Dogs—Always Man’s Best Friend?
“Killer Dogs Tear Gardener Apart”
‘Dog Attacks and Kills Girl’
“Dog Kills Baby”
HEADLINES such as these suggest that a dog is not always man’s best friend. However, as the crime rate soars, so does the demand for dogs to protect individuals and their property.
In the three cases cited above, there was no provocation on the part of the victims to give rise to such vicious action by the dogs. In view of such unwarranted attacks, it is appropriate to ask: Is it wise or safe to keep a dog? What makes some dogs turn vicious? How should one deal with dogs?
Why Some Dogs Become Aggressive
Most authorities on dogs agree on two basics: (1) Almost all dogs have a protective instinct, and (2) this instinct may be enhanced to a high degree of efficiency by expert dog trainers. A dog is born with a certain temperament, but this may change, depending on the way it is raised and trained. With training, a special relationship develops between the owner and the dog. Almost as though having a sixth sense, his canine friend learns to discern what pleases or displeases his master and is quick to respond to his moods.
For example, one trainer commented that a nervous or bad-tempered person could hardly expect to have a calm, even-tempered dog. Owners with prejudice against a certain race or social class may even transmit this to their animal. In his book O CÃO em nossa casa (The Dog in Our House), Théo Gygas observed: “Finally, whatever the nature of the person, he should not try to inculcate in a dog qualities that he himself does not possess. With its extremely delicate sensibilities, the dog adopts with ease its master’s temperament, reflects perfectly his mental state, just like an antenna that captures radio waves.”
This, of course, does not entirely explain away the question of why some dogs suddenly become overly aggressive without having shown this trait previously. One trainer says: “Like humans, dogs, too, make mistakes. They misinterpret.” To illustrate: A TV-repair-shop owner kept his dog in the store for protection and it worked well for several months. Then, one day the owner bent over to pick up a tool. The dog misinterpreted the move and sprang on its owner.
There are those, too, who believe that this sudden viciousness may be a carryover from the dog’s supposed ancestor, the wolf. Others feel that it may be due to a change of owner or of environment. Whatever the reason, if you have a dog or are thinking about getting one, you can rest assured that the examples quoted at the outset are the exception. You and your children can still enjoy the pleasure and companionship of a dog.
Three Stages of Training
Basically, training falls into three categories, the first and simplest being the teaching of manners. This would include teaching the dog to come when called, to sit down, to lie down, to fetch objects, and to jump over obstacles. It would also include some DO NOTS: not to jump up on people, not to chase cars, not to run after the neighbor’s chickens and maul them, not to accept food from strangers, and, of course, not to mess up the house. Learning these simple manners will make life safer for the dog and more enjoyable for its owner.
Progressively, the dog should receive obedience training. This would include teaching it to perform useful services, such as watching over certain items, giving the alert if an intruder enters the property, and also to “come to heel.” The dog’s protective instinct should also be developed to give assistance and protection to its owner and to his family when needed.
This early training can often be done by the owner himself with the help of a training manual. It requires much patience, however, coupled with a good understanding of the dog’s temperament, capabilities, and reactions. Commands should be given firmly but never with shouts.
It has been said that dogs are the only animals that will learn to obey in exchange for mere praise and petting. From the very first day of his training, he will thrive on praise and will soon learn that a warm pat on the head with the words “good dog!” go hand in hand with his obedience. Some dog trainers suggest using a tightly folded newspaper when training a pup. It can be used to slap the floor for attention or, if some correction is needed, to tap the dog’s rear without doing any harm. Training takes time. But as one trainer observed, “A dog owner should take the time and effort to train his dog or else pay a professional to do it.”
For some, a third step in the training process is to train the dog to attack. And here is where many Christian dog owners may choose to stop. A well-mannered watchdog is one thing; a fully trained attack, or guard, dog is another. The latter is different in that the dog has been trained to attack, whereas a watchdog merely sounds an alarm. A true guard dog is trained to protect itself and its owner from assault, even when deadly weapons are involved. The bite of such a dog has been developed to the point where it can break a man’s arm or even kill a person. It is easy to see that such a dog could be a menace if not properly trained and kept under control. It has been likened to a loaded pistol. Is your property really worth more than another person’s life or limb?
What to Do if Attacked
Above all, do not panic or run. Remember that a dog’s instinct is to chase anything that moves. So even if your knees are shaking, stand still and talk casually to the dog as if it were your own: ‘What’s the matter, boy?’ If he growls, that is a good sign; at least he is giving you a chance to back away. Do so slowly, with no sudden movements. Do not try to hit him. If you have a purse or an umbrella with you, this can be kept between you and the dog as a protection when needed.
If in spite of all precautions you are bitten by a dog, it is wise to get to a doctor as soon as possible. Also advise the police, giving details about what happened as well as a description of the dog. This may mean the difference between having to take rabies shots and not. Always bear in mind that dogs, whether seemingly docile or dangerous, should be handled with understanding and caution.
Caring for Your Dog
Proper training of your dog involves giving him adequate living quarters with proper food. For good health he needs a warm, airy place to sleep, protected from wind and rain. His kennel should be kept clean, dry, and, of course, free from excrement. With proper training he will cooperate in this respect. A dog’s hair, like our own, needs to be brushed regularly, daily if the hair is long. Insect repellents in powder form and vaccinations will be needed from time to time, as well as an occasional bath. Dog manuals give detailed information on these matters. Follow their suggestions and your dog will stay healthy and contented.
A dog should have a regular feeding routine, eating at the same time and in the same place each day. This will discourage him from accepting food from strangers and will contribute to cleanliness. Pups need food three or four times a day, adult dogs just twice. Leftover food should be taken away after about 15 minutes so that it does not spoil. Food should be warm but not hot, and plenty of water should be available at all times. Like us, dogs do well to avoid sweets as well as fried and fatty foods. Certain vegetables and fruits are good for them. Be careful not to serve your dog tiny bones; but he will appreciate a large one to chew on. Above all, ignore those pleading eyes when you are eating something. Stick to your training rules!
Do You Want to Own a Dog?
A letter sent to a newspaper columnist stated, “The more I see of people, the more I love my dogs.” (Latin America Daily Post) Exaggeration? Perhaps. But at any rate, dogs have certainly found their place in the world. They have been trained as guide dogs for the blind and more recently to aid deaf people. They are used as guard dogs as well as in pet therapy for handicapped and psychiatric patients. They have saved countless lives during fires, snowslides, and earthquakes. And what about sheep dogs? Even faithful Job spoke of “the dogs of my flock,” doubtless used to guard his 7,000 sheep from predators.—Job 30:1; 1:3.
If you decide to get a dog, you will have plenty to choose from. There are at least 140 different species recognized today. You will find that with loving care, tempered with good training, your dog will prove to be your faithful friend, companion, and guardian—and perhaps even therapy. And all he will ask of you in return is your awareness of his needs and that he be rewarded with a little affection and understanding.