The unfortunate incident of a pit bull mauling its 82-year-old owner in Lucknow recently made it to the headlines. The attack apparently happened without warning. It has again generated a heated discussion on whether breeds like the Rottweiler and pit bull are “safe” enough for adoption. Such breeds are being demonised and abandoned. But is the dog really to blame?
I got to know a six-year-old female Rottweiler named Fury and a pit bull named Tyson (who is no longer with us) very well. Both exhibited the same personality traits as my Golden Retriever, Musafir. They were as approachable, friendly and laid-back. This shows the nature of the breed itself has no bearing on what occurred. Instances of pet aggression and violence are largely the result of upbringing and the perception of fear in a given circumstance.
Humans have been selectively breeding dogs for features that are advantageous to us ever since we domesticated them. For instance, Retrievers were bred to hunt and recover ducks. As a result, they can swim and enjoy the game of fetch. Beagles typically have high energy, and enjoy sticking their noses everywhere because they were bred for hunting hares and rabbits.
People today increasingly want to own an unusual breed. But they are often unable to comprehend the purpose and energy level of that canine. Right now, the Belgian Malinois is at the top of this list. Many canine aficionados bring home and restrict this breed of dog—which was developed for herding and is now trained for the military—to an apartment. To give you more clarity on what this breed is capable of: Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, was the only dog used on the military mission that tracked down al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
While it’s important to reject preconceived notions about breeds, you do need to consider their energy levels if a dog was bred to work. A high-energy dog will become irritated if it is not given enough opportunity to exercise. An intelligent dog will act out of boredom. They “behave badly” because they are not getting proper mental and physical stimulation. Chow chows, which are also becoming popular as household pets owing to their endearing bear-like looks, were initially bred to hunt and guard. These natural instincts must be put to good use for the dog to be happy. A dog’s needs and intelligence must be respected.
Once you get your puppy home, ensure it is socialised and trained. It must be patiently taught what is appropriate behaviour, just like we teach a child. This is why it is important to wait till the puppy is two months old. A puppy picks up specific behavioural traits from its mother and other puppies in the litter. Puppies brought home too early lose this crucial stage in their emotional growth.
A puppy’s socialising window is between 3-12 weeks. During this time, it is the pet parent’s responsibility to expose the animal to a variety of circumstances, people and sounds, while ensuring that the exposure is a positive experience. Teaching methods should focus on positive reinforcement. Correct socialisation will reduce fearfulness and make your puppy more confident.
Training should begin from Day 1. Most dogs find training delightful when done correctly because it engages them at a physical and mental level. So, ensure a brief training session daily.
Visit a veterinarian if you notice your pet acting oddly or displaying behaviour that’s out of character. Pain can make them irritable and defensive. I had a Golden Retriever patient, usually well-behaved, once snap at his owner out of the blue. We discovered he was in pain, suffering from a gastrointestinal illness.
There is, then, no such thing as an aggressive dog. Most animals will react in fear or trauma. Since dogs lack the emotional capability to be vindictive or calculating, it is unfair to categorise a breed as violent. The best way to raise good dogs is to spend quality time with them and learn about their needs, anxieties, quirks and characteristics. Dogs of all breeds make amazing pets if their needs are met and their upbringing is correct.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.