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THESE ARE THE BEST OF TIMES; THESE ARE THE WORST OF TIMES... TO BE A DOG!
We say "true" dog lovers, because there are many types of people who have dogs and claim to love them but whose actions speak the opposite. It doesn't take the perception of a psychic to figure out who these people are, folks who are more interested in money or their own convenience or ego than the pet itself. But, fortunately, true dog lovers are not an endangered species... indeed, there are more of them than ever. And they will surely be needed as these "dog days" continue.
There are two gigantic problems, neither of which offer much hope of quick solution. First and foremost is that there are simply too many dogs in the world, and in almost every country. Secondly, despite wondrous advances in dietary products and veterinary knowledge, many dogs and entire breeds are in worse genetic condition and general health than they have ever been.
The first problem is definitely the toughest. As with cats, our love affair with dogs over the past few centuries has led to a canine population boom that is still mushrooming. Unlike their wild wolf forebears whose pack size and overall population were kept in balance by a host of ecological factors, dogs live in a completely artificial and mostly protected environment. In all they world they essentially have only one predatory nemesis, the automobile, and this dumb machine they are usually quick-witted and quick-footed enough to avoid. Indeed, dogs are keen survivors. Even if left to their own devises, dogs are extremely adept at finding food for themselves. In India, for instance, where starvation among people is endemic, most dogs find enough to eat.
And, of course, they are doing more than merely surviving and eating if there is a population boom. They are also mating like crazy. Or at least some of them are. Actually, it doesn't take many individual participants for dogs to boost their numbers exponentially. With litter sizes often reaching double digits, female dogs are among the most prolific producers of young in the mammal order. And unlike rabbits, rats and mice and other such large-litter producers, the attrition rate of puppies is extremely low. They aren't gobbled up by foxes, weasels or other predators. So, despite the fact that many family pooches never in their life get to experience the mating game, the number of dogs continues to escalate.
This is bad news. Dog-lovers hate the idea of there being millions of unowned and/or unwanted dogs in the world. The prospect of millions of dogs scrounging out a living or of being put to sleep simply because no one wants them is abhorrent to any animal person. But the facts are that in undeveloped countries perhaps millions of dogs wander aimlessly, and in more modern nations thousands of dogs are euthanized not because of old age and illness or because of dire temperamental characteristics, but simply because they don't have a home.
What can be done? An all-out, worldwide effort to better control dog breeding must be effected. Spay and neutering programs, along with rescue organizations, will have to redouble their efforts (as if they aren't working hard enough already). And most of all, dog owners must assume greater responsibility for their dogs and exercise much closer control over their pets, eliminating all possibility of producing puppies unless litters are really wanted and needed. "Accidental" litters and puppies brought into the world simply because pet-owners are too busy, too lazy or too ignorant to prevent them must be severely curtailed. "Recreational" litters... those allowed by dog-owners who just want to have puppies around for awhile, or because it might be "educational for the children", should be discouraged.
All easier said than done. Without some major, united effort -- much greater and more far-reaching than anything that exists today -- the prospect of the dog population explosion continuing and escalating seems certain.
While the pet population explosion may have more to do with human ignorance and non-commitment to dogs, the problem of faulty genetics swerves toward the realms of sheer human arrogance and greed. Dogs in the United States, Canada, western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries where dog breeding is a serious business are in worse shape than they ever have been. The primary cause: extremely poor breeding practices.
Across the board, the dogs of just 50 years ago were much healthier than the dogs of today. If you go further back in time, say another 50 years, dogs were healthier still. The range of genetic maladies, and the startling frequency of affliction in many breeds, simply did not exist near the turn of the century. The dramatic change for the worse probably has been caused by many factors, but certainly one that bears careful scrutiny is the focus of dog breeders. A century ago most dogs were bred for a particular function, whether it was for hunting, working, guarding, or simply being a good, dependable companion. Following World War II, the focus of breeders began to shift radically toward producing dogs that simply looked great. Characteristics such as intelligence, disposition and overall genetic quality were deemphasized in favor of the all-important appearance of the dogs.
The results of this change in focus began to be felt in the 1950s as veterinarians noticed a higher percentage of dogs with genetically-inherited problems. That problem is virtually endemic today. Consider: according to a recent Time Magazine article, as many as 25% of the purebred dogs in the U.S. are afflicted with some genetic default. Within many breeds the percentage is far higher. Hip dysplasia is a potentially crippling malady that affects many breeds. Eye, heart and skin problems negatively impact many breeds. The list goes on and on. In all, over 300 genetic defects can affect dogs, and no breed is exempt from the litany of problems.
Mixed-breeds are generally healthier and longer-lived than purebreds, but even their ranks are tainted by the genetic problems of the purebreds. Though genetic maladies are usually caused by recessive genes (and the mating of two different breeds significantly lowers the chance of the same recessive gene being paired), with the sheer number of faulty genes increasing, the chances of mixed-breed dogs acquiring a genetic problem also increase.
Of course, all of these illnesses and structural problems have long existed in the canine world, but breeding practices such as "back-breeding" or "line-breeding" (the mating of a dog with one of its close relations), as well as "show champions" have caused problems to escalate significantly. Show champions sometimes become a severe detriment to their breed by passing along (sometimes to a very large number of litters) genetic faults that lie hidden in the physical structure beneath that lustrous coat, gleaming eyes and perfect stance. Show ribbons convey proof of a dog's winning outward appearance but do not mean diddley-squat when it comes to indicating how healthy the dog may be. Indeed, there can be no doubt that over the past few decades many, many so-called champions across the breed spectrum have been rife with serious internal afflictions that then were passed along to their progeny. Ironically, tragically, the unsuspecting owner of the litter likely paid a premium stud fee for the privilege of infecting a new generation of puppies with a defective bloodline.
Poor breeding practices have not only contributed to the physical-mechanical decline of purebred dogs, they have also prompted a definite deterioration in the disposition and temperament of virtually all breeds. Once affable breeds like the Cocker Spaniel are now often snappish and anti-social. Even that ultimate people-friendly big dog breed, the Newfoundland, is now plagued by an increasing number of ill-tempered dogs. Sometimes, even the most conscientious of breeders find that they have a social misfit on their hands, a dog that simply is a danger to the common good. The increasing number of ill-tempered dogs makes it harder for even good breeders to keep that unwanted propensity out of their stock.
This situation has been public knowledge for many years, but not much has been done to address the problem. Show-dog breeders are still obsessed with the "beauty is best" notion. Puppy mills are cranking out pups that are very poorly socialized and rife with potential genetic defects. The AKC recently reduced its grants for education and research into the health of dogs.
But there are some positive developments. Researchers at several institutions are making headway in identifying the genes responsible for many inherited illnesses and structural problems. If such genes can be isolated, there is hope that genetic "engineering" as a part of conscientious dog-breeding could help to eradicate or at least significantly decrease the problem. Only some two dozen or so of the 300 genetic separate genetic disorders that affect dogs can currently be detected by lab tests, but this number will surely increase as scientists learn more about the root-causes of these defects. On other fronts, several dog breed clubs are beginning to insist upon far stricter rules and regulations pertaining to the health of dogs to be bred. The Portuguese Water Dog Club, for instance, requires that breeders who advertise in their magazine submit proof of hip, eye and heart clearances. The club has also been very aggressive in fighting back against breed afflictions. In one program the Portuguese Water Dog Club helped fund research that developed a blood test for retinal atrophy, which causes blindness. After the blood test became available, club members voluntarily stopped breeding dogs which tested positive, and the incidence of the malady in the breed has dropped from 16% to 7% in just a few years.
Another development, which certainly does not sit well with many dog-breeders but is certainly to be expected with the escalation in production of defective dogs, has been the passage of dog "lemon laws" by a few states. These laws require the sellers of genetically-faulted or diseased dogs to replace the dog with a healthy pup or pay for the vet expenses to repair the damage. New York, California, Massachusetts and Florida currently have such laws, and other states are likely to pass similar statutes.
Some advertising venues are cutting off breeders or sellers who have demonstrated a propensity for merchandising defective dogs. PETSTATION, for instance, will not accept -- at any price -- advertisements from an individual or business that it has received chronic complaints about.
These efforts are all good, but the real answer to improving the general health of all dogs is for breeders themselves to take the bull by the horns and make the sacrifices necessary to ensure the repair of the particular breed that they work with. Breed clubs can be tremendously influential in this regard by instructing their members on how to go about repairing the breed, by broadening breed standards to encourage a wider range of physical acceptance, and by placing stringent health restrictions on show entrees and advertisements. All dog shows should absolutely require proof of health clearances from all entrees for the primary genetic problems which affect the breed, and titles should be stripped from any dog which is subsequently found to have any genetic or temperament problem which could be passed on to its progeny.
If breeders do not accept responsibility for repairing the dogs in their care, then a very radical recourse looms upon the not-to-distant horizon. If the trend toward higher and higher percentages of purebred dogs afflicted with genetic faults continues, a virtually unspeakable cure will institute itself. Some -- perhaps many -- dog breeds will simply pass out of existence, because they have been run to ruin by humans.
It is up to us, dog lovers, to ensure that this does not happen. It is high time for we humans, who claim that the dog is our best friend, to live up to the responsibility of protecting that best friend in its time of need.
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Any dog could potentially bite someone. No dog is absolutely, positively, one hundred percent bite-proof. All dogs have within them an "aggressive response" to certain conditions. And that's as it should be. These are, after all, the direct descendants of the wolf... and part of their lasting appeal to us humans is their wild heritage. And there could even come a time when we might wish that our affable little ragamuffin would exact retribution from the ankle of the burlgar making off with the stereo system. Still, when a pet dog bites it often comes as a complete shock to the pet's keeper. When this occurs, what has happened is simply that the dog's aggressive response has been triggered. It doesn't mean that the dog is bad, or perhaps even did anything wrong in its scheme of things... in fact, far more often it is human error that leads to dog bites.
A big chunk of this human error involves keepers placing their dogs in situations that could manifest the conditions to trigger the pet's aggressive response. Another big chunk involves humans placing themselves in situations where a dog's aggressive response could be triggered. Children are often involved in both of these scenarios. Of course, this will probably always be something of a problem -- kids being kids and dogs being dogs.
Consider a real-life story of a lovable Cocker Spaniel that could be cuddled and snuggled by the family children, but snapped at and nicked a neighbor kid who just reached out to touch it. A problem dog? A problem child? Neither, just an untenable situation between two creatures a bit strange to each other.
And how many times has a wayward ball or toy sailed over a fence into another yard, a kid clambors over to retrieve it, only to be nipped by the previously minding-his-own-business mutt in residence. The kid meant no harm, but very definitely intruded upon the dog's territory... an area millions of years of evolution have instructed this creature to defend.
The aspect of intruding upon a dog's territory is quite often part of a bite scenario. And it doesn't even have to be actually within the dog's terra firma. All dogs possess as well a "personal space" that extends beyond their skin and coat to varying distances... depending upon the "social rank" of the dog within its own "pack." Submissive or otherwise very docile dogs may only have a personal space of a few inches, and even this space can often be violated without dire consequences... but then there is always that one in a thousand instances where an otherwise gentle pet will cut loose on an encroaching human. Dominant or otherwise aggressive-prone dogs are far more volatile, having personal spaces that extend for many feet beyond their physical position. Anyone or any thing that penetrates this area is subject to immediate attack.
Dogs sometimes bite simply because they don't like someone. This may be hardly an acceptable excuse to the embarassed dog's keeper, but usually there is a very significant reason (perfectly obvious to the dog) why the pet does not want this person around. It could be a certain smell, or the dog's detection of some feeling or emotion on the part of the visitor. Dogs, like many animals, quickly pick up on human emotions of animosity, fear or otherwise unsociable attitudes. Indeed, the dog's capacity in this regard is virtually unbelievable. An illustration of this remarkable sensitivity is dramatically conveyed by the example of a man who could not understand why his Collie-mix always growled when a certain friend stopped by. This friend, a male, was the only individual among many visitors of both sexes for whom the dog held such clear disdain. Only years later did the friend confide that he was gay, and did once have "a crush" for the dog's keeper, a revelation that stunned the owner. The Collie-mix had apparently sensed all along that the gay man was an unwanted potential rival for the affections of its keeper.
So, taken all together, it is usually plain that dogs only bite for a reason... a good reason in their own minds. This reason most often involves protection... they are protecting their property, their family (pack members) or themselves. In resorting to biting, they are on the "defensive"... it is the human that was the "offensive" threat.
If we humans keep these dog "psychology" concepts in mind we will greatly lower our chances of being bitten. Of course, we must also keep an eye out for the idiot keepers who continually place their dogs in unstable situations. This includes a range of dimwits from the numbskull who trots his dominant-aggressive dog down a sidewalk crowded with children , to the elderly lady who fails to close off her toy breed when the Maytag repairman finally does have some work to do.
Beyond this awareness of dog and dog-keeper psychology, here are some other rules for lowering your chances of being bitten by a dog.
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Theories vary. It's the uniform. the big bag, the hat, the regularity, the irregularity. It's difficult to say with certainty, but certainly it is a problem. Over 2,500 mail carriers were bitten by dogs in 1994. Not a good thing, dog people. If those numbers continue unabated, look for tough federal or local regulations that could penalize all dogs and their keepers. And perhaps the silliest part of this equation is that many of these bites come from otherwise "friendly" pets... dogs that wouldn't dream of biting other strangers.
Obviously, some otherwise "friendly" dog owners are not doing a very good job of keeping their pets under complete control. This situation could be easily remedied if these wayward keepers would adhere to the following common sense strategies:
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To this day many people place a high priority on a breed's watchdog ability when acquiring a pet dog. Such people want their dog to very vocally alert them to visitors and/or unusual activities in their vicinity. Breeds which excel in this capacity are only too happy to oblige by yapping at the slightest disturbance.
However, there is a vast difference between the concept of a dog "watching" over its property and the notion of a dog being expected to "guard" or "defend" its territory. In the opinion of the editors of PETSTATION, the day of "guard" dogs is over, and it is time to evolve to a higher consciousness with regard to the responsibilities which we put upon our canine friends. Protecting humans from other humans is not a function for which dogs are prepared or suitable as we enter the 21st Century.
Perhaps once upon a time a big dog might have served as a serious discouragement to a would-be thief or mugger. But those days are long gone. In this age of gang-banging, automatic weapons, lethal steel spikes, tazers, body armor, pepper-spray, and dime-a-dozen murders, it is ridiculously naive to presume that a mere dog is going to be able to protect our person or our home from anyone who is serious about violating them.
Today the only mischief-makers that even the largest dog can scare away are juveniles (and even kids are getting tougher and bolder). People who are placing their faith upon an animal to protect them from the potential trauma of a burglary or personal attack are probably living in a dream world.
Consider the fact that there are more handguns in America than ever before. Consider that the majority of those guns happen to be extremely powerful and lethal. Consider that it requires a 75-cent bullet to blow your pet away. Consider the fact that a would-be thief or mugger doesn't really even need a gun; a large knife, sword, lance, martial arts weapons, or even a baseball bat or heavy pipe could easily send your pet to doggy heaven. So could many common household poisons.
So, those who are feeling secure with Rin Tin Tin in the backyard are only fooling themselves. And their misplaced faith in their canine protector may have them foregoing far more realistic precautions such as electronic home security systems and neighborhood watch programs.
"It breaks my heart when I hear someone say their reason for buying a German Shepherd Dog is for protection", one progressive GSD breeder says. "I will not sell a dog to someone with this attitude. They are not seeing the breed for its all-around intelligence and spirit, and are just setting themselves up for trouble. I tell people to get a burglar alarm and some Mace if they are that afraid. My dogs are lovers, not fighters, and I want owners who want a family member, not a bodyguard."
But the general ineffectiveness of dogs as protection is only half the story. The other half -- as with guns, themselves -- involves the wrong people being injured, including the owners of the dogs.
Training a dog to be a personal or property "defender" is the absolute wrong thing to do with any canine. The very reason dogs have long been our very special friends is that they are naturally predisposed to fit into human company and culture. To condition a dog to be a "protector" it must be reprogrammed, much of its sociality repressed and its aggressive tendencies sharpened. This "training" usually involves harsh, domineering regimens that leave the dog very suspicious toward anyone or anything other than its closest caretakers... and even these people are often only tolerated out of fear, not because of any true bond.
The results can be catastrophic. A recent USA Today article reported that of the 150 fatal dog attacks of the past 20 years, only one was a criminal intruder. The article also recounted the tragedy of a Chicago couple who purchased a "professionally-trained" Rottweiler for protection in their southside neighborhood. The very next morning they found the dog had killed their five-month old daughter.
In California a young woman paid $14,000 (yes, fourteen thousand dollars) for a "professionally-trained" German Shepherd from a Los Angeles area dog training school. The amount represented virtually her entire life savings, which she had very foolishly elected to spend on a dog for protection. One week into the school the dog turned on her, mauling her face, head, neck, arms and breast. She underwent five hours of reconstructive surgery. She is now suing the school, which in turn claims that the attack was her fault.
Such security dog "schools" and "training programs" are often fly-by-night operations, staffed by personnel who are making up training protocol as they go along, totally unregulated or policed, and sometimes selling animals of very dubious backgrounds.
This particular lady may actually be lucky that she found out early -- albeit the hard way -- the potential danger of having a "trained" security dog. Many such dogs are time bombs. Eventually they are going to explode... and it is just a matter of who is going to be injured when they do. This lady's dog could very well have ripped into a kid, an infant, a senior citizen, anyone. USA Today reported that nine out of 10 attacks by dogs are against children; the majority of the remainder are against seniors. Ed Sakach, regional director of the Humane Society in Saramento, CA, claims that "having a protection dog is like having a loaded pistol, and by purchasing such a dog a person is accepting a lifetime responsibility."
A very astute Rottweiler owner disagrees slightly with Sakach by claiming that an aggressive dog is more dangerous than a loaded gun. A loaded gun can be entirely controlled; an aggressive dog cannot be.
Indeed, protection dogs are a huge responsibility. The "peace of mind" that supposedly comes with having a protection dog is simply replaced by concern regarding how the dog itself could cause serious legal and financial trouble. As it turns out, this peril is often far more real than the specter of assault or burglary.
Insurance companies are the world's experts on the percentage chances of crimes such as the burglary and theft. Many will provide a premium discount if you own a home security system. None will provide any discount at all just because you have a "protection" dog. Indeed, if they find out you have such a dog you may find your policy being cancelled immediately. Increasingly paranoid about the catastrophic consequences of dog attacks, many insurance carriers will not insure a home wherein reside certain breeds known for their "protection" characteristics. That should tell you something right there... not only do insurance companies know that dogs really do not thwart thieves, they would rather pay you for everything in your house being stolen than to cover the liability of one severe dog attack upon an innocent party. Another revealing statistic: German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Dobermans are among the most common breeds stolen. Some guard dogs! They can't even prevent themselves from being swiped.
Some insurance carriers have gone beyond paranoid regarding dogs of any breed with a "biting history." We recently heard from a lady in the Midwest U.S. whose homeowner's insurance policy was being cancelled by her carrier because her dog had nipped a neighborhood child. The breed: a cocker spaniel!
Businesses that put guard dogs on duty on their property also are taking a huge risk from a liability standpoint. Any professional burglars will quickly dispatch dogs if they really want in. Only juvenile delinquints might attempt to run the Doberman gauntlet, and if they happen to be mauled or killed it could be financial lights-out for the business establishment.
Legal liability is one of the heaviest arguments against protection dogs. Unfortunately, the justice system is stacked against the dog that bites. Consider the couple in rural California who acquired an "attack" dog to prevent unruly neighbors from trespassing. The dog was unable to stop the jerks from trespassing again... but it did its job once they came over the fence. The trespassers were bitten, sued, and WON over $50,000!
Moreover, protection dogs are not nearly as much fun as affable, social dogs. They can't be taken everywhere. They have to be locked away when company is over. They usually don't become as companionable as do well-behaved dogs. There is always a chance the dog will turn on its owner or another family member at some point.
So, you see, the downside to "protection" dogs is huge; the upside is basically a myth. If you are considering acquiring a dog, think only of the gentle, friendly, loving capacity that most dogs are capable of delivering. This is their best asset and greatest value as part of our human culture. We cut short their potential, and shove them into harm's way when we give them the responsibility of being our protector. Despite those sharp teeth and willing protective nature, dogs are not cut out to be our defenders; indeed, we are far better prepared to defend them. With just a claw hammer you could inflict far more damage upon any would-be assailant than most dogs could manage. As for protecting your property, dial up a security service.
A Los Angeles man who takes his prized Doberman on walks through a park where muggings have occured has an advanced outlook: "I carry pepper spray to protect both of us."
The vast majority of humans in the world are good and decent people; yet perhaps we are wise to recognize and prepare ourselves against the small minority who could potentially do us wrong. But crime is a human problem, and it demands human solutions. Expecting our beloved, wonderful dogs to fight our battles for us is not right, not fair, and despite their bravery... it simply doesn't work.
This Has Been The Most Controversial Article At PetStation... and we stand by it!|
We have received tremendous response from dog trainers and breeders supporting our stance against "protection" dogs. Indeed, our feedback with this subject in the time since the article was written has only confirmed that this is a growing problem in our society. We have also received numerous letters from those who disagree (some quite disagreeably). One particularly revealing commentary (and our response) is included below:
Count on it. It's not a matter of "if"... it's a matter of "when".
We encourage continued dialog on this subject.
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(In other words, dogs may be our best friends, but humans are not always theirs)
(This is only a partial list. Be "puppy prepared" for other possible dangers in your environment)
(This is only a partial list. Be "puppy prepared" for other possible dangers)
(This is only a partial list. Be "puppy prepared" with any plant or food you are not completely certain about)
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