was this a stupid, stupid mistake by the dog handler?  Who decided that it was a good idea to bring ANY dog to a fireworks display?  Dogs don’t understand the world is not ending, they dont’ understand why this painful noise keeps happening, and when that dangling hand came down onto the dog’s head it probably startled pretty severely and given the Armageddon happening in the sky, the dog did what he thought would keep him safe.

What about the situation when a dog was out for a walk at a park when a man approached and asked to pet the dog.  The handler says “sure, go ahead” and the dog freezes at the approach of the man, turns her head away, licks her lips, lowers her head, tucks her tail and ultimately bites the man on the hand as he reaches over her head.   After some investigation this handler knew the dog was uncomfortable around men yet wanted to “socialize” the dog and regularly allowed men to pet her.  It may not have just been this particular man or this particular situation that caused the bite–there is a good chance that it was the repetition of the event (being pet by men) that caused the dog to eventually bite.  It’s likely she “communicated” over and over again that she wasn’t okay with being pet by men and the handler just ignored the communication so the dog took it to the next level.  Was this a good dog suddenly turned evil?  Or  was this a terrified dog whose body language had been ignored by her handler to the point that she felt he had to protect herself from this man?

It really is not a matter of good dogs turning bad… except for the few breeds that seem to have a line or a genetic issue that causes a mid-life switch to sudden and unpredictable aggression.  There is a very real reason behind most bites.

If I were to edit that phrase here would be my version:

“…but sometimes even friendly dogs are in pain, scared, get startled, hurt, taunted, harassed, or are left unattended with children and someone is hurt”

The second phrase that was particularly bothersome implied that the fault of the bites rest solely on the dog… that the people are mostly innocent parties (okay I may have taken that a little far… I’m not sure they really implied that but it’s how I have come to hear it after three years of this annoying commercial).

“If you or someone you care about have been the innocent victim of a dog bite…”

Now, I wonder how many victims of dog bites consider themselves ‘innocent’ victims: “I was just trying to say ‘Hi’ to the dog tied to the doghouse,” “I was just cutting through their yard to get to my house,” “I just wanted to pet him as he slept,” “He likes it when I give him hugs.”  Of course there are innocent victims of dog bites (mostly due to handler putting the dog in a position that risks other people), but many dogs bite for a reason and most, probably, give warnings that aren’t’ heeded.

I’m happy to give myself as an example.  Most people would say that I was an ‘innocent’ victim of a dog bite in this situation, but I definitely see where my actions caused the dog to overreact and bite.  I was visiting a friend’s home and I know she has quite a few dogs, one being a very fearful dog.  I rang the bell and all the dogs came to the door barking and the fearful dog gnashing his teeth against the window.  My friend came to the door and ushered the dogs back (she was in a bit of denial about her dog’s behavior and had ignored my suggestions etc).  I entered sideways to the fearful dog and didn’t give any eye contact.  I looked down, yawned and was chewing gum to emulate lip licking.  All the dogs, including the fearful dog, came up and sniffed me–I was relaxed but not moving.  The dogs got their fill and went off… I watched the fearful dog escape down the hall into a bedroom on the other side of the house.  I then approached my friend for a hug.  I felt confident the fearful dog had retreated to his room (which is typical) but as I was pulling away from the embrace I felt the pain of a dog latching onto the back of my thigh.  The dog bit me and ran off–the dog must be part ninja because I didn’t hear him walk down the tile hallway (no nails clacking) and didn’t see him at all.  Think I was an innocent victim?  Not really… I probably would have remained safe had I not let my guard down and hugged my friend.  I started moving, had wide swooping arms, and embraced his handler… all of these things probably escalated his fear/concern/anxiety and his solution was to bite.  Was his bite warranted, no, it was a huge fearful overreaction BUT my actions did contribute to the result.

Many people who would consider themselves ‘innocent’ victims of a dog bite had plenty of opportunity to diffuse the situation and prevent the bite but they do not read dogs body language (or don’t read it well) and/or do not understand situations that may make a dog more likely to bite.

I don’t think there is a way to really re-write the phrase but here’s my best shot:

“If you or someone you care about have been the innocent victim–and I mean innocent victim of a dog bite–and to clarify I mean innocent in the sense that you listened to the dogs warnings, didn’t push a dog who was clearly uncomfortable, and didn’t instigate the bite, contact us at… ”

It seems to me that learning how to read dogs and learning just a little bit about why dogs bite could prevent many injuries…. but then, i suppose, the lawyer would be out of business.

Want to know the irony here, as I wrote this post, I saw that commercial on one of the tv station at least once and I couldn’t help but cringe.

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About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
This entry was posted in Dog Behavior, dog bite, Dog Handler Information and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “Sometimes Even Friendly Dogs Turn Bad”…Really? PT. 2

  1. Tucker's Mom says:

    Completely agree with everything you said – added to which, the animated dog freaks me out!

  2. Jodi Stone says:

    Well written Tena, I have already weighed in yesterday so I defer you today. 🙂

  3. Aargh, yah that commercial is pretty annoying. But its why your post is so important–so few people have a real sense of why dog bites occur!

    I read recently a good article on Pat Miller’s site about how interdog aggression is a product of accumulated stressors that may have nothing to do with actual dislike of each other http://www.peaceablepaws.com/articles.php?subaction=showfull&id=1282181409&archive=&start_from=&ucat=1&type=Pat.

    The same is true of when a dog bites a human! It could happen to anyone, by any dog, though of course fearful dogs are the most likely to feel a need to protect themselves. And you are so right that as their allies, we humans have a responsibility to set all dogs up for success and keep them out of situations that make them that uncomfortable.

    Great post! Thank you!

    • Thanks for the link… I have so many blogs i like to keep up with sometimes posts fall through the cracks and I certainly didn’t see this one! it’s such a good point… I think this is a frequent cause of dog bites to kids… parents allow the kids to pull ears/tails etc because the dog tolerates it… but eventualy the dog puts his/her paw down and bites. It wasn’t that ONE instance that caused the bite it was the hundreds before.

      We really have to advocate for our dogs… partially for the safety of the dog but also partially for the safety of the people around the dog. I think there is a way to make formerly uncomfortable situations more tolerable to the dogs and avoiding them completely isn’t always the best choice…but if you AREN’T willing to work on the problem, keeping them out of those situations is probably the safest route.

  4. gotspots says:

    More like an ignorant victim of a dog bite… and that’s not always a bad thing. I don’t expect everyone to know dog body language, but it should be put out there more so everyone can realize, when you get bit by a dog, they DO give you warnings and you probably just didn’t see them or ignored them.

  5. Kristine says:

    I haven’t seen the commercial in question, probably because I am in Canada. But it sounds very dog-blaming as opposed to human-blaming, which is how it actually should be.

    In my opinion, if a dog bites someone, it is the dog owner’s fault. No matter what the situation. Even in the case where you got bit, Tena, it was your friend’s responsibility to keep her dog safe as well as her guests safe. Even as a trainer, you are not required to look out for dogs that may attack you in someone else’s home. I’m not judging her, many people don’t know how to read the signs – I know I didn’t! But it still would have been ultimately my fault if my dog bit someone. Thank goodness that never happened!

    After watching it once, I want to throw something, so I don’t know how you put up with repetitions for three years!

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