Expert: Every dog needs training
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One woman was killed and two people hurt in three separate pitbull attacks in KwaZulu-Natal recently.
Mpho Mokeona from Pietermaritzburg was mauled to death by her own dogs on Monday. Shaik Adams Hoosen, a Durban grandfather was attacked last weekend by his neighbour’s dogs, while on Friday an elderly man from Pietermaritzburg was also attacked.
The Sunday Tribune spoke to animal behavioural experts, for advice on how to prevent them:
Owner, animal behaviourist and trainer at Good Pet Trading
The recent news of dog attacks has left me distressed and my heart goes out to the families who have lost and those who are injured.
The truth is that incidents such as these can be prevented.
Dog attacks and maulings can happen with any breed. So no one particular breed can be held to task.
Breeding and the environment of the animal is critical. How we raise our dogs and what we expose them to shapes what they do later in life.
Picking the right breed for your particular home environment and enrolling the dog at a reputable dog school helps the owner learn what to do and what not to do, and to catch any behavioural issues early, so that they can be addressed by a canine behaviourist.
There are reputable dog schools out there, and people need to be acutely aware that when they get a dog, they fully realise what they are bringing into their home and what they will need to do to raise this animal safely and compassionately.
The danger lies in having dogs purely for security measures. Even security or police dogs have a routine training regime with their handlers.
Dogs used for security in a family environment can be dangerous. More often than not, the dogs never reach a canine school or private training.
They often end up never leaving the yard or even seeing the outside world. This usually results in a dog with no mental stimulation of any kind - no socialisation or training. They usually become unmanageable at this point, are then frequently tied up in the yard - and then when opportunity knocks, they escape on to the road - and can become a danger to anyone.
Many dogs are picked as “status symbols”. For example, pitbulls actually make terrible guard dogs - guarding is not a pitbull breed trait.
It is critical that owners not only know and seek out as much knowledge as possible about their breed, but also actively engage in training their dogs. This way they are able to instil the correct and appropriate behaviours in their dogs.
It is terrifying as an animal behaviourist and pet trainer to see in the articles about the attacks quotes like “these were not pets, they were dangerous and volatile”.
We must take extra care with any pet we have that we have considered where we source the animal from, that proper and thorough veterinary care is sought out - medical conditions can also affect dogs’ behaviour.
Dogs need to be kept safely in their yards, and then regularly exercised on walks on a leash. If you have a dog, it is your responsibility to keep it safe, healthy and happy.
It is also your responsibility to the public to not put their lives and safety in jeopardy.
It is way too common for dogs to be running out of gates or not to be properly fenced in. It is not okay for a person to be attacked in the road by dogs while walking home.
Dog schooling is not a hobby. It is a necessity. If we make bad animal choices or raise them incorrectly, we then unleash that danger on to the general public.
People need to start learning that we are accountable for our actions and the actions of our dogs. Violence begets violence - no matter what the species.
Animal Behaviourist and Trainer: The Dog Club, Joburg
It is with much sadness that I learnt of the death of Mpho Moekoena and my sincere condolences to her family.
While I can only comment on what has been reported in the papers, these types of attacks are abnormal and unacceptable, yet they are occurring with more frequency all over the country.
The general public are misguided into believing that the acquisition of large dogs purely for guarding purposes, will ensure their safety against intruders, without taking into account their very own safety with the dogs. Because dogs are domestic creatures, they would need to be taught what is and what is not acceptable.
Behaviour is made up of a genetic component and an environmental component. Because the dogs in question all fall within the working breed profile, their basic needs would be far greater than that of a pure companion dog.
If they were expected to deter crime on the property, they would have needed some learning about self discipline and control. In the absence of learning, dogs rely on primitive inherent behaviour.
The fact that there were four dogs (one who appears to have escaped the property days before the attack), indicates that dogs will often display group behaviour because of mutual social facilitation. If one dog shows aggression towards other animals or humans, it is not only about numbers, but more courage because of mutual stimulation.
Dogs who have a low threshold for fear will bite in response to the slightest of threats, like the neighbour calling and approaching.
As the dogs in question were already fighting among themselves, this indicates numerous other factors that should be taken into account, in regard to the establishment of aggression.
Without a full behaviour history on the dogs in question, it is difficult to say more with certainty.
In regard to the attack on the grandfather:
In most provinces, it is against the by-laws to have dogs that are not under the direct control of the dog owner in a public place.
Because Mr Hoosen was attacked in the street, the dog owner is accountable for the actions of the dogs in question.
Any breed of dog who runs out of an open gate and bites people is abnormal and unacceptable. It is indicative of a complete lack of sociability and self discipline and control.
Dog owners should familiarise themselves with their breed of dog, so that they can have a better understanding of the basic needs and what they need to do.
** Both experts are on the executive committee of the South African Board for Companion Animal Behaviourists.