Anyone in any type of dog related activity will have recently had a newsfeed full of eye-popping headlines about dog attacks – after a string of injuries and 1 death involving alleged pit bulls, the powers that be are at it again, batting about breed specific legislation and why our four legged friends (specifically, those “pit bulls”) are out of control.
This is also the summer that I was on the receiving end of an unprovoked dog bite.
Now, here I live in Ontario – the province that is the leader in breed specific legislation. In 2005, Ontario amended its Dog Owners Legislation Act to outlaw bully type breeds after a series of high profile media stories on “vicious” alleged pit bull attacks in the province.
For those unfamiliar with me, I grew up on a farm in Ontario with a German Shepherd (the number 1 biter in Ontario still and the first breed ever subjected to breed specific legislation – Australia later ditched that ban). I moved west to the mountains after university and ended up in canine behavior. I liked the personality traits of bully breeds, and I became a friend of many bully breed rescues – these dogs made up the majority of my clientele because so many came through rescue from places of neglect and needed some work in developing polite manners while navigating the new and exciting world. I also did behavior assessments for all sorts of municipalities and cities. No joke, I worked with hundreds of “pit bull” type dogs – short coats, big heads, muscles, and tails that will clear a coffee table. In the hundreds of pit bulls that I had handled, I had been play mouthed many times (these dogs skipped puppy class), and I had maybe been bitten 1-2 times by pit bulls – 1 time, absolutely zero damage, just a very nicely inhibited “no thank you, don’t touch me there”. The other dog left some bruising in a conflicted mess of play and fear.
So here I am, now living the rural life in Ontario. I was out for a run on my quiet country road on a Friday evening, and a mile up the road is a gathering of houses. At the intersection, each house has a dog – 1 has a Rottweiler, 1 has a Jack Russell, 1 has a Cane Corso, and the other has a Shepherd mix. Most times, when I run by, the Shepherd cross is tied up to a dog house – as I run by, she barks and lunges at me. Her owners yell at her. I carry on.
This Friday evening, as I came up to the house, the dog and owner were both out in the yard, and the dog was not on a leash. It did strike me to perhaps turn around early and not go near the gathering of houses – as a behavior consultant, I know that dogs who are chained up on properties are typically considered “resident” dogs – they are not family members who are well socialized, trained, or taken on regular trips to the vet. These dogs are at an increased risk to bite. But, I had to make my mileage, so I carried on and once the dog spotted me, she came running full speed out onto the road, hackles up, ears back, eyes big and her mouth met my leg.
I had stopped running once she began her charge – why make myself more prey like? I had briefly considered threatening the dog to see if I could run her off, but I opted to stand still and off side to her in hopes of decreasing threat peacefully.
The dog did not respond to the owner’s yelling, and the owner had to come and retrieve the dog while the dog stood hunkered down with her nose at my legs, hackles raised, tail between her legs and weight shifted back. This is a dog that is clearly fearful of joggers passing by her house, and she had previously expressed her displeasure while chained up when I passed by.
I came out of the bite relatively unscathed – just tooth scrapes and a large bruise. I decided that I need a new running route and a can of Direct Stop.
I was disappointed though – Ontario’s DOLA failed to protect me. Why? Because dog bites are not a breed problem. It’s a far more complex issue, with welfare, handling, and common sense at the foundation of it. DOLA doesn’t make cost effective training and obedience classes available to all dog owners of Ontario; it doesn’t fund spay/neuter/ vaccination clinics; I didn’t even get a leash or collar when I registered my two dogs with my local municipality – they didn’t even care if they were sterilized or intact – there was no difference in pricing for my licenses. There is no province wide dog safety program in schools (which would really benefit us rural folk!), and the province is doing absolutely nothing to address illegal dog fighting – heck, Ontario recently had a large bust of alleged pit bulls used and trained for dog fighting. In a statement from the ASPCA, who assessed the dogs for the prosecution, they stated that the dogs were the most game bred pit bulls they had ever assessed. Bravo, Ontario – instead of promoting responsible dog ownership and focusing on illegal activities, we have stuck a band-aid on it – a band aid that is slowly peeling off at the edges as the flaws with DOLA and breed specific legislation continue to appear. I think we all know that it is better to rip off the band aid and deal with the wound underneath instead of letting that band aid get old and infected, causing bigger problems down the road.
In the meantime, I will continue to actively train my dogs, help out the bully breeds wherever I can, and enjoy a new running route.