I had an interesting case come up this week regarding a dog biting a delivery man’s ankle. It made me realise that perhaps many of you reading this, may have experienced something similar with your dog or know someone that has. I thought it may be interesting for you to know the dog’s view on this issue. After all the dog rarely gets a chance to voice their side of things. Mitzy a nine year old sheepdog, bit a man’s ankle while he was delivering a parcel to their home. Mary who is Mitzy’s carer was present at the time and saw the whole event. Mary contacted me because she was terrified that Mitzy would be put down by the council if a complaint was made by the delivery man. She was particularly nervous as this was the third time, even though over a period of years, Mitzy had nipped a person at their home.
Mary wanted me to explain to Mitzy about the seriousness of this event and for her to promise she would never do it again. Mary loves her beautiful Mitzy more than life itself and explained she couldn’t live without her. Well I certainly didn’t want them to part unnecessarily and definitely not in this way. So my next step was to discuss the situation with Mitzy and get her view on what happened that day. Mitzy was devastated that she had caused Mary such grief. She also couldn’t understand really what she had done wrong. She felt she needed to protect Mary and was doing her job. Mary’s husband wasn’t home at the time and so she took it upon herself to protect the family and their home. Well you would have to commend her on her loyalty and bravery.
However what about the man’s safety? I asked Mitzy why she felt that this particular delivery person was giving her a reason to protect. She replied that she felt this man didn’t have good intention or energy. As we know dog’s are very good at detecting character flaws in people. That is why they growl at some people and not others. It certainly can be a good gauge for our level of interaction with people. Mitzy felt she couldn’t trust this man and so was giving him a warning not to try anything, as he would have to deal with her. Mitzy said she would love to promise Mary that she wouldn’t do it again but that would be impossible. Because in that split second of any moment her instincts will kick in and she would always protect her mum(Mary) and their home, even if it had dire consequences.
I gave all the feedback to Mary to help her understand Mitzy’s actions that day. She was stunned at first but then felt it all made sense. You see on all three occasions her husband had not been home. Check! Took on her protector’s role. She had never nipped anyone outside of the property, in fact people love her and she is well known in the neighbourhood. Those three situations only involved particular people and all were strangers. Then the cruncher – this man though unquestionably upset , decided to handle the incident by verbally abusing Mary and threatening to do serious injury to Mitzy, by picking up a rock nearby and holding it above his head. Perhaps Mitzy ‘s character reference for this man is measurably accurate.
Would you threaten to kill an animal if it nipped you on the ankle? It is natural to nip in this way, as that is what they do when they keep sheep in line. I am not condoning dogs biting people, but there are varying degrees of circumstances case by case. Fortunately for Mary the company the man worked for, decided not to report Mitzy or the incident. This was a great opportunity to begin to work on a solution so Mitzy will never be in this position again.
Step 1: Mitzy is to be put outside the moment anyone comes to the front door. Strangers at her home are to be kept separate from Mitzy never allowing an opportunity to arise for concern and protection. In time, Mitzy will feel these are routine protocols.
Step 2: Mary and Mitzy needs to go to obedience classes together so Mary can learn leadership qualities. When her husband was at home Mitzy felt at ease and no need to protect as he is a leader and would take control. Mary agreed this was the case as Mitzy ignored many other of her commands. We have to earn leadership and not something that can be forced on a dog. They have to see you as the leader by your actions, consistency and confidence. Not an easy feat for most of us that is why we need the assistance of experts and in a class situation.
Mitzy is a gorgeous dog and both these steps will work well for her, especially as I have explained what will occur and why. Without using their silent language many opportunities I have spoken about would not have occurred. To find a solution you need to know the cause. I needed to explain to Mitzy what was natural to her, and it certainly made sense to me as well, is not acceptable in human society. Being able to explain to Mary, why being a leader is so important in a dog’s world., and how we could have avoided the incident if that had been in place. Don’t confuse leadership with dominance they are two completely different things. Most people would have seen this incident as just another aggressive dog problem.
What do you think? Perhaps now after seeing both views, that protection is very different from aggression and that a dog should not always be guilty until proven innocent. When dogs feel the need to show aggression, it is because they are acting out of fear(where they need to protect themselves), lack of leadership so feel they need to protect you and/or home. If they fear humans, then there is a good reason for that and we need to take responsibility. If we are not providing leadership which is essential to a pack animal again we need to take responsibility in being a great leader and role model for your dog.