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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

US Overview of attacks for 2012-early edition

Although this is a little early to try and wrap up the year (and I will have a final tally after 12/31....but we can always hope that nothing happens through the holidays) I thought I would go over the dog bite related fatalities for 2012 and some of the numbers that break out.

The total as of today, 4 December, is thirty one (31) human deaths due to dog bite related injuries.  That does not include one reported death, that of a Postal Worker bitten by a dog in Ohio, because that death was due to a heart attack a number of days after the victim was treated and released from the hospital.  Now, I do sympathize with the victim and his family, and do see that the attack may have contributed to the overall stress on the victim, but until a Medical Examinaer rules that the proximate cause of death was due to dog attack then we will have to leave this particular tragedy chalked up to heart disease, a disease that affects far too many of us.

But back to dogs and humans.  Of the total of 31 human fatalities, 14 were adults.  Of those 14 adults, nine were aged 59 and over.  The youngest adult that died of dog related injuries was 23.

Seventeen children were killed in dog bite related incidents in 2012.  Of the 17, ALL of them were aged six or under.  Only three were over the age of two-there was a single six year old and two four year olds.

Of dogs involved, there were 14 different breeds or identified breed mixes.  The included the following:

Pit Bull type dogs
German Shepherd
Golden Retriever
Labrador Retriever
Rhodesian Ridgeback
Alapaha Blueblood Bulldog
American Bulldog
Presa Canario
Hound mix
Cane Corso

There were sevveral dogs that were unidentified: in one case the injuries were caused by a mixed pack of loose, feral dogs.  In one case, still under investigation, the dog is unidentified so far.

The dogs involved have been identified as from a scattering of backgrounds.  Eighteen dogs were described as family dogs.  Six dogs belonged to neighbors.  In one case the dogs were a pack of feral dogs, and in one case the dog is still undetermined (although the primary current suspect is a neighbor's dog).  One dog was known to be an unowned stray, and one dog was a resident dog-living on the property, tossed food from time to time, but not integrated into the family.  In three cases, shocking as it is, the dog(s) involved were dogs taken in by Rescuers.  In the one case I am directly familiar with the Rescuer knew about the prior aggressive behavior of the dog and appears to have let their heart override their head, taking on a dog that was too much for them.  The other cases seem to also be well intentioned people who got in over their skill level, which is why I am very wary when I hear about folks that are trying to "rescue" dogs that have previously shown clear human focused aggression.  I have worked with my share, but there are dogs that even I won't take.

So what does this tell us?

First off, it's KIDS, KIDS, KIDS!  Infants particulary.  As I have stressed in the past, too many of these are tragic but preventable accidents.  Little children should NOT be left unsupervised with a dog, PERIOD.  And that includes small dogs-the most recent fatality in the UK was an eight day old infant killed by a Jack Russell Terrier.  We have had our own cases of small dogs killing infants, cases that also include Jack Russells, Dachshunds, Beagles, and a Pomeranian.

Next, no surprise, is older folks.  Not to be mean here, as I am approaching the potential risk group myself-slowly-but those around 60 and over have a tough time weathering a serious injury, dog related or not.  Older folks are too often health compromised by any number of first-world problems here in the US, problems like heart issues, physical disabilities, increased vulnerability to injury and, due to longer lives, a larger likelihood of being physically unable to fight off a determined animal.

Who owns the dogs?  Usually, according to the numbers, the family of the person killed.  Next up is a close neighbor.  That relates directly to the number of children killed, since the family dog or the neighbor's dog are the two most likely dogs a child will encounter, especially an infant.  Dogs belonging to grandparents or other family not living with the child full time are the most likely of the family dogs to have a negative encounter, whether a full fatality or a simple dog bite.  This usually indicates a lack of frequent social contact between the dog and the particular child, coupled with a relaxation of supervision because the dog is seen as part of the family.

The stray factor?  Only one case involved known strays, the case of the roaming pack of feral dogs.  These attacks are really rare, so if you are not bitten by your own dog or your neighbor's dog you arre pretty much in the clear.  The idea of free-roaming killer strays is just not supported by the data.

The takeaway from this recap?


2) Your family dog is the most likely threat-and a threat you can do something about.  If your family pet shows aggressive behavior, especially if children are around, seek professional help.  Solve the problem before it solves your childcare issues.

3) There IS NO PARTICULAR KILLER DOG.  Any dog that has teeth can be a problem.  The issue is behavior, not breed.

4) With 31 deaths out of a US population of 300 million, dogs arre still safer than cars, boats, baloons and bathtubs.  Don't freak out.

And Rescuers, remember: Rescue and Rehabilitation is not a contest, or a proving ground for "bravery".  Don't let your heart override your skills.  There are too many dogs to save to take a risk on a dog that is a clear danger you are unprepared for.  Scars are not medals.  Caution is not a sign of weakness.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Public Education and Owner Retention

Today I was going through some old stored documents for a friend since we were talking about the possibility of setting up a community outreach program here in Jacksonville.  I had put together a program, one I sent in to our local Animal Control Division, way back in the "olden days" (yes, to the kids now 2004 is way back...)

This program was strongly based in three areas: First, pre-ownership education.  We need to be able to get information out to prospective pet owners as to their responsibilities and the value of their anticipated pets before they commit to adding a family member. This would prepare new owners (or those to whom their past pets are only fond, kind of fuzzy, warm memories) for the good, and bad, of taking in a new pet.

Second, I felt that providing owner retention resources, such as training, advice, and pre-panic guidance for current pet owners was essential.  The three largest causes of pet death are still housetrainng, barking, and chewing, as observed so clearly by Dr. Ian Dunbar way back then.  These three behaviors are the top real reasons for surrrendering pets to shelters, regardless of the often creative excuses given.

Thid, I felt (and still do) that owners of problem pets should be required to pursue training for their dogs and themselves (no offense to cat people, but you guys are rarely possessors of dangerous or nuisance animals) in order to meet the requirements of local ordinance violations.  This gives us a lever to bring offenders back into the fold of responsible pet owners instead of just nagging them with fines and criticism.  We can take this opportunity to not only correct bad behavior, but to help instill good behavior and habits in that segment of the population that is most in need.

So here is my modest proposal for education, owner retention, and remedial training for recalcatrant owners. Not bad for 2004.


Public Education Proposal
Responsible Pet Owner Education Program for the City of Jacksonville

Program and proposal copyright 2004 James W. Crosby

Overview of Public Education Plan

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this proposed plan is to:
1. Reduce the number of pets surrendered to or seized by Jacksonville Animal Care and Control (ACC).
2. Reduce the number of pets euthanized by ACC by increasing adoptions.
3. Improve the general quality of life for pets in the City of Jacksonville.
4. Improve the quality of life for the citizens of Jacksonville by reducing pet-related nuisance problems such as barking, animals at large, and waste disposal.
5. Improve the safety and health of the citizens of Jacksonville by taking proactive steps to reduce threats caused by dangerous animals and dog bites.

Goals of the program

Education of prospective pet owners and future pet owning families before they commit to the ownership of a pet.
Assistance for prospective pet owners and adopters in choosing an appropriately matched pet.
Pro-active training assistance for new pet owners and adopters to reduce the likelihood of adopted pet return or entry of the pet into the Rescue/Shelter system.
Increasing the adoptability of shelter dogs through in-house training, socialization, and behavioral assessment.
Educate owners of problem and dangerous dogs to reduce future bites.

1. Educating the public before they get a pet

People like pets.  Studies have shown the benefits of pet ownership are great, ranging from reduced blood pressure and anxiety to longer life spans and greater satisfaction in life in general.  But too many people jump into pet ownership without adequate preparation.  We have learned through time that responsible pet ownership is not something that people “just know”.  Dated information, incomplete information, and simply bad information affect the quality of life for many pets and their owners.  Results of such bad information range from pet overpopulation to pet abuse, abandonment and dumping on shelters.  Mismatching of breeds to families also results in pet abandonment, surrender and mistreatment.  The most common reasons for pet surrender, though, are training issues such as barking, housetraining, jumping up, etc.  Educating the consumer before they make a long-term commitment to a pet is the key to reducing surrenders and mismatching.

        Part one of this program aims to educate prospective pet owners before commitment to a pet.  The proposed City of Jacksonville/ACC Public Education Program will;
Offer free seminars for prospective pet owners through Community Centers, Libraries, and other City facilities.  These seminars will be staffed with volunteer presenters recruited through the local Rescue network and area dog and cat clubs with guidance and support from ACC.  A Community Lecture Series could cover specific topics such as “Bringing home a new pet” and “Choosing the right breed for your family.”

o Center for Disease Control statistics show that low-income and minority residents are more likely to suffer from dog bite and less likely to report a bite incident.  Similarly, low-income areas suffer from greater numbers of at-large and stray animals.  Community seminars in these areas can be coupled with aggressive low-cost spay and neuter programs and efforts to control and reduce strays, along with aggressive bite reduction education.

Teach Responsible Pet Ownership through Public Schools.  ACC Education personnel and volunteers can combine forces to present educational programs in schools and begin responsible ownership education early.  Live demonstrations coupled with lecture and question/answer session geared to the age level of the students make such a program lively and interesting.
o Elementary School-The program will concentrate heavily on bite prevention.  According to CDC figures, dog bite injuries rank third only to bicycle and baseball/softball injuries as the leading cause of emergency admissions of children to hospitals.  The audience of greatest risk is children grades kindergarten through 4.  These children would be taught through adapting such programs as the Humane Society of Ottawa-Carleton (Canada) “Dog Buddies” program that features their “Know! Slow! Freeze!” series of instructional pictures and directions.
o Middle School-At this level bite prevention will still be primary, but added information addressing the humane treatment of pets, responsible pet ownership, introduction to the need for and methods of humane training and rudimentary introduction to the need for spay and neuter of pets will be added.
o High School-In our High Schools bite prevention education will still be included, but more emphasis will be made on issues of responsible ownership and care, spay/neuter and responsible breeding, and humane training methods.  Additionally, legal responsibilities of pet ownership will be introduced to this nearly-adult audience, accompanied by legal and ethical issues revolving around dangerous and aggressive dogs.

Sponsor other school-based education efforts.  With the ease of technical production and reduced costs of technology today, CD/DVD presentations and video tapes can be provided to schools to integrate into their curriculum on such specific topics as bite prevention.  Many outreach programs are available for dissemination through the support of organizations such as the American Kennel Club.  Many of these programs are season-specific, such as summer safety, National Dog Bite Awareness Week, and various events such as Humane Society and ACC Pet Expos, etc.

According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and author of numerous training books, the three main causes for the death of pet dogs are…housetraining, barking, and chewing.  These three problems lead to the surrender and eventual euthanasia of more dogs than are claimed each year by injury or disease.  The great tragedy here is that all of these causes can be eliminated through education.

2. Educating existing pet owners

Most pet owners are well intentioned.  They mean to provide good homes, mean to take adequate care of their animals, mean to keep them under control-but responsible pet ownership is not something that “just happens”.  Even those who have owned pets for years may have significant gaps in their experience, gaps that become evident when problems crop up.  For instance, a well meaning owner that allows his dog to jump up and “give them kisses” may not realize that they are setting themselves up for a potentially serious bite incident.  Someone who tolerated their dog barking before neighbors moved close suddenly faces Ordinance violations.  Or perhaps an owner that mistakenly thinks his or her dog should be “mean” to guard their home must then cope with the tragedy of a dangerous dog attack.
Educating existing pet owners and providing “safety nets” of training and behavior advice is the second focus of this proposed program.  Steps taken to help current pet owners cope with problems and treat their pets better will inevitable reduce the number of those pets that enter the Rescue/Shelter system.  Education cannot prevent unexpected life changes such as sickness, job or family status changes, but the “Big Three” causes-housetraining, chewing and barking-can be addressed successfully, even for those owners already in crisis.
Proactive and reactive strategies addressing current pet owners are in order.  Proactive methods will include the following:

Proactive strategies:
Attracting current pet owners to free training lectures offered through the Community Centers and Libraries.  Although some of these seminars will be targeting new owners, issues of concern to existing owners will be offered.  Seminars will include such topics as “Behavior Problems and Solutions”, “What Do The Pet Ordinances Really Mean”, “Principles of Humane Dog Training” and “Introducing A New Dog Into Your Home.”
Include current pet owners in adoption support efforts such as “Adopters Anonymous” (detailed in section 3).  Provide telephone and/or e-mail support for owners with behavior questions.
Provide guidance and advice to owners seeking to voluntarily comply with local pet ordinances by offering constructive facility inspections.
Offer owners a voluntary evaluation of their pet with recommendations for appropriate training or management.

Reactive strategies will include:
Post-citation training classes for owners of pets cited under local ordinance.  These owners could be offered the alternative of successfully completing approved training classes in lieu of paying full fines for cited offences.  For example, an owner cited for allowing an animal to run free could elect to attend a series of training classes, at their expense, and pay one-half of the standard fine.  In this way, not only is the owner corrected for their misconduct, but a mechanism is put in place likely to reduce the chance of further, escalating violations.  This system is already in place in such areas as driver safety training and domestic violence intervention.

A trained dog isn’t that difficult to achieve.  It only takes ten minutes…every day, for the rest of the dog’s life!

3. Support for adoptive pet families after adoption.

Our happiest cases are those wherein the new family and the adopted pet immediately bond and live happily ever after.  The cold reality of shelter work, however, is that many shelter animals carry baggage from their past placements, or lack thereof, and those animals and their families need help.  Outside training classes are great, but not all families know where to find competent training, especially if their adopted pet has specialized problems such as past abuse or under-socialization.  ACC should take the lead in adoptive situations by providing an introduction to basic manners and obedience training with all adoptions.  Each adoptive family could, for instance, be given a certificate allowing them four free classes,  either offered by trainers donating their time or through in-house classes offered by ACC.  These classes would help inform the new owners how to teach their dog, how to handle common behavior problems in a humane and efficient manner, and how to address any special needs of adopted shelter animals.
Rescue groups, particularly breed-specific Rescue groups, can provide substantial help in this effort.  Breed specific groups have a base of experience particular to the problems of the chosen breed.  This experience should be placed at the disposal of the pet owning public by referral to cooperating groups.
Specific support measures for adoptive families will include:

Post adoption basic obedience classes offered by ACC.  Classes can be offered on-site at the main ACC facility and at satellite adoption centers.  A series of two to four introductory classes should be offered, with further classes available at a reasonable cost.  Adopters could be referred to programs such as the Jacksonville Humane Society’s Pet University  where such programs would give first classes free when shown proof of recent adoption.
A behavior problem referral and support service provided by ACC.  This may take the form of a call-in hotline or actual meetings.  The Open Paw program in California has established “Adopters Anonymous”, a forum where pet adopters “get free advice from trainers and counselors so that prospective owners can learn how to teach their pets good habits from the start, while current owners can learn how to retrain pets with bad habits.”

Statistically, fully fifty percent of all children will suffer a dog bite sometime before they graduate from High School.  According to the Center for Disease Control, over five million Americans are bitten by dogs each year.  Injury rates are highest among children aged 5-9 years.  Each year an average of twenty six people die from dog bites.

4. In-house training initiatives to increase adoptability.

Animals in shelter environments often become “de-trained” with time.  Animals may lose housebreaking and socialization to people and other animals, and may actually become fearful or anxious because they are forced to eliminate in their kennels and their social interactions between other animals and humans are limited or intimidating.  In California, the San Francisco SPCA, working with Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, have developed a protocol for working with shelter animals called Open Paw.  The Open Paw program has established practices for shelter personnel, combined with design and management techniques, that aim to increase the socialization of shelter animals, provide humanizing influences, and begin basic manners-based training to pets prior to adoption, making those animals more attractive to potential adoptive families.
These techniques can be combined with the advanced behavioral assessment techniques and an assessment plan that aids shelter workers in safe management of shelter animals with an eye to increasing adoptions and reducing returns through effective evaluation of potential problems before the animal is ever released for placement.
Some of the techniques used, for example, at the Berkeley East Humane Society in Berkeley, California as part of their Open Paw program are:

Hand feeding of shelter dogs.  This makes the dogs friendlier, calmer and happier when approached by people in the shelter.  Using food treats the dogs learn traits more acceptable to potential adopters.
Kongs!  This part of the program uses toys stuffed with kibble that help calm the dogs at the end of the day.
Catopia.  This is a dedicated, toy-filled cage free room for cats.  Cats are rotated through Catopia for play, exercise and socialization.
Daily dog walks.  Dogs in shelter runs have to eliminate in the same space they sleep and eat in, potentially damaging any housetraining they already have.  Multiple daily walks for all shelter dogs allows already trained dogs to maintain their housetraining, while staff can easily identify those animals needing remedial housetraining.

“Open Paw is designed to address those issues through the education of prospective and existing owners, and through the promotion of minimum mental health guidelines for shelter animals."

5. Remedial training for dogs involved in bites and control measures for dangerous dogs.

Dangerous and aggressive dogs are a growing problem across the United States.  An average of twenty six people are killed each year in dog attacks.  Recent studies show that there is no single factor universal to all attacks.  Unneutered male dogs are the most common offenders, but a great range of breeds of dog have been involved in such attacks.  Seventy six percent of the victims of fatal dog attacks are children, according to the CDC.
Those persons wishing to retain dogs classified as dangerous are required under the law to provide well defined measures for the secure containment of those animals.  Management standards are in place detailing the handling of such animals in public and on private property.  A provision not currently in place in Jacksonville is a public education component of the dangerous dog provisions.
In the 2001 report of the CDC Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, published in the June 1 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Association (Vol. 218, number 11, June 1, 2001) the following section appears in Appendix 4, “Model legislation for the identification and regulation of ‘dangerous’ dogs.”:

“Attendance by the dog and its owner/custodian at training sessions conducted by a certified applied animal behaviorist, board certified veterinary behaviorist, or other recognized expert in the field and completion of training or any other treatment as deemed appropriate by such expert.  The owners of the dog shall be responsible for all costs associated with the evaluation and training ordered under this section.”

This remedial training would involve a projected series of four (4) two hour classes followed by six (6) one-hour classes, for a total of fourteen (14) hours of instruction.  Attendance at three of the four two-hour blocks, and four of the six one-hour blocks would be required for successful completion.  The two-hour blocks would involve one hour of classroom instruction, followed by one hour of hands-on dog work.  The classroom blocks would cover topics including:

Requirements of the ordinance-“How did I get here?”
Dynamics of dog attacks.
Foundations of aggressive canine behavior.
Use of physical management tools such as fitting required collars and muzzles and proper use of leads and leashes.
Humane correction versus improper punishment.
Safe containment at home-runs, yards and kennels.
Liability for owners of dangerous dogs and legal consequences of further aggressive incidents.

The hands-on blocks of training would cover basic control and obedience: sit, stay, heel, down, come when called, no jumping (proper greeting behavior), etc.  This pairing of classroom and hands on will ensure that each owner is adequately informed as to their responsibility to and for their pet, while assuring that at least a minimum time is actually spent training the dog while supervised by a trainer.
This remedial training class should also be offered, as a voluntary option, to owners of dogs not adjudged dangerous but involved in bite or aggressive incidents that, if allowed to progress unchecked, could result in behavior that could be deemed dangerous under the statute.  In these cases the training provides a safety net allowing owners to assume a proactive role in preventing dangerous behavior by their pet.

Seventy percent of fatal dog attacks and more than half of bite wounds requiring medical attention involve children.  

6. Funding-the inevitable question.

In City government, the question of funding is always the bottom line.  Funding for the start up of a wide-reaching education program such as is proposed here will obviously be substantial.  Cost of education, however, must be weighed against the current, sometimes hidden, cost of “business as usual”.  To quote the report of the American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions published June, 2001,
“Costs associated with dog bite injuries cannot be readily measured, because so many intangible quality of life issues are involved….Intangible costs include time spent by volunteers and paid community officials on animal-related issues, deterioration of relationships between neighbors, building appropriate medical support, citizens’ concerns about neighborhood safety for children, homeowners’ insurance costs within the community, and animal shelter support for unwanted pets.  These are quality of life issues that ultimately determine the desirability of a community to its citizens and that can motivate proactive community officials to institute a prevention program.”
Federal and State grants and support programs are available for such community safety issues.  Private donors can also be a substantial source for financial support for such a progressive, proactive program.  Likewise, use of volunteers can supplement paid staff in a meaningful way.  For instance, for an organization to be recognized by the City as a listed Rescue organization, such a group should be required to provide a specific number of volunteer man-hours to the Public Education Program every month.
However funding is obtained, the commitment of dollars to the health and safety of the community and their pets can only pay off in the future with reduced demands placed on Animal Care and Control.

Most shelter animals and strays are surrendered or abandoned because of predictable behavior, temperament, or training problems.  Many problems worsen in the shelter environment.  Most problems could easily be prevented or resolved if only pet owners and shelter staff and volunteers knew how.  Preventive education is the key to keeping cats and dogs in their original homes, and out of shelters.
Kelly Gorman, “Open Paw” 

Program and proposal copyright 2004 James W. Crosby

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shelter Dog Aggression Study

Just this morning I saw a new study conducted by the University of British Columbia's Animal Welfare Program on aggression, both perceived and observed, by dogs adopted from a shelter.  The survey, which was not publicized as having anything to do with breed, separated Pit type dogs of varying genetics into test and control groups.

The study produced some dramatic results.  Were Pit Bull type dog adopters significantly different from adopters of other dogs?

Further investigation showed that these pit bull adopters provided the same home life for their dogs as the other breed adopters. Dogs were acquired for companionship, lived indoors, were alone less than four hours a day, and had regular playtime and exercise with their families. Pit bull guardians were slightly more likely to take their dogs to the dog park (p<0.10).

Other interesting characteristics of the PB type adopters:

"The pit bull adopters have characteristics associated with strong attachments to pets. They were younger (under 30), tending to rent (rather than own) and adopting the first dog of their own (aside from family dogs). Strong bonds have been attributed to young adults (Roll et al., 1997) without children that live singly (Albert and Bulcroft, 1987, 1988, and Turner, 2001), and have previous experience with dogs (Serpell, 1996)."

So what was the difference then between Pit Bull type dogs and other breeds?  How bad was the tendency toward aggression, biting, and other evils often attributed to Pit type dogs-those "characteristics" that cause them to be classified as "restricted" in the UK and banned across areas of the US?  How evil were these horrid dogs?

"A new profile of pit bulls emerged from the study: They were not more aggressive than the other breeds. Pit bulls were more likely to sleep on the bed [62% vs. 16%, p<0.05], more likely to cuddle with their owners (p<0.05), and less likely to show aggression to their owners (p<0.10) – three things associated with strong human-animal bonds. Pit bulls were more likely to pull on the leash (p<0.05).
There was no difference in the number of dogs euthanized at the shelter due to aggression. Likewise, there was no significant difference between groups for aggression to strangers, other dogs, cats, children under 12, skateboarders/cyclists, joggers, over food, when stepped over, or when moved while sleeping.
There was, however, a trend for the other breeds group to be returned for aggression (p<0.02). For those still in the home, there was a slight trend for the other breeds group to show aggression to their guardians (p<0.10)."

So the "evil dogs" are...more likely to sleep on the bed, more likely to cuddle, and less likely to be returned to the shelter for aggression issues.  Hmm.  No difference between Pit Bull types and other breed types to exhibit stranger aggression, dog-dog aggression, chasing, or startle aggression.   Hmmm.

Looks like these dogs didn't read the material that says they should be banned and killed.

Happy Pit Bull Awareness Day.

The article on the study is HERE:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Memphis-the written report.

In September I went to Bloomfield, New Jersey and met a dog named Memphis.  Memphis has become the center of a major local controversy there.  I entered the fray for one reason: to give an outside evaluation of Memphis' behavior at that specific moment in time, and to perhaps offer my reccomendations for his future prognosis.  I have stayed clear of the political issues there, as that is not my job.  I deal with dogs, not politics or determining the path of a local government agency.

That said, I do have to make one note:  this report was finished some time ago, but due to an email glitch (or possible personal technological goof) it didn't go out.  No one has been "sitting on" this report, except my email program.  I redated it to make that clear and then immediately resent it to the Township.  It went out this time.  I mention this to ward off any accusations that there is some nefarious plan here....I just messed up.

My complete written evaluation report on Memphis follows:

James W. Crosby CBCC-KA
Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine

17 October 2012

Karen Lore
Township of Bloomfield, New Jersey
1 Municipal Plaza
Bloomfield, New Jersey, 07003

Dear Ms. Lore:

On September 6, 2012, I traveled to the Bloomfield/Bukowski Animal Shelter facility to evaluate a dog there.  The dog is known as Memphis.

On my arrival I observed Memphis closely.  Memphis appeared healthy, in very good physical condition, and using the Tufts Animal Care and Condition body scale (TACC) would all score in the Ideal (1) range.  

To evaluate dogs I use a combination of the SAFER testing protocol, the AKC Canine Good Citizen examination, and elements of the American Temperament Testing Society process, tests that are generally accepted in the canine behavior community.  These tests are adapted and I may not follow them exactly for safety concerns: I initially observe the dog within their kennel to determine if the dog is safe to remove from secure containment for evaluation and handling purposes.  Progressing through the full range of tasks may be interrupted due to specific responses in earlier portions of the test: for instance, if a dog is reacting with open aggression to safe control, I will not place my face up to the dog.

Further, I do not consider these tests to be “pass/fail”.  If a dog shows a negative behavior, or if in my judgment a dog is not safe to conduct a particular test, the dog does not “fail”.  A negative reaction to a particular stimulus is an indicator of a need for training/treatment and may assist in evaluation of the appropriateness of placement in a particular environment.  Such “failure” may also indicate, in the case of a post-bite evaluation, a potential trigger for the dangerous incident under investigation. Results from a temperament/behavior evaluation are also not necessarily predictive of success or failure in another environment; they are indicative of the reactions to specific stimuli in a particular environment on a particular day.  No guarantees are made or implied, as dogs are living creatures and are deeply affected by environment, training, and experience, both before and after any testing.

Specific indicators examined in a full evaluation include:

Dog greeting to strange person (evaluator).
Dog permitting non-threatening physical contact with dog (gentle petting)
Dog permitting leashing by evaluator.
Dog body posture and non-verbal signaling to evaluator.
Dog willingness to work with the evaluator.
Dog permitting full handling and manipulation of body (ears, tail, feet, muzzle, etc.).
Dog seeking or avoiding voluntary physical contact with evaluator.
Dog’s response to more intense physical manipulation, including “squeeze” and “scruffing”.
Dog acceptance of treats and/or kibble, and allowing or resisting the removal of high value treats.  
Dog response to sudden startle-inducing noise and recovery to startle.
Dog response to a neutral stranger (not evaluator).
Dog response to, and recovery from, sudden approach of “threatening stranger”.
Dog response to direct visual contact/frontal body posture of stranger, neutral and/or “threatening”.
Dog response to proximity of both non-reactive and reactive dogs brought within the testing area by a neutral handler.
Dog response to the actions of other dogs in close proximity not controlled by neutral handler (other kennel dogs acting/reacting from within their enclosures).
Dog response to evaluator’s body language, including appeasement gestures, dominance-type posturing, apparent threatening posture (including direct frontal stare and stare with restraint of dog’s face at close range).
Dog’s response to verbal cues.
Dog’s response to leash application and moderate leash correction, response to strong verbal correction.
Dog’s ability to exhibit appropriate play behavior with evaluator.
Dog’s willingness to initiate, on and off leash, voluntary human contact.
Dog’s response to presenting/removing food bowl, possibly permitting presence of hand in food bowl without guarding response.
Dog’s response to a simulated infant (baby doll).

Other controlled interactions may also occur to expand and clarify any observed behaviors.

My specific behavioral observations for Memphis are as follows:

Memphis.  Male, neutered, Pit Bull type dog, approximately 2 years old.  Reddish-tan, solidly built .  Posture and position on initial observation-alert and calm. When I approached and turned my back Memphis stayed at the front of the kennel and observed calmly.  When I approached with a treat Memphis immediately accepted the offered treat with tail wagging and gently took the treat.  When I stared directly at Memphis he barked once but quickly (less than 2 seconds) averted his eyes to defuse the challenge, tail wagging and showing several appeasement lip licks.  When I did not respond by averting my gaze Memphis faced off and barked briefly, but then re-averted his gaze to defuse the contact, wagging his tail.  Memphis also gave several appeasement licks.  When I banged the kennel door he briefly barked and faced me, but immediately again sent appeasement signals.  When I stood up Memphis voluntarily sat and gently accepted treats.  I again approached closely, staring directly at him and rattled his kennel door.  Memphis jumped up and barked, but quickly regained a stable stance and accepted treats.  Memphis’ posture continued to be frontal but relaxed, with tail wagging.  I turned my back to Memphis, then suddenly turned back around and jumped towards him making full eye contact.  Memphis did respond by barking and jumping up on the kennel door, but calmed within approximately ten (10) seconds.  Memphis’ reaction was consistent with a normal dog being suddenly challenged and showed good recovery skills.

I entered Memphis’ kennel and he was immediately accepting, walking with me towards the back of the kennel.  He voluntarily sat and then came back to the front of the kennel when called.  He accepted treats gently and sat quietly when I placed the leash on him.  Just outside the kennel Memphis readily complied with both Sit and Down commands while remaining attentive to me and my actions.  Memphis walked easily on the leash into the building and up the stairs to the testing area.

On entering the testing area I released Memphis to roam free.  Memphis began to check out the room but readily came to me when called.  I then sat quietly and gave no instructions.  Memphis began to check out the room but voluntarily returned to make contact with me within 15 seconds.  He then spent some time (1 minute 32 seconds) checking the entire perimeter of the room, but then returned to me without command. At that time I took him back under leash control and began the handling tests.

I was able to fully handle, pet, stroke and manipulate Memphis with no reluctance.  I forced Memphis into a down position and restrained him with mild resistance but no aggressive or challenging behavior on his part.  He allowed full manipulation, pulling of his tail, squeeze test, and responded calmly to a sudden scruffing and verbal “no” command.  He tolerated all physical handling without sensitivity or resistance.

The next test was reaction to the sudden object (opening umbrella).  Memphis briefly startled, was alert and cautious, barked twice, and retreated behind me.  Recovery time from this exercise was fourteen (14) seconds.  I then conducted the loud noise test.  Memphis briefly startled but recovered within two (2) seconds with one small lip lick.  

I tested Memphis for food guarding.  In preparation for the test he had not been fed yet this day. I presented him a bowl of soft dog food and allowed him to start eating.  While he was eating he let me pet him on the head and face with no guarding behavior.  I placed my gloved hand directly in the bowl as he was eating and he was tolerant and willing to let me take morsels of food directly from his mouth.  I gave him, and removed, his food several times and he never showed any aggression or protective behavior.  He gently accepted food directly from my hand.

I then retested him with bare hands.  He accepted full handling, squeeze, manipulation of his mouth, and overall handling with no sensitivity or aggressive response toward my bare hand.

Memphis was then exposed to the “stranger” tests.  The first encounter was with a passive stranger wearing a raincoat.  To prepare for this I held Memphis’ leash, but gave him no direction or correction, regardless of his response.  I only restrained him by passive holding of the leash.  The passive stranger was instructed not to make direct eye contact with Memphis.  

When the passive stranger entered and walked across the room Memphis did take notice and approached to smell the stranger, but made no aggressive moves, instead wagging his tail.  When the passive stranger walked out Memphis looked to follow him, but still with positive body language.  In the next test the stranger approached me directly and then ran away after expressing surprise (“Ah! It’s a dog!”).  During this test Memphis did strain towards the stranger and barked several times, pulling against the leash.  Memphis then quickly (11 seconds) backed off and looked to me for guidance.  He briefly renewed his forward motion and barking (18 seconds) and then returned his attention to me.  He was still somewhat tense and watchful.  He then sat on his own, watching the stranger prepare to reenter with a hoodie over his head.  When the stranger approached Memphis began to bark, pulling on the leash, out in front of me and oriented in a frontal posture to the stranger.  Barking/pulling was for a period of about 8 seconds.  

Next the stranger was instructed to reapproach, but this time to look Memphis directly in the eyes in full challenge posture.  Memphis responded with a full lunge, barking and growling, mouth partially open with partial exposure of teeth to the stranger.  This behavior continued for 20 seconds, at which time Memphis looked back to me for guidance.  When given no instruction Memphis sat for 9 seconds without barking, although tense and breathing quickly.  The stranger was then told to avert his eyes, and when he did Memphis looked back at me for guidance again, still in a voluntary sit.  I then instructed Memphis to “leave it” and walked sideways, away from the stranger.  Memphis readily complied, disengaging with the stranger and reverting his attention back to me.

After we walked around the chair one time I tested Memphis for any learned aggressive commands.  I told Memphis “Get Him! Several times and pointed towards the stranger.  Memphis gave n o reaction that would indicate any training or previous behavior shaping of aggression towards a specific target (person) on command.  I also tried Spanish commands and got the same lack of aggressive response.  During the attempt to have Memphis respond aggressively on command he instead kept his attention on me, with receptive and positive body posture.

The stranger departed and I allowed Memphis to voluntarily take a small break.  He lay at my feet, relaxed.  I then had a female (Karen Lore) who Memphis had previously met approach our position, walking and facing directly towards us.  I told her to look Memphis directly in the eye.  Memphis averted his gaze within approximately three seconds and remained lying on the floor, despite the female trying to maintain direct eye contact.  I had the female approach two more steps toward his position, maintaining frontal position with eye contact and Memphis did respond, leaping up and barking and lunging towards the female.  She quickly backed up several steps, still maintaining frontal position, and Memphis continued barking at her for 9 seconds.  I then had the female subject run away screaming in a high pitched voice, leaving Memphis’ view.  Memphis did respond by barking and lunging, but discontinued the behavior is less than 7 seconds, returning to my side as the female target left his sight.  Memphis immediately thereafter complied with my command to “down”, and then accepted me grabbing him by the face and directly challenging him at close range with no negative response.  During these tests Memphis never redirected at the camera person present in the room.  

I then had two dogs brought into the testing area, one at a time.  First was a non-reactive dog, then a more reactive dog.  During this test I sat quietly in the chair, holding Memphis’ leash, but otherwise giving no direction.  Memphis did give a high pitched bark in response to the many barking dogs in the kennel while we were waiting for the test dogs.

The first test dog was a small, white, poodle-type dog.  Despite the quick motions of the dog back and forth in front of Memphis he sat by my side with no commands on a loose leash, showing no aggressive behavior or pursuit of the smaller dog.  While waiting for the second dog Memphis sat, loose leash, although he was very focused on the doorway where the dog (and the strangers) had left the room.  He appeared tense and expectant.

The second dog was larger.  Memphis initially observed the dog’s entrance while laying down, but then as the dog approached Memphis he jumped up and began barking and lunging at the approaching dog.  The reactive dog was likewise pulling towards Memphis.  When the dog left Memphis sight he stopped barking and stood focused on the doorway.  At +20 seconds he diverted his attention briefly towards the side and by +1 minute he was relaxing and easily redirected back to me, allowing petting and seeking positive contact.

I then exited the testing area and took Memphis downstairs to the kennels.  I walked him past the front of a row of kennels filled with dog, most of which were barking and giving visible aggressive displays towards Memphis.  I gave him no verbal instructions and let him engage as he wished, only holding him back by the leash.  Memphis, on our first pass by the dogs, directly responded to the clear challenges of the barking, lunging dogs with similar behavior.  He did not ever redirect back towards me.  As we went back the way we came I was able to get Memphis to respond to my direction and sit, looking at me, despite a dog barking and lunging at him within less than six feet.  Memphis held his quiet sit until I released him (10 seconds).  I had Memphis sit a second time, directly facing a kennel with a barking, lunging dog, and he broke the sit after 8 seconds to respond to the other dog.  I was able to have Memphis sit a third time, facing a different dog, barking and lunging at Memphis, and he held the sit facing that dog for 15 seconds before I quietly walked him away.

I took Memphis for a brief break in the yard area outside the kennel.  We approached a cat that was sitting in the brush, and although Memphis was alert to the cat, he never lunged or tried to chase the cat.

I then took Memphis back through the same row of dogs, this time with treats and direction, to ascertain his response to positive redirection.  In this pass, each time we came in front of a kennel with a responding dog I had Memphis sit quietly and then reinforced the quiet sit.  He responded as before to the first two dogs, but he also took redirection to the sit.  After the second dog we repeated that exposure and Memphis sat without engaging the dog first.  The next dog we passed Memphis gave to response to, instead sitting and looking for his treat.  On the last two dogs Memphis was alert, but did not respond to either of the dogs, turning his back on them and keeping his attention toward me instead.  He in fact turned his back on the other barking, lunging dogs.  Even when I tried to guide him physically back towards the other dogs he maintained his focus on me.  When we walked back down the row of dogs he remained focused on me and did not respond to a single dog.


Memphis is a healthy male dog that does present a few behavior issues.  Specifically, Memphis is sensitive to the approach of strangers, particularly those who exhibit direct challenge behavior.  Memphis’ response is lunging and barking.  Memphis did not redirect that behavior to me or others in the immediate area he was already accustomed to, such as the camera person and observers in the testing room.  Memphis recovered rapidly from the presentation of the challenging stranger after the stranger withdrew without specific direction such as a “Leave it” command.  When given such a command Memphis accepted the redirection of his actions and recovered even more quickly.  His reaction to the active stranger is troublesome at this time, but he showed the ability to readily accept redirection and acceptable replacement behavior.  Memphis did not show any response to my attempts to have him “get” the stranger, and thus there was no indication that human focused aggressive display has been reinforced or trained.  I saw no evidence that Memphis has received any protection, guarding, or other aggression training.  Prognosis for retraining on his stranger sensitivity is very good.

Memphis also currently shows sensitivity to other dogs, particularly those his size or larger that show direct challenge behavior (barking, lunging, frontal confrontation).  Memphis strained at his leash and returned the behavior, but readily accepted my redirection.  Memphis responded quickly when presented with positive reinforcement for alternative behavior (sitting, ignoring the challenging dog), successfully sitting with his back to the challenging dogs and paying full attention to me.  In just a few repetitions Memphis began to generalize the alternative, calm behavior.  Memphis never redirected towards me, even when I physically reached to his head and moved his face to look at me while he was barking and lunging at the challenging dog.  Memphis’ receptivity to positive redirection of his behavior with relatively few repetitions gives a good prognosis for retraining.

At the time of the test, due to the above described issues, Memphis was NOT appropriate for adoption into a regular pet home.  With retraining and continuance of positive behavior reinforcement I believe that Memphis has a very good prognosis for eventual adoption and placement.  My recommendation for a permanent home would be to a physically capable owner who is experienced with bigger dogs and who is committed to continuing to reinforce Memphis’ good responses with regular training.


James W. Crosby CBCC-KA

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Join us in Denver November 2nd!

Join us November 2nd in Denver!  We will be talking about dog bite investigation, assessment, behavior, prevention, and the need for clear, fair behavior-based Dangerous Dog Laws .  Registration is available and open now!  Register at

Friday, October 5, 2012

What's wrong with being a Dog Trainer?

My last post seems to have ruffled a few feathers, some of which I expected.  Some, however, caught me from out of left field.  One of the objections was that a certain person was not a "Dog Trainer", but some sort of....something else.

We talked in January about what makes someone a Behaviorist.  It seems that isn't the only term people have questions about-even professionals in the field.  Some seem to want to turn away from their roots and act like those roots are somehow lesser things.

Let's start from the top here: I am a Dog Trainer and pround to be one.

Yes, I have done more.  I am certified in various extra activities, including behavior consulting.  I am a court-recognized expert on canine aggression and atttacks.  I am certified through various venues as an evaluator of dog behavior and have done evaluations on a range of very bad dogs.

But the truth is that I started out as a Dog Trainer.  I have belonged to several dog training organizations, including the APDT and the Professional Retriever Trainers' Association, and I have trained dogs for manners, competition, conformation showing, and specific tasks.  I AM A DOG TRAINER.  That is the concrete foundation underneath all of the other specialized activities.  Those are my roots, and those are the skills I fall back on each and every time, regardless of the case involved.

Now let's look at what makes a Dog Trainer.  A Dog Trainer, certified or not, does a specific set of things.  They teach dogs to perform tasks.  Those tasks may be sit, down, walk on leash, come when called, roll over....the list goes on.  Some tasks are simple, like sit, and some tasks involve an extended series of chained behaviors, like successfully completing an agility run, or a set of tricks for a movie sequence. Either way, the dog is taught tasks.  A Dog Trainer is a teacher.

A Dog Trainer, with or without fancy titles or specific behavior analysis training, modifies unwanted behavior.  The trainer takes a dog with an unwanted behavior (pooping on the floor for instance) and teaches the dog another, more acceptable behavior (asking to go outside).  They train the desired behavior, train the dog to replace the undesired behavior with the desired behavior, and then use reinforcement to fade the old and support the new.

This is ultimately what we do, minus all the frills, no matter who we are or what we claim to be.  We are teachers.  We are trainers.  We choose to work with a specific species, and those are dogs.  We help people with their dog problems-and we save lives, both figuratively and literally.  Shelter surrender and death is still the number one cause of death for pet dogs-and most of those surrenders are for fixable training issues.

One can call themselves a "Communicator", a "Rehabilitator", or any other fancy term they want.  They can whisper, emote, center their energy, focus their spirit...whatever.  There are no established standards for these fancy sounding classifications, and honestly no way to quantify and test their claims, so anyone can call themselves anything they want.  Not my problem or issue.  The only quantifiable, testable process is counting whether the dog a) produces the desired behavior more frequently or on cue and b) reduces the number of occurrences of the undesired behavior.  And if it involves a new task or trick, does the dog produce the desired response to the assigned stimulus.  Period.

But the final process of fixing a dog, helping the dog's owner and family, and helping that valuable human-canine bond flourish is based on basic dog training (coupled with a little bit of people training).

So I will say it again: I AM A DOG TRAINER.  AND I AM PROUD OF IT.

How about you?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Food Aggression and a Famous Trainer

Those of you who have followed my little blog here for any time know a few things about me. First, I deal with aggressive dogs and their behavior problems, with an eye towards treating the problems.  Second, I evaluate dogs that have been labeled aggressive, and often legally declared Dangerous Dogs, to find out what makes them tick and to recommend, if appropriate, treatment and management options.  Third, I too often deal with truly dangerous dogs-dogs that have killed human beings.  I also do detailed evaluations of those dogs, some of which have been posted here, and give a detailed breakdown of the specific behaviors observed and the circumstances under which they happened.  A few of these are also on the blog.  I also look at other evaluations from time to time to give an opinion of the behavior displayed and quantify that behavior.

That is what I am going to do today.  I was sent the clip of a Famous Dog Trainer from their TV season finale show, and after fielding numerous questions I am going to go frame by frame and explain what I see-and then give a little opinion or two.

The Famous Dog Trainer's clip can be found on YouTube here  I am going to proceed based on that posted clip and use the time marks given on the clip to illustrate the specific behaviors.  If you would like go ahead and pull up the video, grab a beverage, and watch along with me.

One caveat here: remember that when you are in the midst of an evaluation or training session you may not see absolutely everything the dog is doing, based on your angle and the dog's angle-BUT, if you are face to face I certainly expect the trainer/evaluator to have at least basic situation awareness and a general idea of the signals and posture of the dog.

I also have to point out here that the FDT is not wearing any gloves or other protective gear.  I wear protective gloves lined with Spectra/Kevlar when dealing with a potential bite issue for a reason: if I am bitten, not only do I get hurt but, in some jurisdictions, especially with dogs that have been identified as having issues, me getting bitten may be the death sentence for the dog, even if it is my fault (which it usually is).  There is no room for error because the dog is going to pay the price.

At 00:01 the Famous Dog Trainer (hereafter FDT) places a bowl of food in front of the dog.  The dog approaches the food and the FDT stares directly at the dog through 00:09.  As the dog averts her gaze, turns her head to the side and down, showing a clear appeasement signal ("submission" in some people's terms) the FDT says "that's unsure, that's not submission".  The FDT then tells the dog (at 00:11) "good girl" and she begins to eat, ignoring the FDT.

At 00:17 the FDT moves his body directly over the eating dog and the food bowl in a low crouch.  He is staring directly at the dog, frontally positioned.  Dog gives a warning air snap with no physical contact, showing bite control and basic restraint.

At 00:18 FDT strikes the dog in the left side of her neck with his right hand.  The dog retreats, baring teeth and growling, giving both audible and postural warning of discomfort and desire for the FDT to retreat.  The FDT pursues the dog past the food bowl, still in a frontal posture, low crouch, and staring, directly challenging the dog.  The dog gives another air snap and snarl of warning (00:22).  The dog is backed up, but shows restraint by not pursuing the FDT, but instead gives (2) appeasement (submissive) licks (00:23 and 00:24), closes her mouth, gives seven (7) further appeasement licks, averts her gaze (00:28), gives an audible warning snarl (00:33), gives six (6) more licks and averts her gaze repeatedly while the FDT maintains his frontal threatening position and stare, challenging the dog and failing to respond to the many appeasement gestures.  At 00:41 the dog looks the FDT in the eye, immediately averts her gaze, and looks around for an avenue of flight from this strange, aggressive person.  The FDT maintains his overtly challenging threat posture.

At 00:47, looking confused, the dog voluntarily lies down without command or input, yawns, and tries to disengage.  The FDT turns to the audience and talks.  While talking the FDT leans back, averts his face and gaze to address the audience, withdraws his outstretched leg and frontally-positioned body, and the dog calms more.  The dog remains down, looking around with closed mouth, soft eyes, and appears relaxed through 1:10.

At 1:10 the FDT has risen up to his feet and, leaning over, extends his hand over the top of the dog's muzzle (an overtly dominant gesture).  The dog again warns the FDT with an air snap (1:12) and exposed teeth that she is still uncomfortable being closely approached by the FDT, trying to get the FDT to draw back.  The dog then rapidly bites the FDT's leading, ungloved and unprotected hand-the same hand he struck her with before.  The FDT kicks the dog and the dog retreats toward a corner where a photographer is standing.  The dog never redirects toward the photographer.  As the dog backs up the FDT pursues, frontal and challenging.  The dog growls, bares her teeth, gives "hard eyes" and in general tries to get some space away from the FDT.  The dog is now up against a fence and has no room to retreat.

At 1:20 the FDT stops advancing just in front of the dog, who is backed up against the fence.  The dog relaxes her face, closes her mouth, gives repeated appeasement licks and averts her gaze from the FDT, who is still staring the dog down.  The dog still shows tension, but does not pursue or otherwise engage the FDT. She holds her ground as there is no where else to go.  At 1:25 you can see clearly that the dog is backed up against the fence.  

The dog holds her position and calms, showing softened eyes, slack mouth, repeatedly averted gaze (1:43) and does not engage or show any aggressive display towards the FDT, even at close range as the FDT stands facing directly and standing over her, even as he gets a drink of water and washes off his bitten hand.  The dog still (1:53) has no place to retreat.

At 1:58 we can clearly see another appeasement lick, ears down, eyes softened, mouth closed.  At 2:00 a note appears on the screen "Elapsed time 3 min 6 sec" apparently illustrating the time the FDT has had the dog cornered against the fence.  At 2:03 you can clearly see that the dog is holding a body position that is angled away from the FDT and curved (submissive/appeasement signals) to try and defuse the encounter.  The dog is blinking, averting her gaze, ears down, with the angled body, all indicative of appeasement (submission) when the camera man says at 2:06 "She's still not submissive".  The FDT states "No" as the dog again turns her head away and down.  At 2:33 the dog is still standing quietly, body angled and in a crescent, gaze averted, ears down, backed up against the fence.  The dog has a relaxed mouth continuing a non-confrontational posture through the on-screen marker that says "5 min 4 sec" (2:42 video time).  FDT turns away and walks off, back turned to the dog.  The dog makes no effort to pursue or attack-she simply stays up against the fence.

Is this dog "safe", especially around small children?  Not at this juncture.  This dog needs work. Progressive, positive and instructive work to desensitize the problem behavior and replace that behavior with acceptable, calm behavior.  Can that be done?  Most likely, given enough time and safe management of the dog until the problem is mitigated.  That depends on the dog-they are living beings with their own personalities and are influenced by genetics, experience, training, environment-and even just how they feel a certain day.

Now again, I realize that things happen fast in a dog evaluation, especially when something goes awry.  That is the biggest value of video-the ability to dissect the actual situation second by second.  This dissection tells a lot about both the dog in question, and the evaluator.  I have seen in video signals that I have missed.  That is why, when I can, I get another experienced person to watch in real time to warn me of signals that I may have not seen as I looked away or was focusing on other details-like not stepping in a hole.  But the overall purpose of evaluation and treatment is not to ignore clear signals and push a dog into biting you: in my world the purpose of an evaluation is to guide your treatment and diagnose problems, and triggers, without harming anyone.  That includes setting a dog up for future failure because you had to prove you were the baddest on the block.


I think it is time to wade in here with a couple points that the emotions of this sort of issue drags up.  First off, I am NOT bashing any particular trainer.  The trainer involved here put this out as a publicly accessible part of an entertainment show, not an educational seminar.  What I did was provide a point by point analysis of the dog's behavior.  I point out signals and signs that a professional should be looking for and address, during evaluation and during training. I agree that the owners likely bear responsibility for setting this dog up to fail by whatever behavior they tolerated and didn't address much sooner.  I also agree that, in its current state, this dog is not safe around small children.  The trainer publicizing this clip raised questions that parties asked me, and I responded in a fair, balanced manner leaving value judgments aside.

That said there a few other issues.  First, there is no such thing as a Certified "Rehabilitator".  There are trainers, from the person who sticks out a shingle saying "Dog Trainer" with no education or certification to those who possess supported credentials such as through the APDT/CCPDT (which I had) and the IACP to several other oversight organizations such as the Karen Prior Trainers, the Victoria Stilwell Positive Trainers, the Animal Behavior College, and others.  These folks are trainers-of varying skills.  Then there are Behavior Consultants with credentials such as CBCC-KA (me and others), certification from the IAABC, and other behavior based certifying organizations.  Then there are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists and Veterinary Behaviorists, the top of the pile.  Any or all of these folks, from the guy with a self-declared title of "Dog Trainer" to the Veterinary Behaviorist can function as a rehabilitator of dogs.  That is what trainers and behaviorists do. I have trained a ton of dogs-and have rehabilitated a large number of problem dogs.  That doesn't mean I crown myself "Dog Rehabilitator".  That means I am a trainer, a behavior consultant, and evaluator (through the AKC and others but certification).  Rehabilitator is a meaningless title-to be competent rehabilitation must be based on training, behavior analysis, behavior modification, and perhaps medical intervention by a Veterinary Behaviorist.  

Finally, this post is not about who is right and who is wrong.  There are as many techniques as there are trainers and behaviorists.  I am concerned that this particular dog gave clear signals, repeatedly, that could have guided a trainer to a less invasive, less aggressive method of determining the same conclusion-and without risking the dog or the trainer by causing a potentially legally reportable bite.  

How would I address this issue?  That is a longer post, but it would start with not pushing the dog beyond the first warning signals, but using those to establish the parameters of the problem behavior and then proceeding, gaining the dog's confidence and slowly desensitizing the dog to the particular behavioral issue and pressing those parameters slowly back to help the dog make the right choices-and then reinforce those choices.

Jim Crosby

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aggressives, Aversive vs Positive, and my journey from A- to R+


While happily mowing the yard yesterday I was thinking about this post, and was kind of self-satisfied with my first title.  "Aversives....A- to P+".  Cute, catchy...and suddenly occurred to me WRONG!  For those readers who are behavior analysis and/or techie people, they saw what I suddenly before I did I am sure.  I meant A- as being aversive/not so good (works for me still), but P+, in technical jargon doesn't mean "Gone to positive-that's good! I'm happy and my dogs are happier now!" but properly means positive (applied) punishment!  NOT WHAT I MEANT!  So, I had to fix the title to R+, which of course means applied positive reinforcement.

So to those who noticed, please accept my apologies..I do know the difference.  Trying to write a catchy lede will sometimes do that to you.  To those of you who didn't catch my goof up, just move along and read...nothing to see here.  Jim

Here on my blog we have covered a lot of subjects, usually revolving around aggression and aggressive behavior, but we have gotten off on topics such as wrongly accused dogs and Breed Discriminatory Legislation.  Today I want to get back on track with general aggression, and specifically with some "rehab" strategies that are being used today.

As I have explained before, aggression itself is not somehow evil; aggression is a behavioral strategy for an animal to affect change in its environment.  Period.  That change may be the protection of resources (food, water, territory, shelter or breeding access), protection of self, obtaining food (predation), or addressing social disputes.  None of these are inherently evil, vicious, or mean-spirited.  They are simple survival issues, with a clear set of rules for application and a logic to their implementation-at least from the dog's point of view.

Sadly there are "rehabbers" that seem to think that the application of force, physical or electronic, is the path to rehabilitating a dog that shows aggressive behavior.  Force against force, as any martial artist knows, is usually fruitless and most often amounts to nothing more or less than bullying.  In the martial arts more emphasis is given to the redirection of force, by either the redirection of an attacking force in a harmless direction  or turning the force back upon the initiator.  In working with dogs I have no desire to force a dog-that simply proves that I am bigger, stronger, or have tools that I can use to impose my will rather than seeking to defuse the situation and find the source of the conflict-and shows that I have a lack of skill and the proper tools to find that source.  I may be able to beat a biting dog into submission, but that is unethical, inhumane, and doesn't come close to solving the problem.  Force only results in a dog that is afraid of me, and can only be trusted to comply when there exists the threat of physical harm.  That is not what I want in a dog.

What I want is clear communication, a working relationship based on mutual respect, and a dog that is able to act from a safe and secure mindset, not fear.  Psychologists have proven over and over again that fear overrides learning, and that when an animal (and I include us) is fearful for its survival, all higher brain functions cease and revert to basic survival mode-get away or fight for your life!

I have seen this in the field.  Years ago I ran competitive field trials with my dogs, and client dogs.  At that time (and in too many places it persists today) the accepted means of training involved the heavy application of aversive pressure by "frying" dogs down with electronic collars.  These dogs yelled, screamed, and cowered.  The trainers using these methods got results-in certain dogs-but far too many dogs were washed out, and permanently damaged by such heavy handed training.  Too many of the rest ran their trials but did it with tail down, constantly looking over their shoulder for the next zap from the trainer.  None of this training involved establishing a true relationship of trust.

I admit freely that, when I started training, I used e-collars.  I did not, from the beginning, feel that the style of e-collar training I saw was appropriate.  A dog in pain, as I said, isn't learning in the manner I want my dogs to learn, so I was even then a kind of radical; I primarily used the tone function of my collars as a secondary reinforcer, a way to reach out at 300 yards and immediately, and effectively, tell the dog "Good dog!  Good job" the moment the dog committed to the correct action.  And that was only after much teaching and repetition at close range, with lots of praise.  I did use the lowest level of stimulation to interrupt the incorrect response-but that was at such a low level that the dog's only reaction was a bit of a raise of the eyebrows, as if to say "Huh? Wassat?".  I would then go out to the dog, put them back in place, and show them what I wanted directly so I could reinforce the correct behavior with a beep and a treat.

Hard aversives?  Not something I was on board with.  There are several problems with using that type of training.  First, it damages the relationship with the dog.  Trust and pain do not go hand in hand. Secondly, any correction that causes pain is excessive.  Period.  And thirdly, a correction administered that way is non-instructive, which is another term for bullying.  If you are correcting an unwanted behavior, it is a three step process: interrupt the undesired behavior, replace that behavior with one you want to see, and then reinforce the new behavior so it will occur again.  Frying a dog at 300 yards really doesn't do any of these.

So even from the beginning I was operating a bit away from the accepted norm of the time.  For instance, I never used the traditional "force fetch".  It hurt my dogs, and it hurt my feelings.  Instead I reinforced a reliable "hold" command with attention and positive rewards.  And as I learned more, I got better, and found better methods.  I moved to different tools, and my dogs continued to improve.   I became known as a trainer who could be successful with dogs that weren't the "programmable" dogs that were so common. Instead of just Labs, I ran Curly Coated Retrievers, Chesapeakes, Red and White Setters, Griffons...and the list of breeds went on. Soft dogs that worked best with softer, yet consistent, methods.  I learned that less aversive methods brought me better performance.

With luck we progress.  Once upon a time it was acceptable to beat our children.  When I was a young cop it was not only legal, but tacitly recommended, that fleeing felons could be shot.  Now we have learned (I hope) that a couple cartons of cigarettes taken in a smash-and-grab are not worth anyone's life.  We now have both the tools and the attitude to recognize that abusing children is simply wrong.  A good trainer amasses years of experience; a bad trainer amasses one year of experience many times over. I started at point A and now have moved far along to other tools and methods.

But back to the point here: aggressive behaviors and their correction. I have to say that application of force to an aggressive dog, physical or electronic, is absolutely not appropriate.  The responsible rehabber is never in a contest of wills with a dog.  That doesn't solve aggression, it only displaces it, either onto another target or into another, potentially just as destructive, behavior.  Or it represses the behavior and makes the dog plain nuts.  Either way, force doesn't rehabilitate anything.  Instead, a rehabilitation trainer has to do several difficult things.  He/she and the dog have to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect.  They then use that relationship to teach the dog positive behaviors that can be reinforced.  They finally have to reinforce those behaviors long enough and deeply enough that the new behavior becomes the default, a useful tool for coping with the conflict that caused the initial aggressive behavior.  Over time the inappropriate response fades away.  The aggressive response may never be fully gone, but at least the rehabilitator has given the dog new, productive behavioral tools to address the stress or fear that caused the initial development of inappropriate aggression.

I also want to talk about a practice that is out there, although apparently not as common as it once may have been (maybe progress again?).  That is the practice of "canine disarming".  What this innocuous sounding term means is that most often the canine teeth, sometimes all of the teeth, of a biting dog are removed or at least filed down and flattened.

I can sort of see the logic that might have started this procedure; a dog bites and causes injury with his/her teeth.  Remove the teeth and Voila!  No injury.  Worst case the dog gums you and gets saliva all over.

I see BIG problems here.

The first is the mechanics of bites, and of bite control and inhibition.  A dog has very sensitive teeth.  After all, they are his/her primary means of manipulation of objects.  They feed him, defend him, carry puppies around, dissect objects-they are the doggie version of opposable thumbs.  When a dog is placed in an instance where other signals of fear or disengagement are being ignored, the dog may reach out and bite once, under control, in order to get the scary thing to withdraw or gain room to flee.  The first point of contact is the dog's canine teeth, because they protrude past the incisors.  The dog feels this canine contact and moderates his/her bite based on that contact.  Bite inhibition kicks in, little or no damage is done, and the world turns on.

But let's take out those canine teeth.  Now the first point of contact is the twelve (six upper and six lower) incisors.  The dog may be using the same amount of pressure, but there are no warning "feelers", like curb feelers on a car.  Instead of a maximum of four pointy warning points, the dog has twelve opposed blade-shaped points of contact.  More teeth, more contact-and a bigger wound, even though the dog's intentions may have been the same.  Now dog, and human, are in a more serious situation.

But, as the late Billy Mills said-Wait! There's More!  By removing the "curb feelers" we not only create the potential for more damage, but WE STILL HAVEN'T FIXED THE BEHAVIOR THAT IS AT THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM.  We have done no rehabbing here-we have just disfigured the dog.  Even a full dental extraction doesn't solve the behavior problem.  Only behavior rehab and training, with positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors and resolution of the underlying problem will solve the problem.  And problem solving, rather than problem diversion, should be the goal of rehab.  The rehabilitated dog should be able to reintegrate in human society in a normal, healthy, and productive way.  Barking, lunging, and gumming based on fear and anxiety is not normal integration.

To sum up, yep, I know there are people that are dead set in favor of the use of e-collars.  I once used them, but for a long time now have found what I feel are better ways of accomplishing the same goals. There are also those convinced that canine disarming is a humane and efficient way of dealing with a biting dog.  And if the only choice is strictly between disarming and death...  I just hope that it is only done in those rare life-or-death situations, not as a replacement for treatment and healing.  For me,"disarming" has never been on the table as an option. With e-collars, I no longer even own one-I have moved on.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

They'd Rather (not) Be in Philadelphia

Not that I have anything against fact I enjoyed my recent trip there immensely-the architecture and history of the place is tremendous.  Loved the Wannamaker Building and the giant pipe organ....but I refer to three dogs I met, and will explain why they want to be elsewhere.

Although I am going to skirt some details here, let me give you the background to my trip last week.  In 2009 a man was arrested in Philadelphia and arrested for animal cruelty.  Five dogs, identified as "Pit Bulls", were seized.  Two of those survived and were eventually transferred to Rescue.  Here is one, a little girl named Emily:
Emily had a rough time in her prior captivity, and after being rescued had to have both of her eyes surgically removed.  To jump ahead, Emily is now safe, after many travels, happily bumping about in the living room of Kathy McGuire of New Jersey Aid for Animals.  Emily may not have eyes, but after spending time with her I can say that she sees far better with her heart than most of us "fully sighted" people.

To go on with the story, time passes.....and in August, 2011 police are again called to the same residence, same abuser, five new dogs.  This time they find both a dog and a human dead.  The human victim was a mentally ill woman, off her medications, that appears to have stabbed one of the dogs to death.  The stabbed dog presumably managed to kill the attacking human before he expired from his wounds.  The other four dogs, although present, were never positively identified as having taken part in the attack on the human, although detailed forensic testing was not undertaken.  These four remaining dogs were taken into the custody of Philadelphia Animal Control.  The dogs were, at the instruction of the City of Philadelphia, isolated in double kennels, forbidden any outside time or human contact.  I know that it must have been hard for the staff of Philadelphia Animal Control to have to watch these dogs languish, no human contact at all. In fact, according to the rules imposed on them, the staff had to drop a guillotine door down in the kennels separating the dogs in one side, place food in the unoccupied side of the kennels, then raise the door to let each dog have access to their food.  No pets, no walks, no outside exercise-nada.

But as tends to happen, angels appeared.  A benefactor found out about the dogs' plight.  Kathy McGuire and attorneys Robert Muensch and Nadia Adawi stepped in and found that the dogs were not altogether forsaken.  They got support from the local DA and the Court and secured a Court Order that allowed evaluation of these dogs for the purpose of relocation to a sanctuary rather than simple destruction.

Which is where I came in.

After stopping in at the 2012 No Kill Conference at George Washington University in Washington, DC for two days I made the trek up to Philadelphia.  With Nadia as my trusty camera person, and accompanied by the wonderful Irv Samuel we went to Philadelphia Animal Control and met the dogs, Bleu, Goldi, Shorty and Pepper.

Now remember-these four were accused of being involved in a human fatality.  The Animal Control facility had been under strict rules, imposed by the City, that the dogs were not allowed any direct human contact, no training, nothing:  I had no idea what I was going to meet when I tried to establish contact and evaluate them.

So I put on my Kevlar gloves, strapped on my heavy protective chaps (sorry for the camo-that's the color they came in, and bruising is a heck of a lot better than loosing flesh in a bad bite), and met the beasts.

And made solid friends.

The first dog, Bleu, was reported to be the "most dangerous" of the four, so that is where I started.  Although the full evaluation went for over an hour, here is a bit that Nadia put together with a musical background.  Watch this, remember the circumstances this dog had been kept under, and bring out your tissues....

This boy exemplified all the great things about dogs-and their seemingly unlimited capacity to forgive and accept humans for the damaged creatures we are.  Bleu started out fearful in his kennel-understandable-but within a very short time he was allowing me to pet him, handle him freely, and he was voluntarily seeking proper, appropriate contact and play!  Granted, he is a bit of a butthead, wanting to be a bit pushy, but he accepted gentle correction, both physical and verbal, and never once showed me a single sign of aggression-offensive or defensive.  And when he came outside....the joy on his face to feel the sunshine and fresh air made all the cases where dogs were too damaged or deficient to be safely moved along easier to take for a moment.

Now, is Bleu ready to go jumping back into a loving family?  Not quite. He still needs manners (he is a strong boy), some rehab, and a carefully chosen placement that understands his background (FULL DISCLOSURE PLEASE) and is willing to accept the training and management he may require.  I am not sure I would risk him with kids until he has better manners-mostly because he is strong and jumps up.  But Bleu is saveable.  

I also worked with Shorty and Goldi.  They too are saveable, with cautions and informed placement.  Shorty is also a strong boy needing manners, although he is less pushy than Bleu.  Goldi, on the other hand, is very soft and will need a sensitive touch to bring her up a bit and give her some needed confidence.  Pepper sadly is the down part of this story.  She went into the abusive home very young, was removed a year ago at probably a year of age, and has spent the last year in isolation.  She is extremely fearful, and her quality of life has to be affected by that overwhelming fear.  She did snap three times at me, all in fear, and even though I sat with her for over an hour I was never able to touch her or reassure her that the world was an OK place.  She is the down side of this case.  However, three out of four is to me, when mostly the dogs are all destroyed, a winning day.

So these three dogs are still at Philadelphia Animal Control with Kathy McGuire of New Jersey Aid for Animals working hard and fast to find them safe sanctuary and rehabilitation.  Kathy can be contacted at 856-498-3978.  If you are a sanctuary or rehab facility that can satisfy the City and is willing to take on these guys, please call Kathy.  We don't have a lot of time.

And remember-not all dogs in the world can be saved, but to the ones that can, it means the world.