How to Know When a Good Dog Has Gone Bad


Since late last month, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota has been the subject of fierce bipartisan attacks for her decision to shoot and kill her family dog, a 14-month-old German wirehaired pointer named Cricket. Ms. Noem has repeatedly defended her actions, which are detailed in her forthcoming memoir, in which she says the dog was “aggressive,” “untrainable” and “dangerous to anyone she came in contact with.”

On Sunday, she suggested that President Biden should have considered killing his own dog, Commander, a German shepherd who was banished from the White House last year after repeatedly biting Secret Service officers.

“Joe Biden’s dog has attacked 24 Secret Service people,” Ms. Noem, a Republican, said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “So how many people is enough people to be attacked and dangerously hurt before you make a decision on a dog?”

Experts said that there were some circumstances in which dogs are so aggressive that they should be euthanized. But euthanasia should be an option of last resort, they said, used only when a dog poses a serious danger and other potential solutions have been ruled out. In the cases of both Cricket and Commander, there were plenty of reasonable, nonlethal approaches available.

“We have lots of tools in our tool belt — medication, lots of different behavioral interventions as well — before you get to the step where you’re, like, I can’t handle this dog,” said Erica Feuerbacher, an expert on dog behavior and learning at Virginia Tech. “That’s what I’d want, is that they’d really value their dog’s life and give their dog its best chance of having a full, long life.”

The Guardian first reported on the excerpts from Ms. Noem’s memoir, which is set to be released on Tuesday. In it, she reportedly blames Cricket for ruining a pheasant hunt, killing another family’s chickens and biting, or trying to bite, her.

Although it may be undesirable to people, some level of aggression — growling, baring teeth and even biting — is normal in dogs, which are descended from gray wolves and share some of their predatory drive, said Clive Wynne, a canine-behavior expert at Arizona State University who is working on a book about the history of dogs.

That predatory instinct, Dr. Wynne said, most likely explains why Cricket went after the chickens. But a dog that kills chickens does not necessarily pose a risk to people, he said. “That doesn’t really have any predictive value as a way of gauging whether that dog would then be harmful to you,” he said. “Because you don’t look like prey, you don’t sound like prey, and dogs form these strong emotional bonds with members of their human family.”

More often, Dr. Wynne said, dogs bite humans because they are stressed or scared. “Mostly in a human household, a dog is biting because its other attempts to communicate that it is uncomfortable or fearful have failed,” he said.

Still, even a dog that bites defensively can pose dangers and should receive a professional evaluation from a veterinarian, experts said. Dogs that are sick or in pain might be more likely to lash out; in a 2021 study of nearly 1,000 dogs exhibiting aggressive behavior, researchers found that 15 percent had an underlying medical condition that might have contributed to the misbehavior.

“We’re so quick to say that our dog is aggressive instead of taking a step back and saying, Why is my dog responding this way?” said Vivian Zottola, an author of the study who is a canine behavioral modification specialist in Boston. (She is also a research associate at the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, a nonprofit organization.)

Dogs who receive a clean bill of health may benefit from working with a certified animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. These professionals can also help owners identify whether there are particular triggers that set off their dogs. “We will often overlook our dogs’ stress, and they can be very subtle with stress signals,” Ms. Zottola said.

Often, owners can eliminate aggressive behaviors simply by being attentive to these triggers and by keeping their dogs out of situations that are likely to prompt aggression — what Dr. Feuerbacher described as “just making good decisions on behalf of your dog.”

Dogs that seem nervous or reactive around strangers, for instance, are not good candidates to go to a farmers’ market — and may also be ill-suited to live in the White House. “Clearly, that was not the right environment if the dog is biting multiple times,” Ms. Zottola said.

In cases in which stressors cannot be eliminated from the home environment, a new home might need to be found for the dog.

Medications, including anti-anxiety drugs, can also help soothe some canines.

If all else fails, there are circumstances in which an owner may consider what experts call behavioral euthanasia. In such cases, the dog’s aggression is so unpredictable that it cannot be managed or its bite is so strong that it does severe physical damage, Dr. Feuerbacher said.

In some of those cases, euthanasia might also be in the dog’s best interest; an animal that is lashing out so frequently that it cannot safely be around people probably does not have a great quality of life, she said.

But based on the information made public, Ms. Noem still had several options worth pursuing before resorting to euthanasia, Dr. Feuerbacher said. “I think she missed a few steps,” she said.

Dr. Wynne agreed. “This case is just so egregious,” he said.

Dr. Wynne said that he had been heartened that so many people, on both sides of the political aisle, seemed dismayed by Cricket’s fate. (Mitt Romney took flak during his presidential campaigns for his decision, in 1983, to travel with his family dog, Seamus, strapped to the top of his car in a carrier.)

Even President Trump, who infamously boasted that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing voters, seems to know better than to brag about killing a dog, Dr. Wynne said: “Trump never said, ‘I could shoot a puppy dead on Fifth Avenue.’”



Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top