Ferocious and unsafe or improperly trained? Pet Pitbull attack in Lucknow reignites debate on big, hunting dogs

The recent case in Lucknow where an 82-year-old woman died after being bitten by her pet pitbull dog, which has been a part of, and loved by, the family for three years, has baffled the woman’s son, dog lovers and animal behaviourists. The three-year-old female dog has been taken into custody by the Lucknow Nagar Nigam authorities and is under psychological observation at the animal facility of the Humane Society of India in Lucknow. Citing this case, the LNN was quick to issue an advisory which stated that ‘people should avoid keeping hunting dog breeds like American pitbull, rottweiler, Siberian husky, doberman pinscher and boxer as pets because they tend to become ferocious.’ In January this year, the army also issued an advisory to its officers living in Delhi Cantt, asking them to desist from keeping dog breeds such as rottweiler, pitbull, American bulldog, bull mastiff and German shepherd after an officer’s pet rottweiler bit a five year -old son of another officer.

While breeds like pitbulls, German shepherds or Alsatian, hounds, dobermans, saint bernards and great danes continue to be popular and in demand, one needs to understand how to handle them and care for them as advised by vets, animal behaviorists and dog trainers.

A rottweiler in training

UNDERSTAND THE BREED BEFORE BRINGING ONE HOME
Pet parents like Pallavi Duffy, a resident of Uttarkashi, swear by German shepherds and hounds. “I have had German shepherds and Rampur hounds as pets for decades and they are the most loving and loyal pets. But with breeds such as these, one has to first understand their temperament,” she says.

Cyrus Cowasji, an animal caregiver, trainer and pet parent in Lucknow, who has fostered, rescued and kept dogs such as hounds, alsatians, dobermans, rottweilers, Malinois and pitbulls in his house and farm and trains them, says, “The problem is that most of the time, people buy or adopt breeds without understanding the nature and needs of the dog. A big dog needs a lot of exercise to burn their energy. Unless that is channeled correctly, the dog will tend to get frustrated and end up hurting someone when provoked or irritated further.” Soumya Nanda Mohanty from Bengaluru, a dog lover who has grown up with large dogs and is also a canine trainer, says, “Please remember, no dog is aggressive! It’s how we humans bring them up, treat them, socialise them and train them that shapes their behavior and temperament. Certain breeds require a lot of physical exercise, mental stimulus and social interactions.”

Citing a recent case of a pet pitbull attack , the Lucknow Nagar Nigam was quick to issue an advisory (left) which stated that 'people should avoid hunting dog breeds like American pitbull or rottweiler as pets because they tend to become ferocious'

Citing a recent case of a pet pitbull attack , the Lucknow Nagar Nigam was quick to issue an advisory (left) which stated that ‘people should avoid hunting dog breeds like American pitbull or rottweiler as pets because they tend to become ferocious’

‘TRAINING IS IMPORTANT – OF THE DOG AND PET PARENT’

Christopher Vicky Franklin, a certified canine trainer and behavior therapist who specializes in aggressive dogs training, insists on the owners being trained first to handle big dogs, followed by the dogs themselves. “Training your own self to handle that big dog is more important,” he says, a thought that is seconded by dog ​​trainer Cyrus Cowasji. “A lot of pet parents come to me with a rottweiler or a German shepherd pup saying he is biting. My first question to them is, how can you allow that? How much have you learned to rear this pup? I insist on training both the dog and the owner together so that they know how to behave with each other,” he says.

Varuna Kaur, a canine trainer, says pet parents of any medium to large breed must get their dogs trained at a very young age. “It’s not only breeds like rottweilers, dobermans, pitbulls and German shepherds, I have had tons of cases of golden retrievers, labradors and even beagles and cocker spaniels being aggressive. Even if you have had dogs all your life, there is nothing wrong in taking guidance from a trained professional. Unfortunately, a lot of pet parents come to behaviorists only after a bad biting incident.”

“With dogs, one has to convey to them at the start as to who’s the boss as they are pack animals. Before they start to consider themselves as the leader, the parent has to establish their authority and let them know gently and firmly that they are the leader of the pack,” says Christopher. Mitali Parekh, who runs a canine service, advises that big dogs need an experienced hand to route that guarding, protecting instinct. “Pitbulls used to be bred for fighting so there are these instincts that need an experienced handler, to socialise, to route. And they need physical space for exercise. Another issue is that for big breeds like these people usually hire a crude trainer and the trainer uses harmful methods so the dog’s undesirable qualities get exaggerated. If you use positive training methods with a dog, you have more success.”

(LR) Rottweiler, pitbull and doberman

(LR) Rottweiler, pitbull and doberman

‘RESEARCH ABOUT THE DOG YOU ARE BRINGING HOME’

Christopher says there are several factors one needs to keep in mind before getting these big breeds. “Always find out about the lineage of the dog”. Are the parents aggressive or passive? If the parents are aggressive, the pup is likely to be the same. Secondly, if you are going to keep dogs like these, be prepared to put in a lot of effort and training to ensure you are in control.”

A lot is also to do with the gender of the dog, open some experts. “A female will not be as aggressive as a male simply because of the difference of hormones in them,” says Dr Vikas Singh, a veterinary doctor. “A female will be more gentle and the male more boisterous. The hormones not only control their physical state, but also play a huge role in their mental makeup. But that doesn’t mean a bitch cannot be nasty. When in heat, bitches too get irritable because of the hormonal changes in their body,” he adds.

A German shepherd with its owner

A German shepherd with its owner

‘BIGGER DOGS ARE OFTEN BRANDED AS AGGRESSIVE BECAUSE OF THEIR SIZE’

“These are not easy breeds to keep and maintain,” says Dr Abhishek Gupta, a veterinary surgeon. “Such dogs need exercise, they need playtime, bonding with their owners and socialization with outsiders, so people keeping them need to have that in mind. You can’t discriminate between breeds and assume that these dogs are aggressive and not friendly. I have worked with such breeds enough to know that most of them are gentle, especially the females,” he adds.

Shirin Merchant, a canine behaviorist and trainer, adds, “Rottweiler, pitbull, doberman, German shepherd were bred as working dogs. These are dogs that were bred for a certain purpose and some of that purpose includes guarding and protection. So innately, they can be predisposed to that. But that doesn’t mean that all of them turn out to be biting dogs.” “Most big breed dogs like pitbull, cane corso, bully kutta, rottweiler are genetically meant to do specific activities. For example, pitbulls were used in bloodsports like bear baiting and bull baiting, so their temperament is by default aggressive,” adds Sahadev Yadav, animal behaviorist and professional dog trainer.

“Bigger dogs tend to do more damage because of their size and hence branded aggressive,” says Kamna Pandey, a sitting member of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals (SPCA) and an animal activist and communicator, “Basically they have bigger and more powerful jaws which inflict a deeper wound if they attack. Also, because of their sheer size, it becomes difficult to control them if an attack occurs.” “Bigger may not always be better, especially for first-time dog owners,” says RK Pandey, a retired policeman who trained dogs for the UP Police. “They are hard to control, even when playful because of their strength. So only an experienced person should keep big breeds.”

BCCL

CERTIFIED CANINE TRAINERS AND BEHAVIOURISTS SUGGEST SOME DOS AND DON’TS FOR PET PARENTS OF BIG DOGS

DOs

  • Learn about the breed
  • Train yourself
  • Train the dog
  • Make the dog understand that you are the leader of the pack
  • Get the dog vaccinated
  • Give it enough time and exercise
  • Socialise the dog towards other animals and people
  • If the dog is showing aggression, give a command in a firm but calm voice
  • If the dogs are fighting among themselves, pour water over them
  • Set boundaries of behavior for your dog

DON’Ts

  • Don’t get a breed you can’t handle
  • Don’t keep the dog confined or chained for a very long time
  • Don’t provoke them (children pulling their tails or ears)
  • Don’t deviate from their daily routine unless absolutely necessary
  • Avoid sudden movements or loud noises around them
  • Aggressive behavior leads to aggression in dogs, avoid that
  • Don’t try to pull apart dogs that are fighting
  • Don’t encourage bad behavior even when they are a pup

—— With inputs from Debarati S Sen and Dharitri Ganguly

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