The headline that caught my eye was: Pit Bulls Drag Pueblo Woman. Which got me thinking. Which I’m going to do here. Think out loud so that I can connect some of the dots.
I may not come up with any right answers. But, I may come up with Something Else.
In order for you to follow my dots, it helps if you’ve read a book written by Harrison Forbes with Beth Adelman called, Dog Talk – Lessons Learned from a Life with Dogs.
And, to understand the significance of this book to the event that triggered that headline, you need to know about the professional background of they guy who wrote the book.
Forbes has accumulated more than 20 years of experience as both a dog trainer and behaviorist. He’s trained more than 600 police dogs for departments all across the United States and has been a featured guest on numerous television shows in addition to hosting his own syndicated, radio talk show.
So, he pretty much qualifies as an expert on some pretty heavy duty topics when it comes to dogs. Like aggression and dog bites. And, maybe even understanding what would trigger two dogs to maul someone.
The chapter of his book that offers some insights into the dog psychology behind certain types of dog behavior that might provide some answers to why 2 pit bull terriers dragged a woman is Chapter 10: Arras.
Arras is the name of a European, Dutch shepherd that came from a working line of dogs bred for Schutzhund work. (Controlled bite work.) The short story is that Forbes was so impressed with Arras that he convinced the dog’s owner to sell the dog to him.
It’s important that you understand that Forbes describes Arras as “bite safe.” That this dog’s temperament was stable and that he was not “handler-aggressive.”
And, that Arras was not aggressive with other dogs. Which is “…a highly prized quality for a police dog, especially if you work for a department that’s got a lot of dogs.”
He loved being around people, getting and receiving affection.
Forbes talks about being able to work Arras and a second dog as a “brace.” Which is the correct term to use when two dogs work side by side. Heeling together is one example of this.
Brace bit work is another example. Forbes points out that there aren’t a lot of dogs that you can do this with. That, in fact, this kind of brace work can be dangerous. Dangerous because it can set up what Forbes describes as ” possessive/competitive” behavior between the two dogs.
Especially when two high-prey drive dogs want the same thing.
Take one of the dogs out of the equation. Which Forbes does in the next story he tells.
The story he calls “The Teddy Bear Incident,” that takes place outside of Forbes’ home when a friend of his wife comes over with her twin little boys. The boys are three years old when this story takes place.
“One of the kids got out of the car carrying a teddy bear. They were walking from the driveway into the garage, where Jill (Forbes’ wife) was standing holding Parker (her son) in her arms. “
Jill’s friend tells her son to toss the stuffed bear into the car rather than bring the toy into the house.
“The kid was five feet from the car and he tossed the teddy bear into the backseat.”
Arras, standing in the yard, watching, suddenly, “…like a rocket, dove full speed…launched into the backseat of that car from about ten feet out and grabbed the teddy bear.”
And, wouldn’t let go.
Forbes, who wasn’t home at the time, describes how his wife handled things. Taking her son inside the house, she comes back out, pops Arras on the side of the head and says, “Let go of that.”
Arras “…just locked down on that bear even harder. Arras would do this thing where he would shut out the rest of the world, and you could have beaten him with a sledgehammer at that point, but he would not let go. Once he had that bear, he had to neutralize it.” (pg 244)
Forbes explains that this incident is more than a dog grabbing a stuffed toy. As he writes, ” … if that boy had made a motion to throw the teddy bear but then didn’t let go of it or if he had seen Arras grab it and decided he wanted it back, there would have been a problem. Arras was 100 percent focused on the teddy bear because the boy activated it — made it move. But with that much focus, the boy’s arm could easily have ended up in the dog’s mouth and Arras would not have let go, because the arm then becomes an extension of the bear. Arras would have had no sense that he was biting the boy — just that he was going after a moving object.” (pg 245)
The next point that Forbes makes gets us back to what happens to that possessive/competitive dynamic when you put that second dog back into the equation.
“There’s a process that happens here, and it happens most often between two or more dogs. I think the vast majority of really serious dog mauling cases I read about are the result of this possessive/competitive process. “ (pg. 245)
After describing one of the more famous incidents – the incident that happened in January of 2001, when a woman named Diane Whipple was killed by her neighbor’s two Presa Canarios – “…a horrible, savage attack in which one dog started and then the other joined in…” Forbes goes on to say this:
“I believe what really happened was that a competition was going on between those dogs and under the surface that the owners were unaware of. Then the male dog had an aggressive confrontation with Diane Whipple over a close quarters thing in the hallway, and the female (Presa Canario) thought, “Well, what is that? If there’s something over there that you want, I want it first.” As the female went forward, the male was like, “I don’t think so,” In milliseconds, it turned into a tug-of-war where, in the minds of those dogs, Diane Whipple ceased to be a human being and just became an object that each one of them was driven to possess.” (pg. 245-246)
“While the trigger may have been aggression, in a split second it turned into a competition between those two dogs.” (pg. 246)
“…there’s a very scary chain of events that can happen with dogs who live with each other and have a competition thing going …” (pg 246)
Part of that scary chain is the added presence of a small child or the added presence of an adult where one seemingly harmless action — like a three year old boy tossing a stuffed animal into the backseat of a car — can trigger another series of actions, especially if two dogs are part of that chain.
And everything that happens after that “.. escalates faster than dog owners can react.” (pg 247)
What I’ve learned not to do is to make assumptions about violent incidences that I have not witnessed firsthand. And, even then, what I see and then interpret may be different than what someone else watches and then reports.
But. What I can attest to is having watched, firsthand, that almost trigger-switch that can go off between two or more dogs when they become locked into that possessive/competitive “thing” that explodes into violent, aggressive behavior.
My example has to do with two of my three dogs getting into a nasty dog fight in what seemed to be less than a millisecond. In hindsight, everything leading up to this fight had been slowly building up over time. And, much of that build up was my husband’s and my fault for NOT understanding some of the dynamics of living with three dogs.
That dog fight could have easily escalated into my husband or myself getting bit if one or us had decided to stick our hand into the snarling mix of dogs.
So, I do know about how fast things can escalate into violence from what seems to be a playful encounter.
Given what I know in combination with what Forbes has helped me to understand, there are some questions that I believe the owner of those two pit bull terriers needs to answer, questions that the woman who was mauled needs to answer, questions that the witnesses need to answer.
And, questions that I’d like to ask the reporter who wrote this very brief news article.
Before we even start to ask THOSE questions, I would like understand where the woman was mauled was found if the Pueblo Animal Services Animal Law Enforcement Officers (ALE) “… found the two dogs in a pen near the scene with two pit bull puppies.”
Were the two adult dogs outside of the pen during the attack? How did they end up back inside of the pen?
The article adds that the sire and dam of the pups are the same dogs who attacked the woman. Which adds another precarious element. Did one of the adult dogs somehow feel that the pups were being threatened?
Was this woman known to the two dogs? Where in proximity to the puppies were the adult dogs to the woman when the attack started?
What was she doing before the attack began? Running? Waving her arms? Was there food involved? Were the dogs loose or were they chained up?
To the dog owner: What reason do you have for leaving two puppies and their parents outside without any kind of responsible supervision? How would you describe the kinds of consistent, daily exercise you provide for your adult dogs?
Can you provide paperwork showing that you and your (adult0 dogs have participated in dog obedience?
IT might be interesting to ask the reporter who wrote the brief news article some questions. Like, “Wouldn’t it have been important to add some details in addition to the line, “Witnesses found a piece of the woman’s scalp at the scene?”
Or: “Did you speak directly with any of the witnesses? Did any of them describe what they SAW leading up to the attack? Or what they were doing during the attack?
The article does end with the fact that you are “working to get more details’ and that your readers should stay tuned for more of the story. And, perhaps that’s where this post needs to stop.
Except for these two points: no one should ever be a victim of a dog mauling. That it happened is frightening and horrific.
No dog should ever be the victim of someone’s deliberate intent or sheer ignorance, so that left unsupervised, that dog becomes one of the combatants in a mauling.
Somehow, as a society, we have to come to a place of common ground where all three victims receive justice.