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It is not a bad dog, it is bad training: The reason behind increasing pet dog attacks

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadNov 20, 2022 | 09:00

It is not a bad dog, it is bad training: The reason behind increasing pet dog attacks

Pet dog attacks are increasing in cities. Here's Why. Illustration: Geetanjali/DailyO

How it started: Awww… what a cute dog! 

 

How it is going: Belial Behemoth Beelzebub Asmodeus Satanas Lucifer

Pet dog attacks have grabbed the headlines around the country in recent times; from apartment societies in Noida to Odisha’s residential colony. Just recently, a pet dog in an apartment lift in Noida made a snap at a schoolboy who was standing in the lift with his mother.

  • Before that, a pet German shepherd pounced on a security guard in Noida at an apartment. 
  • In another instance from Odisha, a pet American Akita attacked an eight-year-old boy. 
  • In most of the cases reported on pet dog attacks, the behaviour of the dog has been unprovoked. 

So, what's going on here? Why are pet dogs attacking people at random? Is it climate change? Are all dogs just bad? Are people keeping pets more often than not compared to previous times? 

We went in search of an answer as well. As a dog lover, it was disheartening to see these awesome furry creatures, man's best friend for ages, demonised as heartless creatures.  

To get the answers, we decided to visit pet academia, Alfa11 Dog Training Center and Dog Resort where dog behaviourists Dilip and Vatika Ahluwalia gave us an insight into dog psychology and what was perhaps happening when it comes to the increasing pet dog attacks. 

Let's get to the short answer first:  No, it is not that dogs are inherently bad, it is just bad dog training. The fault lies with the owners.

  • Owners often don't understand what dog breed suit them and their house. 
  • Bad dog behaviour is often the result of lack of training by the owner. 
  • Dog owners most of the time don't try to understand a dog's world and try to fit them into a human world, skewing the relationship.
Dog training begins the moment you think of getting a dog. You need to ask a trainer what breed you should get.
- Vatika Ahluwalia, Dog Behaviourist

Now, let's get into the details: 

Getting the right dog breed

Pitbulls have become infamous as pets across India after one mauled its elderly owner to death in Lucknow this year. There have been several such cases leading to places like Ghaziabad outright banning the breed as pet dogs. 

So, are pitbulls just aggressive, impossible-to-tame dogs? Dog behaviourists Vatika and Dilip say the problem with pitbulls is both breed and training-related. 

Specific breeds are meant to hunt dogs. They see a dog, there's a switch that goes off and they attack. 
- Dilip, Dog Behaviourist
  • Pitbulls, Dogo Argentino, Bullies, Pakistani bullies, etc are bred specifically for dog fighting games. You will often find such dogs with cropped ears, which is done intentionally, as ears are the first casualty during a dog fight. 

Then, there are the guard dogs such as Belgian Malinois, Doberman, German Shepherds, etc that are specifically bred for guarding livestock, farms, properties, and people. 

  • According to Vatika, people fail to take into consideration the qualities of a specific dog breed before getting one. Buying particular dog breeds can also be an exercise in privilege for some people, some people decide to buy a dog because it looks scary or cute. 
  • With regards to guard dogs, Vatika says that owners often start 'guarding the dogs' and not the other way around. 

Also, owners need to keep in mind the climate of the region. It is common to see a pet husky or another furry dog in Delhi's 40-degree-Celsius climate, which shouldn't be the case. 

A vet told us that he loves owners who keep St. Bernards because as soon as summer begins, the dogs develop so many health issues and infections that the dog always stays with the vet.
- Dilip, Dog Behaviourist

Dilip and Vatika also say that there are a lot of cases where owners abandon their pets in front of the gates of the dog academy because they can't take care of them. 

Common mistakes

Pampering

Nowadays humans pamper puppies a lot.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist
  • Dilip explains how in the initial few months of adopting a new puppy, people tend to treat them as children, letting them do whatever they please, sleeping on the bed, feeding pani-puri to the dogs (WHICH IS BAD), etc.
When the dog is a puppy, people let them sleep on the beds. People didn't say 'no' to them then. But one day suddenly when the owners ask the dog to get off the bed, they become aggressive.
- Dilip, Dog Behaviourist
  • He says this is because the dog thinks the bed is its territory. This is not the same as the dog coming to curl up next to you on the bed or the sofa, when 'you' invite it to. 
  • Vatika says it is totally fine if you invite the dog onto the bed or if it comes at your command. But the dog shouldn't just hop on the bed or the sofa or any other place, of its own volition. 

Labelling dogs in human relationships

Owners start to give their pets labels of human relationships like children, siblings, etc.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist
  • Vatika says dog owners make the most common mistake of seeing the dogs as their children, brother, sister, daughter, son, etc. We have all come across very cute videos of girls tying rakhi to their pet dogs. 

But dog behaviourists say this is wrong. 

Dogs live a simple life. They understand only two relationships  -  leader and follower - there is no third relationship.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist
  • Vatika says people owning dogs should try to fit themselves in a dog's world rather than forcing the canines to fit into the human world. 
  • She also explains how owners giving dogs human labels complicates behavioural training. 
Sometimes dog owners come to us all bitten and scratched. But they say it's okay, they are not angry because the animal is like a kid and that's what kids do.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist

This attitude of owners towards their pet dogs is not only wrong but also cruel, Vatika says.

The age factor

Dog owners may have observed that their pets are well-behaved in the first 5-6 months before suddenly becoming more aggressive. Vatika and Dilip say that's when puberty begins and behavioural changes start in dogs.

The trouble begins when the dog, specifically a male dog, reaches 9-10 months of age. That's when testosterone production happens.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist

When guests come over

This part perhaps explains the pet dog issues brought up by the news headlines. 

How should a dog behave with a stranger? Or when guests come over to your house? 

A dog should have no business or interaction with a guest, not even notice a stranger. This is usually peak dog training, which is difficult.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist

Vatika explained to us this in person with her Belgian Malinois and a German Shepherd. My colleague, Geetanjali, and I were scared to enter the gated field with such large, and highly active dogs. But Vatika assured us that we had nothing to worry about. 

 

Despite us sweating cold bullets, the dogs were in fact on their best behaviour, so much so that what Vatika said, that they won't even notice us there, was true… except for the German Shepherd there. 

  • You would expect the dogs to sniff the newcomers; many dog owners say this is perfectly okay for their dogs to do when guests come over. But no, Vatika's dogs didn't pay us any heed and nor should your dog be sniffing your guests or approaching them at all when they come over. 
  • Dogs should only approach another person on command. So, if you give the dog a go-ahead to greet or sniff the guest, then it's alright. But if the dog does that without your command, then it's not okay. 

How guests should behave with pet dogs

  • There's a misconception that guests can just go about petting a stranger's dog or calling them. No, they should not be doing this, especially with certain dog breeds like guard dogs or large dogs. 

(The rules can be a little lax when it comes to docile dogs, family dog breeds like golden retrievers and such) 

  • Guests shouldn't be making eye contact with the pets, petting them on the head (A BIG NO NO!) or calling them.

So, what's the correct behaviour? Ask the owner first if it's okay to pet the dog.  

  • If yes, pet the dog on the side of its body or give it belly rubs. Petting a dog on its head indicates a direct challenge in dog language and may be seen by a dog as an attack.

Controlling a dog's space 

Vatika says that pet dogs should be trained to be comfortable in a crate or a dog house or in a room alone or in a room with the owner.

Dogs establish the leader-follower relationship by curtailing the follower dog's movement.
- Vatika, Dog Behaviourist

Armed with this information, do you think you are up for the job of being a dog owner? It doesn't take as much money to own a dog as much as it takes time, patience and energy to keep up with the demands and needs of maintaining a pet dog.

And to reiterate, it's never a bad dog, it's bad training. 

Last updated: November 20, 2022 | 19:18
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