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Feb 21

Are Dogs Dangerous?

What is a Dangerous Dog?

Preventing innocent people from being bitten by dogs with careless owners is a major problem. However, dogs being euthanized just for “being dogs” is also unjust. Many states  have tried to legislate a fair way to distinguish between the two extremes, but much is lacking in understanding the problem from the standpoint of dog psychology as well as that of common sense. Some states, like Maryland, have adopted the language “dangerous dog.”

  • Responsible Dog Owners Might…

    • Buy leash
    • Install and maintain fence
    • Socialize at dog park
    • Enroll in obedience class

This leads me to ask a question: What is the definition of a “dangerous dog?” In my opinion, all dogs will bite under certain circumstances, and sometimes, we as humans may not know when the dog believes the circumstances are dire. This makes it sometimes difficult or impossible to predict when a dog might bite.

Dog Owners Must Prove Their Dog not “Dangerous”

The Maryland House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure increasing the liability of dog owners when a dog bite occurs, according to the Feb. 21, 2013 edition of the Washington Post. Dog owners now must prove that their dog is not a “dangerous dog,” whereas previously, the plaintiff had to prove that the dog was “dangerous.”

Maryland considers a dog dangerous when it has done one of the following:

  • has inflicted a bite while on public or private property
  • when not on its owner’s property has killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal
  • has attacked without provocation

Other than the fact that it is impossible to prove a dog has not done any of the above, I see many potential problems with this definition. However, in this post, I do not want to focus solely on Maryland’s law. I simply want to bring some perspective to the problem of defining a dog as dangerous.

Dogs in pain are likely to bite.

I would like to offer this example: My cousin had a very gentle and very large dog they named Sarge. Sarge had shown zero aggression to humans his entire life. One day when he was very old, he bit the family’s three year old girl. Although the girl didn’t suffer serious injury, the family was stunned. They gained a little more insight the next day. The dog died and had probably been very sick, in pain, and likely in a mental state that prevented him from even recognizing the child. Because he was so close to death, he may not have known who he was biting. Are all dogs who bite when in pain dangerous?

Dogs protecting their owners are likely to bite.

I recall one news story in Oklahoma where an elderly couple were being robbed. The woman, hearing the commotion, let their aging rottweiler loose. The dog promptly chased the robber, and the robber (wisely) ran away. I think everyone can agree that had the dog bitten, it would have been justified. I truly believe that dogs can sense danger. However, dogs do not interpret signs of danger correctly with 100% accuracy. Is any dog who would protect its owner dangerous?

Dogs sometimes bite other dogs.

We have all probably heard stories about little dogs attacked by bigger dogs. Having raised little dogs, I know that little dogs don’t understand size. My 12 pound miniature pinscher attacked a rottweiler at obedience school. Thankfully, the rottweiler just looked at Zeus and paid no more attention to him. (Zeus did eventually graduate, although he had to stay after class a few times.) While I can’t imagine how traumatic it would be if my little dog was attacked, I would not have blamed the rottweiler. I have to wonder: Are all dogs who bite other dogs dangerous?

Bites with Little or No Injury

I raise miniature pinschers, and each dog has had a different temperament, including having been on different points along the aggression spectrum. However, none of the dogs I have raised have been capable of causing serious injury. Is inflicting a small red mark dangerous? Dogs also nip, and often it is it just to establish pack order or other communication. How would law differentiate between a nip and a bite? Are these dogs dangerous?

Dog Owner Accountability

I firmly believe that pet owners should be responsible for the actions of their pets, and dog owners who do not use good judgment regarding their dog should be held accountable. I believe this accountability should include obeying all laws as well as using simple common sense. I also know that some dog owners take more care than others about issues involving their dogs.

Legislation should be passed that punishes careless dog owners. However, if we declare all dogs that might bite dangerous and take them out of society, we would have no dogs left. I think the idea that all dogs who bite are “dangerous” is ridiculous and highly subjective. What do you think?

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