Dog safety: Size, breed doesn't matter

Last updated 05:00 05/07/2013

ANY DOG CAN BITE: The wrong breed in the wrong environment with the wrong type of owner, is a recipe for disaster.

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I am a veterinary nurse and have been for about 16 years. During this time I have come across my fair share of aggressive or 'dangerous' dogs.

I believe most dogs, regardless of breed, can be brought up, trained and/or guided to be well rounded loving family pets. There are always exceptions to the rule, some breeds can be a lot stronger willed, some more fearful and some full of energy and excitement.

All of these factors, in the wrong person's hands, can lead to a dog developing undesirable traits, with the potential to harm other animals or people.

Some dogs are easy to teach to be aggressive, some will end up fear-biters if not given the time and socialising at a young age, and some will simply end up lost in the process of poor ownership.

Often it does not matter the breed, it's simply wrong dog/owner compatibility and lack of understanding. For example, German Shepherds can be extremely aggressive, but are highly trainable and very eager to please (hence use in the police force). They are not deemed as a dangerous dog but are not unlike some breeds that have been.

Dog ownership is something that should not be taken lightly, it is a privilege, not a right.

Often people will fall in love with the cute puppy at the pet shop or advertised on Trade Me, and jump in and take it home. A common scenario is they work all day, come home and the puppy is super excited and full of energy. Its a ball of teeth, bites hands, clothes, chews the carpet, barks and so on.

They get frustrated, lose interest, and can't be bothered seeking help, so the poor puppy ends up shoved outside, and sees little human contact except for meals. One day it gets out in search of interaction or out of boredom, and bites a child. Maybe because it has never seen one. Maybe it's because it no longer has good relations with humans and is suspicious or afraid. Or maybe it's simply so excited that it doesn't know how to interact appropriately.

Human influence on dog behaviour is often overlooked, it's always the dog's fault why it acts a certain way or it's because it's a bull mastiff. While I prefer not to judge a dog by its breed, I could give you a list of breeds that I deal with daily who are more likely to be aggressive and try to bite than those on the dangerous dog list.

Children are also often a dog's best and worst friend. They need to be taught appropriate interaction with dogs. At the end of the day, if a dog is hurt by a child, they will do as nature intended and use their teeth to communicate "it hurt!".

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People need to research the breed of dog they would like before purchasing or taking them in, understand their history and requirements, and need to put in the time to teach them. There are so many dog training and obedience services available that are under utilised, which can make such a huge difference in how a dog develops.

The wrong breed in the wrong environment with the wrong type of owner, is a recipe for disaster, whether a chihuahua or a rottweiler. Size does not matter, both potentially have the ability to turn into aggressive dogs if they are not understood and taught. The only difference is people dismiss a bit of biting and jumping from a small dog, where if it was the rottweiler, they would be euthanased.

Overall I think with tougher ownership laws and better understanding and education for potential dog owners, some dog attacks could be prevented, but it's up to the people to make a difference and be proactive to make change.

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