Saturday, December 15, 2012

An interesting case in California

I saw this case back a few months ago when it first surfaced.  The basic story was that a San Francisco Police Department Mounted Officer was on his horse in a designated off-lead dog park when a dog attacked the horse.  There was a hue and cry that the Officer was at fault for being in the dog area on a horse and that the dog probably reacted out of fear. Several folks commented that this was a case of breed assumptions and discrimination since the dog has been identified as an American Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Today a summary of the investigation by the SFPD was released and it shows a few more telling details that make the case less a matter of discrimination and more a problem with an irresponsible owner, and a dog that had unaddressed issues.

First the summary of details from SFPD:

The Officer was in the off-leash area on horseback, but was allegedly 200 feet from the dog and owner when the incident began.

The dog saw the horseback Officer and targeted the horse from that distance.  The horse was not approaching the dog.

The dog closed the distance and bit the Officer on his booted leg.  The Officer told the owner to take control of his dog-and the owner allegedly failed to do so.

The dog then began biting the horse, which panicked and threw the rider.

The horse ran away.  The dog pursued, reengaging the horse three more times; once at the stable, once in a separate area, and again a third time near an intersection where a motorcycle Officer was able to intervene.

The dog did not just bite at the horse's hooves and lower legs-the dog attacked upwards at the horse's abdomen and cause significant bites there.

The SFPD concluded that the dog had actively pursued the horse rather than reacting in fear, and that the dog was dangerous.

With this listing of factors, I have to agree.  Based on this set of factors-and understand, I was neither there nor have I reviewed the reports, etc.-I have to note some disturbing issues here.

1) Whether the mounted Officer was supposed to be in the off-leash area on horseback is unknown.  The dog seems to have initiated the contact.
2) The owner was never able to get his dog under control.
3) The dog not only made first contact, but pursued the horse and reengaged the horse repeatedly. This is not a fear reaction-this is pursuit of a prey target.
4) The dog did not just bite the closest target (the horse's feet).  The dog appears to have deliberately targeted the horse's abdomen, behavior consistent with the typical canine predatory motor sequence.  In other words, this particular dog acted in a species appropriate manner consistent with killing a larger prey animal.

So much as I hate to see any dog labelled dangerous, the behavior of the dog in this case, regardless of type or breed, makes this dog a threat. And ultimate responsibility here rests with the owner: had the owner simply had a reliable off-leash recall, none of this could have happened.  Once again, the human failed the dog.

Here is the media report from


  1. Almost exactly the same thing happened to my daughter while riding except it was an English Bull Terrier. The dog pursued the rider-less horse all the way back to the yard. I have a theory that the tenacity of a bull breed has an impact in this kind of incident.

    1. Jaqi, your statement is ignorant and perpetuates a stereotype that is tantamount to racism. Shame on you.

  2. So when you say the dog is 'dangerous' and a 'threat' can you elaborate on that?

    I might say one of my dogs is 'dangerous' to rabbits but given that she has a full predatory sequence and will consume a rabbit 'dangerous' and 'threat' do not seem the right words. The engaging of this drive will also see her enter a high arousal state and over-ride her otherwise reliable off-leash recall. The solution there, for some, would therefore be with equipment and management (so back to owner responsibility, not denying that).

    The dog in question is a larger breed dog which, presumably, is why it targeted a larger prey although it would be normal in predatory species to co-operate to take on large prey. Again the information is secondary but I'm interpreting the bite on the human leg as incidental to the whole event given there was no follow up.

    So it makes me wonder if this dog was simply a full function of his genes. And given the intervention of humans in creating this artificial animal - the domestic dog - some of those purely evolved gene sequences in wolves are not quite the same in dogs.

    Nevertheless, as a predatory animal, takes me back to seeking clarification of what you mean by 'dangerous' and 'threat'?


    1. I am also seeking clarification on what is meant by labeling this dog "dangerous" and a "threat"?


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