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Aggressive behavior requires attention

This is a special plea for responsibility and common sense.

Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old college lacrosse coach, was viciously attacked and killed by a 123-pound crossbreed dog at the entrance to her apartment in San Francisco. The dog was a neighbor and lived in the same building. This death should never have happened. According to others, all the signs of a problem were there.

We should all be outraged. In this case, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times, the dog is thought to have been bred and raised for fighting. This is the fault of irresponsible breeders and trainers. And other parties should have been responsible, namely the dog's owners. The killing would never have happened if the dog's owners had chosen not to allow the opportunity for disaster. From everything I have read, this dog's action was predictable. He was an aggressive dog.

Are you a dog owner? Are you aware that aggression is not breed-specific; that it comes in all shapes and sizes, large and small? Do you know about the different types of aggression and the causes? Are you informed about the signs of aggressive behavior — like growling when you reach for the food dish, growling when you touch your dog, growling at the letter carrier or anyone, for that matter, friend or stranger? Has your dog ever snapped at you or anyone else? Has your dog ever bitten someone — with or without breaking the skin? Does your dog bark aggressively? Not excessively, but aggressively. If any of these or other indicators are present, are you assuming responsibility? Or are you in denial or ignoring the problem because it only happened a couple of times?

What are some of the things dog owners think or say when they haven't got a clue or are in denial? "My dog has bitten a member of my family, but only twice. It doesn't happen very often." Once is enough, my friend! "My dog growls at my 2-year-old, but he'd never bite her. Other than that, he's a real sweetheart." Are you nuts? Does the problem have to bite you in the face before you recognize it? "My dog is a little Shih Tzu and has sort of a mean disposition, but he's so small, he really couldn't hurt anyone. I can handle it." Well, I've seen as many vicious, mean little dogs as I have big ones, and they can cause serious injury and even death. It's a myth that little aggressive dogs are not that dangerous. "We have a new baby and I'm so glad we have a gentle breed of dog. It's nice to feel that our baby is safe." No baby should be left unattended with the family dog regardless. A dog can kill a baby by acting instinctively. A puppy can be carried in the dog's mouth. A baby may not survive.

Test any puppy or dog you intend to bring into your home for his or her temperament. Plenty of information is available to help you do this properly. Deal with responsible breeders. Stay away from puppy mills. If you don't trust your own judgment when selecting a dog, get some professional help.

If your dog exhibits aggressive behavior, do not hit, yell or use electric shock on him or her. Deal with the problem immediately because that's when it is easier to modify.One-on-one professional help from an expert who understands aggressive-dog behavior may be your only alternative. Remember, it is your responsibility to solve the problem, modify the behavior, and prevent situations that could harm other people and animals.

Banning breeds is not an answer. I'll explain why later.


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