Opinion

A dog’s life can be a complicated world

The stabbing death of a pit bull last week while being walked on Vancouver’s Kitsilano beach was tragic and could have been avoided.

According to media reports, last Wednesday a six-year-old pit bull was being walked on-leash in an on-leash area of the park when an alleged off-leash pug dog owned by an elderly man ran up to it. What exactly happened next is still confusing but the end result is that the pit bull was stabbed to death by the pug’s owner. According to the SPCA this weekend, the dog was stabbed three times.

The tragic killing was devastating for the pit bull’s family. No doubt the incident has also deeply upset the pug’s owner too. It is distressing to think that for the sake of a leash in accordance with park bylaws a pet died.

The story is a grim head’s up for many dog owners walking their pets in public places. You can’t blame them for feeling the need to be more vigilant and watch for any situation that could turn a simple walk into a crisis.

Unfortunately the pit bull breed gets a bad rap. Yes, there are the occasional animals that are problematic. But with proper handling, training, and the right level of proactive prevention and precaution pit bulls have a great track record of being safe companions and great family dogs.

Our family has owned a variety of dogs (black labs, shepherds, collies, beagle, a husky cross) for 35 years. Some came as puppies; some were give-aways. A few had little behavioural issues that were corrected over time.

All dogs can be aggressive or defensive in a perceived threatened situation. They can bite and fight, some better than others. It is every owner’s responsibility to not only know their dog’s particular personality and behaviour but to know how they are likely to behave in the face of provocation. What are the triggers?

The simple act of walking a dog in a public place has the potential to go sideways at any moment given a sudden, uncontrolled situation. How will the dog respond and how will each owner respond to the dog’s sudden shift in behaviour? Dogs bring to any momentary encounter their breed behaviour, their own personality, and the collective baggage of their previous experience.

From a dog’s point of view, being walked is a complex exercise. Their incredible noses read the airwaves, picking up the scent of other dogs’ urine and interpreting the entire story of that animal – male, female, what they ate, what they touched, where they have been and if they are in heat.

They read the body language of dogs around them, passive or aggressive. They watch activities, listening to sounds that might trigger excitement, distraction or fear. To them, shouting might sound like barking.  .

Walking the dog is not a time for thinking of other things, listening to music in ear buds, or phoning or texting friends. It only takes an instant of inattention for a situation to unravel.

While a dog walk should be quality time there should always be an effective plan B to deflect any confrontation with an out-of-control dog. Those red-flag moments can largely be avoided with an immediate change of course.

Right now it is probably unfair to judge what really happened last Wednesday. Much more needs to be understood about the moods, emotions, and conditions of the pit bull and the pug, the reactions of those in control and what were all the obvious and subtle factors in play.

Hopefully the incident doesn’t unravel into bureaucratic silliness like banning breeds. All the facts, tragic as they are, need first to be gathered and assessed.

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