No Kill Learning's Policy on Dangerous Dogs
There has been much talk about dangerous dogs and K9 aggression towards humans over the years. In the discussion, some People tend to take extreme positions. On one end of the spectrum, you have people or organizations that seems downright eager to label dogs "dangerous", even if they have never bitten anyone. On the extreme opposite end of that same spectrum are some dog lovers who never want to believe any dog is dangerous. They also tend to believe that dog bites that do occur are always the fault of an aggressive animal's owner or the victim themselves. The reality of dog behavior, however, including aggressive behavior, is far more interesting and complex than either of these extreme positions consider. What is and What is Not Aggression? An overly simplistic view of dog bites could suggest that any time a dog bites the dog is being aggressive. However, that is just not the case. There are all sorts of reasons a dog may put his/her teeth on a person. Some forms of nipping are even considered natural greetings or displays of affection. Play biting or self-defense are two other examples of "bites" that are not true forms of aggression. The fact that self-defense is generally considered a rational justification for dogs to bite is evidenced by the fact that most dangerous dog laws make exemptions for bites in cases of trespass or provocation. It is only natural to expect any animal to defend him or her self if he or she or his or her family is being harmed or threatened. Fear biting, according to a growing number of behavior experts, is not much different than a bite in self-defense. The biggest difference being that a dog may perceive a threat that does not actually exist, and, therefore, respond to normal situations with an inappropriate defensiveness. Animals that have had little training or socialization can be prone to being fearful of strangers or new situations. Fear biting can be the result. Many dogs that are biting in fear are often mislabeled as aggressive and, therefore, "dangerous". While there are many forms of biting that are NOT true aggression, serious forms of K9 aggression toward humans do exist. They include varying forms of resource or possession-guarding behavior, or - the most frightening kind - aggression that is simply aggression for aggression's sake. Though some animal lovers may want to believe otherwise, there are dogs that are willing to use their teeth on people in order to get their way, or control their environment. They may do so in totally unpredictable and unprovoked ways. Not All Bites are The Same When a situation arises in which a dog might be triggered into biting, for any of the various reasons they may bite, two factors largely determine whether or not they will, and how severe the bite will be if they do: Bite Inhibition and Bite Restraint, both of which result from a complex mix of genetics and early puppyhood learning. Bite inhibition comes from a set of factors that suppress a dog's tendency to bite in certain situations. For example, a dog in a very fearful situation that possesses a great deal of bite inhibition may be more likely to "shut down" than lash out. A dog with little bite inhibition in the same situation would be more likely to bite. The fact that most all dogs have some degree of bite inhibition is what has allowed these natural predators to live with humans so successfully for thousands of years. The fact remains, however, that not all dogs have it, and some dogs have some, but not enough.
Dog behaviorist Jean Donaldson says it like this:
"The generally accepted view in the dog-behaviour field is that ABI [Acquired Bite Inhibition] is a result of a genetic predisposition combined with certain early environmental influences. The key early influence is thought to be interactions among puppies in a litter, as well as subsequent play-biting up to the age when the dog's permanent teeth are fully erupted, between four and five months of age."
In other words, by the time a puppy reaches 4 - 5 months of age, it has pretty much all the bite inhibition it is going to have well into adulthood. Once a potential bite is triggered and a dog is pushed passed the point where s/he is no longer inhibited from biting, bite restraint can help minimize the scope or extent of the bite. Stated very simply, bite restraint is a dog's willingness and ability to control the amount of pressure applied when they bite. The fact that most dogs have a good degree of bite restraint is obvious because the overwhelming majority of dog bites that are reported are relatively minor. They often do not break the skin, cause bruising or other trauma. Like bite inhibition, bite restraint is generally learned in the very early days of puppydom, and is unlikely to be learned past the age of 14 - 20 weeks. Size Does Matter For no other reason than large dogs are capable of doing more harm than small ones, taking into account the size (or even the future size) of a dog is important when evaluating whether the dog is dangerous or potentially dangerous. The Recipe for a Dangerous Dog Assessing whether or not a dog is actually dangerous requires a review of the various aspects that may have contributed to any past bites. Many factors that contribute to dogs biting can be resolved through training and socialization. This is particularly true of dogs that exhibit fear biting, and especially so if the bites are restrained. On the other hand, there are dogs which have little bite inhibition or bite restraint that express true aggression towards humans, including their caregivers or other people with whom they are familiar. If a large dog has displayed uninhibited, unrestrained and unprovoked aggression toward humans, or if they have displayed serious unprovoked predatory behavior toward other dogs, No Kill Learning believes they are poor candidates for rehabilitation, and that they should be humanely euthanized. Fortunately, the numbers of these cases that we see are very, very small, amounting to less than 1 percent of the total number of dogs that enter animal shelters.