This is another piece that was submitted to Northern VA Today – since I write for free, I can share things on my blog.
“Owning a dangerous dog is like having a loaded gun.” I cannot agree with this statement. I have worked with dogs that have been deemed dangerous and I am an avid shooter. I do not speak as an outsider looking in. Though this is fictional, it is based heavily in fact.
Bill owns both a dog and guns. Bingo, Bill’s dog, has a bite history. Bill’s yard is only partly fenced across the back. On various occasions, Bingo has gone after delivery men, children playing, and pedestrians. Some of the people were bitten and the bites reported. Bill was told by animal control to fix the situation or they would remove Bingo. Instead of completing the fence, using a tether or getting a dog run, Bingo goes for a week of intense boot camp training. Bingo supposedly now knows “stay” so Bill assumes the dog is safe and will know not to leave the yard. Bill is confident Bingo knows who is boss and that leaving the yard is bad. One afternoon, Bill decides to go target shooting at a friend’s farm.
Bill loads his rifle and calls Bingo, who emerges from behind the house (where he was actually poking around a neighbor’s yard). Bill realizes he forgot something. He places the loaded, unsecured (safety off) rifle on the porch and tells Bingo to stay. Bill heads inside. Down the street some children are playing. Bingo is stressed by the sounds as the children grow closer. Bingo begins to whine and fidget. A child races past the house as he goes to meet his friends. Bingo cannot contain himself and goes after the child. As the child screams, Bingo bites.
The rifle is still on the porch. The rifle has not moved. The rifle has injured no one.
Why do I disagree that a dangerous dog is the same as a loaded gun? Simple: Bingo is alive, the rifle is not.
Bingo is a thinking animal who responds to his environment. Bingo had a bite history. Bingo was irresponsibly managed. No amount of training, proofing and testing will make a dog 100% compliant with what we want. Any trainer, breeder, veterinarian or rescuer who tells you that you can have a 100% reliable dog with serious training is lying. Even highly trained dogs may lapse. Bingo was pushed past his tolerance level and felt the need to go after the child. Dogs are not robots we can program to reliably do what we demand 100% of the time. The rifle has no brain. It has no thought process. It has no ability to make a decision about what to do in certain situations. The rifle cannot walk, see, hear or smell. The rifle is an object dependent on the hands and hearts of a human to decide what it will do. Yes the rifle is in an unsafe situation but it has still done no damage. It cannot until someone picks it up. Yes rifles can seriously hurt and kill but again cannot do so unless someone (or something like being knocked over) makes it fire.
If you are told you have a dog that is a greater risk for whatever reason, take it seriously. Call a professional who uses force free methods and follow what they say. Your dog will make his own decisions about how to act. It is our job as dog owners to make sure our dogs and others are safer. Bill failed to do that.
Dogs and guns are a lot of responsibility. Any dog has the potential to bite if the need is felt. Some dogs go their entire lives with out a bite. Others may bite frequently. Now, what poses the greater risk at this moment? A rifle that has no ability to act unless manipulated by a human or a known biting dog left unsupervised and loose? It is best to keep them BOTH safe!
Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.