Thursday, December 23, 2010

pack aggression & the media microscope

This isn't a happy blog post to write, but two recent incidents in our home towns demand attention.

Troubled dogs are in headlines after loose dogs attacked women in two separate incidents this month - in Marin County and just recently, in San Jose. Luckily, both incidents attracted good samaritans who intervened to stop the attacks, and each victim is home now and healing from their injuries.

The San Jose incident is still hot news (82 news stories and counting, including a nationally distributed piece in the AP), as one of the dogs is still missing. The captured dog appeared to be a very nervous and altogether unsocialized pit bull type dog in a KTVU television report. The body language of this animal helps piece together the 'whys' of frightening stories like this and moves us beyond the formula media hype and hand wringing over breed type.

Pack Aggression - where two or more dogs gang up and attack a victim - is not a breed specific behavior. While the National Canine Research Council reminds us that dog bites are on a steady decline in this country, dog attacks involving unsocialized packs of dogs still factor into many of the recorded incidents each year and they can include any breed type of dog. Even small dogs weighing less than 27 pounds have participated in packing together and harming people, according to a 1983 study "Attacks by Packs of Dogs Involving Predation On Human Beings," by Borchelt et al., published in the journal "Public Health Reports." It's not happy reading, but worth the understanding.

According to the Borchelt study, "The past history of the social interactions of dogs with people in a variety of circumstances is probably an adequate predictor of whether these dogs are inclined to bite someone." In other words, if dogs aren't socialized to people properly (ie, they're kept as resident dogs in garages or yards instead of as family pets) they're more inclined to revert to unruly and sometimes dangerous pack behavior when the situation presents itself.

After a horrible fatal attack involving a pack of dogs in GA last year, Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University and an expert in pack behavior, explained that when pack mentality takes over "they do insane things that they would not do" under normal circumstances. This news link shows two of the dogs involved in the GA incident. CNN

Meanwhile, the second bay area dog attack victim is safe and healing in Marin County after a good samaritan came to her aid. She and her dog both needed emergency care after two loose dogs tore up her jack russell terrier and bit up her face, arm and legs. The Novato Patch said that an "employee with the North Marin Water District is to thank for preventing worse injury or even death to the woman and dog."

The loose dogs in her situation were rounded up by authorities and are being held at the Marin Humane Society. You won't hear much about that incident outside of this singular news report, however. Why? The attacking dogs were identified as "chocolate labrador retrievers" so apparently didn't interest our local news cameras. And so it goes.

Hang tight all, as San Jose jaws at the topic of breed specific regulations again. They won't help reckless dog owners learn how to be more responsible, but they make for exciting headlines.

11 comments:

J.M. said...

Speedy recovery to the victims in these incidents but the Media really does need to step up to the plate and stop with the Media bias and start with the education regardless of the Breed(type).I was just reading about a Chow incident in which there was a fair explanation of what had happened(child stepped on the dog`s paw then fell on dog) but they just had to throw in the comment that "certain Breeds" are more trouble than others.They need to stop spouting that nonsense to people.

Dianne said...

Hmm. The woman in France who had a face transplant had been mauled by her Lab. Then again my brother had a chocolate Lab who was a quasi-service dog and the kids called "Mamma." Back to that "dogs are individuals" mantra -- but both of these "attacks" were more than one dog, right?

Donna said...

Right Dianne .. Two separate attacks and each involved two loose dogs.

Yep - dogs are still trying to remind us that they're individuals that they need to be managed by responsible people since they're - um - still 'animals.'

Chelsea and Wilson said...

I'm not suprised that the second attack isn't mentioned as much as the first. Its just sad that the media rather target a pit bull more the a lab. All dogs can be very agressive, but I guess pitbull stories sell more..... Big uphappy sigh..

semidesi said...

You know, I *live* in Marin and didn't hear about the 2nd story. It's really appalling that only the pit bulls get attention for negative behaviour. I've met several dogs that are not pitbulls who have been agressive, and only a few pitbulls at all and all have been nice. Yes I know, I've only met 5 of them but their owners had full control of them and they were well trained. I've noticed a lot of people who own labs and other "family" breeds just tend to think of them as "nice" dogs rather than domesticated predators and fail to train them adequately. These same people seem to have very strong (often negative) views on pitbulls, including a former neighbor with an agressive akita mix. I've even got a few comments about my mixed breed dog who I really doubt has any pitbull (he's very small but not tiny and seems like a puggish chihuahuaish mutt) but several people have thought he is and are uncomfortable with him. Interestingly they love his huge doberman friend and the hyperactive lab he plays with who is so out of control that she freaks out both my daughter and even my dog enthusiastic son. There is also a very agressive dog on our walk to school that charges children and dogs through a weak front fence even from across the street. It appears to be a lab shepard mix or something like that. People make excuses for the territorial behaviour of the dog rather than considering that the owner shouldn't be leaving it in the front yard all day. I just hope that fence will hold because I've been told that there is very little we can do about it other than ask the humane society to check the fence. It seems like if it was an actual pit bull type dog people would be all over it.

jo said...

Wonder if you saw this report about hospital admissions due to dog bites being up? Wonder whats going on. It's mostly in rural areas.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/health/research/14risks.html

Susan said...

Egad. All dog attacks are disturbing, but I didn't even hear about the Marin one, and I live in the bay area. C'mon media -- can you at least attempt to report news equitably?

The Foster Lady said...

I saw that in the news about the Marin County attack and of course, in my mind, immediately, I'm praying, 'oh please, oh please, oh please, let it be a different breed of dog than a pitbull'...and it wasn't and I breathed a sigh of relief. Terrible that that was my very first thought, and not, I hope that the owner and her dog are okay, but that's how it wracks up these days.

Donna said...

Thanks for the link, Jo.
We'll have to ask the good folks at NCRC about this report. I'm shooting in the dark here, but have to wonder if bad bites in rural areas reflect the increase of meth labs in rural areas ? .. and, unsocialized dogs set out to guard the labs. ... Wild guess, but dog trends always mirror human trends, and rural meth is one big mutha of a trend.

Jessica A. said...

These greyhounds attacked this lady and killed her dog in my area and that did not make the news either.

Service dog said...

I've even got a few comments about my mixed breed dog who I really doubt has any pitbull (he's very small but not tiny and seems like a puggish chihuahuaish mutt) but several people have thought he is and are uncomfortable with him. Interestingly they love his huge doberman friend and the hyperactive lab he plays with who is so out of control that she freaks out both my daughter and even my dog enthusiastic son. There is also a very agressive dog on our walk to school that charges children and dogs through a weak front fence even from across the street. It appears to be a lab shepard mix or something like that. People make excuses for the territorial behaviour of the dog rather than considering that the owner shouldn't be leaving it in the front yard all day.