04/3/14

Pit Bull Forum on Studio 10

On the 27th of March, Studio 10 had a news article on a boy who was mauled by a ‘pit bull’, but the pit bull was not euthanised, but instead desexed and defanged.

The panel questioned why anyone would have a pit bull when they’re ‘not pets’, and ‘they’re fighting dogs’, with a history of ‘bad accidents’. They criticised public response to this incident saying, “I don’t understand how they’re blaming the babysitter instead of the owner of the dog”.

Paula Abdul is the only one who says anything mildly positive, with “not every part of that breed is bad”.

Understandably, dog lovers were pretty unimpressed with this coverage and criticised Studio 10 through social media.

And Studio 10 then had a ‘right of reply’ panel. And here is how it went down.

While the guise of this discussion was providing balance, Studio 10 clearly pulled the shots, asked the questions, and didn’t provide adequate right-of-reply in many instances. Here’s a blow by blow of what was said… And what I would’ve said.

The little starting introductory video/graphic describes some dog breeds being ‘banned in Australia’, and then describes that in 2011 half of dog attacks were by five breeds (Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, American Staffordshire Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Rottweilers). It then goes on to make the claim that bites by restricted breeds are decreasing.

There’s a lot of stuff in this that the expert panel did not get a chance to address!

  • Firstly, no breed is banned in Australia. The five breeds listed are ‘restricted breeds’, meaning that the way they are owned is regulated by most states, but no state outwardly bans them.
  • While we can dispute the validity of the statistics on breed attacks, it should be pointed out that the pit bull terrier does not appear in the list of breeds involved in half of all dog attacks.
  • While bites by restricted breeds may be decreasing (and I’m not even sure if that is true), that doesn’t mean bites overall are decreasing.

 

Studio 10 asks, “Why do you think pit bulls have such a bad public perception?”

Dr Andrew O’Shea, from the Australasian Veterinary Association, answers this: Because the media chooses to report on pit bull attacks almost exclusively. The media sensationalistness has a lot to answer for. As Dr O’Shea points out, many reports are ‘it’s a pit bull terrier’, when it’s not really. Dr O’Shea points out that the media makes them out to be ‘more dangerous’, but in reality they’re probably just as dangerous as any dog of a similar size. Any dog with teeth can bite.

 

“But Dr O’Shea, I’m confused though, because the media is reporting we’re told, say by the police and other people at the scene, and I think, there is, like you say, there’s a bit of confusion about talking about pit bulls, er, are the crossed with staffordshire terriers, I mean, I must say, sitting here in the studio, I’m very nervous, I’m, I mean, because of the dogs. I feel frightened.”

Not really a question, nor articulately asked, but then you didn’t give the panel a chance to reply either.

What is significant is not just that the media is reporting on ‘pit bull’ attacks, but the fact that attacks by breeds that are not pit bulls are not reported on. For example, in Port Lincoln an 8 year old boys had his nose bitten off by an Australian bulldog. This barely made the news, and when it did, the report focussed on the death of Ayen Chol by a pit bull. While the news heavily reported on Isabelle Dinoire who received the first face transplant, but neglected to report that her facial injuries were as a result of a labrador mauling.

The fact that you feel frightened is probably a consequence of the media hysteria surrounding pit bulls. I am sorry that you’re fearful, but your fear is illegitimate, and proves that we need to reassess the way dog attacks are perpetuated in the media. When two dogs lay in a relaxed and quiet way in a studio (a totally foreign environment to them), and they are regarded as scary, then the community clearly needs a much more comprehensive understanding of dogs and dog behaviour.

 

“Centuries ago, they were bred as fighting dogs. Am I right in saying that?”

Dr O’Shea responds to this by basically agreeing, but argues that defining ‘pit bulls’ is complex, and many dogs that look like a pit bull are classified as one despite not being one. And despite being crossbreed. He says that because they’re a bigger breed and tend to be reactive, they seem to get a bad name.

However, I would’ve taken a different response in responding here… I would’ve said:

Yes, but many dogs have roles now vastly different to their original purpose. Many Labradors are bred to assist blind people – while their original purpose was to carry dead birds around. Many German Shepherds are bred for multi-purpose police roles, including biting people, while their original purpose was herding sheep. Many people own terrier breeds who were bred to kill small vermin. Overtime, breed roles change. Additionally, within a breed, there are many variations in terms of personality and type. If you look at the greyhound industry, you’ll see a vast number of greys are killed for not meeting the task at hand, despite breeding specifically for running fast after quarry. You can imagine, in our current era, where dogs are primarily bred as pets, the history of a dog does not have a large implication on the temperament of the dogs we see today.

 

“A big reactive dog sounds quite scary to me, though. I mean, why, why, what I don’t understand is why people are so passionate about pit bulls in particular. Like, why, I mean, surely, if if, the restrictions at the moment seem to be working at the moment, and the number of attacks is going down, and surely if there is, er, some evidence … For example, you’d be familiar, Dr Hugh Worth, the head of the RSPCA, in 2009 said that there was absolutely no place for these dogs in Australia. He said they were time bombs. He said they should be banned. Now everyone here, I’m sure, who has any knowledge of animal welfare issues knows who Hugh Worth is. He is a very respected veterinarian. The RSPCA is an organisation that is there to prevent the cruelty to animals and protect them. If he is saying it, surely, surely not getting your personal favourite breed of dog is a small price to pay for knowing that kids could be safer. And adults,” say Joe Hildebrand.

“What do you think about that Melanie?” says the host.

Wow, give poor Melanie a chance. There’s about a million points there.

Melanie tries, she says that while ‘the laws appear to be working’ you will probably see that attacks haven’t gone down, but they have stayed the same or risen. She asks if we want to see dog bites to go down, or do we want to see pit bull bites to go down? Maybe pit bull bites are going down, but surely we want dog bites to be going down full stop.

Then Melanie got cut off before she got a chance to say all I would’ve:

  • This is not about people having a dummy spit for not being allowed to own pit bulls. The issue is that banning pit bulls does not make kids and adults safer.
  • There is not a reduction in dog attacks in all, just dog attacks by restricted breeds. So the community isn’t safer from a pit bull ban, they’re just less likely to be bitten by them. (Just like if you banned Ferraris, no more people would die from Ferrari related accidents. But people would still die in car accidents.)
  • Dr Hugh Worth is known as Dr Hugh Worthless by many animal-lovers in Australia. ‘Nough said.
  • The RSPCA is not very well respected and does a pretty poor job at protecting animals.

 

Joe Hildebrand talks about serious pit bull attacks, and includes footage of a guy severely mauled by three American Staffordshire Terriers. He argues that the severity and frequency of these attacks should see the breed banned.

Again, no real chance of reply is provided. So my reply would include:

  • Hi. The dogs in that video are American Staffordshire Terriers. Not pit bulls.
  • Also, people die from weimaraner and jack russell bites, too. The media often fails to report on these attacks, or when they do so, they report in a different way. (For example, Buster the golden retriever attacked 4 people and the media at the time mostly reported on ‘why would a golden retriever attack?’ instead of the ‘golden retrievers should be banned’ approach we see after bull breed attacks.)

“So you’re not hearing of labradors, or maltese terriers, or toy poodles causing this damage…” says Sarah Harris.

Ambulance guy (from the expert panel) says he’s been to attacks of lots of different breeds. He says that he “can’t tell the breeds apart to be honest” and “In my experience… all dogs can bite. It doesn’t matter what kind of breed it is” and ‘the bigger the dog, the bigger the bite’.

I would elaborate this response, if I had the opportunity, to when you say ‘you’re not hearing of’ attacks by different breeds, that’s because you’re not reporting them

 

It’s how you train the dog, surely?

Yay, a decent question! Ambulance guy says that he trains his dogs and doesn’t leave them alone with kids. Good advice!

 

“Brad can talk through how the behaviour works. I mean, are pit bulls aggressive dogs?”

Brad was methodical in his response to this question.

It’s about preventing dog bites. You want the community to be safer, right?

Are you attached to the how (BSL)? Or are you attached to the outcome?

When we look around the world at measures used to reduce dog bite statistics to as low as possible, we see that success is based on behaviour-based strategies and not breed.

“You’ll never get rid of [dog bites] – get rid of 400 breeds – right? It doesn’t really matter.”

Go Brad.

 

“When we were talking about this last week, a 4 year old boy had been attacked and terribly mauled and there was a question mark over the fate of the dog who did that. And I must say, as a mother, I would want that dog destroyed. I wouldn’t want to be standing up let’s protect this dog because he’s just.. severely injured this child, potentially could’ve killed this child. To me, isn’t that more of the issue?”

Brad answers this one as well.

This is the result of a ‘tragic convergence of errors’.

The dog was chained – chained dogs are more likely to bite.

The babysitter was there – not the owner.

The dog was large – larger dog, larger damage.

The child wasn’t adequately supervised

Well done Brad, again.

 

Joe Hildebrand wants hands to be raised for anyone who thinks dogs that attack a child should be killed. (That is, he fails to acknowledge the factors affecting the likelihood of a dog bite, as described by Brad.)

There is no place in society for a dangerous dog. What makes a dog dangerous is based upon the behaviour of the individual.

 

The whole thing got a little bit messy, with Joe Hildebrand speaking over Brad and Brad refusing to be spoken over. In summary:

  • There is a perception in the community that dogs are dangerous and
  • NSW statistics show that the pit bull terrier is the most dangerous breed of dog.

Brad replied that:

  • Perception is only perception, and
  • Those statistics are invalid, and
  • It doesn’t matter: We know what causes dog bites, globally, and we know that BSL doesn’t work.

 

We were talking about whether a dog who attacked a toddler should be destroyed.

Dr O’Shea says it’s context based. A good call.

 

-

And this is where this exchange ends.

So do you think the expert panel was given a fair chance?

 

Further reading:

A Case Study in Media Bias

Breed Specific Legislation FAQ

Posts tagged BSL on Some Thoughts About Dogs

02/2/14

Preventing Snake Bites

Losing dogs through snake bite is a common problem in Australia. There are a number of strategies that can be used to minimise the risk, of varying types of efficiency. I thought it’d be useful to put these ideas into one post, so that those trying to protect their dogs have some ideas to implement.

 

Illustration of snake prevention courtsey of Amstafomine Kennels.

Illustration of snake prevention courtesy of Amstafomine Kennels.

Keep Areas Tidy

Snakes like to hide in piles of rubbish or mess, so keeping your property tidy is the first step in mess prevention. This includes keeping weeds and grass low. Additionally, doing this keeps prey animals down – anywhere where mice and rats can hide will attract snakes to eat them.

 

Consider Snake Repellers

Some people swear that snake repellers work – some swear they do not. Without there being any clinical or scientific studies available (from my searching), it is up to your discretion in determining whether they are a worthwhile investment.  Rumour has it that they are only effective in firm soil (not sandy soil) and that for maximum effect they should be moved on a regular basis (every few weeks).

 

Consider Guinea Fowl

Some types of Guinea Fowl are known to, in groups, attack and kill snakes. Having a flock of guinea fowl around your property (presuming space, time, and finances permit) may be a means to reduce or deter snakes on the property – or, at the very least, alert you to the presence of snakes in the vicinity.

 

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Amstafomine kennels – showing snake fencing, rubber edging, and netting, all with the aim of preventing snake access.

 

Physical Barriers

Physically keeping snakes out of areas where dogs run is also a possibility. The photo above is the best example I’ve seen.  Here, shade cloth has been used as snake fencing (as it is so narrow snakes cannot go through it). Where the shade cloth can’t cover (e.g. around the doors), rubber has been used to prevent snakes squeezing through.  On top of all this, loose netting has been draped along the grounds, so snakes will get twisted and caught up before even reaching the kennels.

 

Have you found any other methods effective for keeping snakes at bay?

Wishing you an incident free snake season!

01/26/14

Advocate for Safety-Testing of Car Harnesses

Golden retriever puppy in car

In my last post, I described the two studies that I could find that illustrate the effectiveness of car safety harnesses for dogs.

What has become clear is that there is very little testing of pet safety restraints, and no safety standard.

As pet lovers, obviously, this is something we’d like changed. This is an advocacy post, encouraging you to write to your relevant body. The suggestions made here are Australian based, but you’re welcome to modify the following letters for appropriacy to your own bodies.

When writing your letter, you should go for human-safety approach, because, as a selfish species, humans normally like to protect other humans. Say, we want pet restraints tested because:

  • We need pets to be effectively restrained so they do not interfere with drivers, but also
  • Pets need to be prevented from becoming projectiles in an accident, and, as a niceity,
  • It is in the best interest of animal welfare to protect them in accidents, and save owners and bystanders the distress of an injured pet.

 

MAC / TAC

Both the Motor Accident Commission and the Traffic Accident Commission don’t mention pet restraints on their websites! You can contact the MAC through their online form.

To the Motor Accident Commission,

Re: Restraint of Pets in Motor Vehicles

Recently I was disturbed to be informed that dog car safety harnesses manufacturing and design is unregulated. As a result, many harnesses designed for dogs are inadequate in restraint, and so pose a risk to motorists.

Dog safety harnesses are important in restraining a pet from interfering with the driver and from becoming a projectile in an accident. Testing in Australia (by NRMA Insurance) and in the United States (by Centre for Pet Safety) showed that many pet harnesses designed for vehicle transport did not withstand the force of a car accident.  This means that motorists may restrain their pets with a car harness falsely believing that doing so would prevent their pet becoming a projectile in an accident.  Obviously, such an incident could cause harm to human occupants of a vehicle.

Further, there pet owners carry a level of emotional attachment to pets, and their injury or death in car accidents would be a cause of distress to passengers and onlookers.

Considering the substantial risk to human well being through unregulated car safety harnesses, I ask that you consider introducing requirements on dog car safety harnesses, including a scheme to certify harness safety through legitimate and standardised tests.

Yours sincerely,

 

RAA/RACV

The RAA have a page selling unbranded (almost certainly untested restraints) harnesses. You can email the RAA through info@raa.com.au (link).

To the RAA,

Re: Restraint of Pets in Motor Vehicles

Recently I was disturbed to be informed that dog car safety harnesses manufacturing and design is unregulated. As a result, many harnesses designed for dogs are inadequate in restraint, and so pose a risk to motorists.

Dog safety harnesses are important in restraining a pet from interfering with the driver and from becoming a projectile in an accident. Testing in Australia (by NRMA Insurance) and in the United States (by Centre for Pet Safety) showed that many pet harnesses designed for vehicle transport did not withstand the force of a car accident.  This means that motorists may restrain their pets with a car harness falsely believing that doing so would prevent their pet becoming a projectile in an accident.

While two brands of harness have been well reviewed by both tests conducted, neither of these are available through your online store, and the one type that is available online is unbranded and presumably untested in regards to its resilience to force in an accident.  Clearly, without testing, harnesses may pose a risk and cause harm to human occupants of a vehicle.

Further, there pet owners carry a level of emotional attachment to pets, and their injury or death in car accidents would be a cause of distress to passengers and onlookers.

Considering the substantial risk to human well being through unregulated car safety harnesses, I ask that you consider introducing requirements on dog car safety harnesses, including a scheme to certify harness safety through legitimate and standardised tests, and consider stocking only products that meet these standards.

Yours sincerely,

 

Choice

Choice have a page reporting on the NRMA Insurance testing.  Choice is known for providing a neutral panel to review products. You can email Choice at ausconsumer@choice.com.au (link).

To Choice,

Re: Restraint of Pets in Motor Vehicles

Upon reading your online article on car safety restraints for dogs (“Dog car harness test”, dated 18th December 2013), I was disturbed to read that many car harnesses received a ‘fail’ score, indicating that they are inadequate in restraining pets. It is unsettling to think of many pets are being transported in car safety harnesses that have been manufactured and designed with no safety checks, as these ineffectively restrained pets pose a risk to motorists.

Dog safety harnesses are important in restraining a pet from interfering with the driver and from becoming a projectile in an accident. Like the NRMA testing in Australia, safety testing in the United States (by Centre for Pet Safety) showed that many pet harnesses designed for vehicle transport did not withstand the force of a car accident.  This means that motorists may restrain their pets with a car harness falsely believing that doing so would prevent their pet becoming a projectile in an accident.  Obviously, such an incident could cause harm to human occupants of a vehicle.

Further, there pet owners carry a level of emotional attachment to pets, and their injury or death in car accidents would be a cause of distress to passengers and onlookers.

Considering the substantial risk to human well being through unregulated car safety harnesses, I hope that Choice can consider providing its own testing of car safety harnesses for pets and provide pressure to government to produce a formal standard to ensure consumer confidence in car safety harnesses designed for dogs.

Yours sincerely,

Is there any other peak bodies that deserve to receive a letter, too? Let me know in the comments.

Be an animal advocate and post one or more of these letters to the relevant parties with the aim of bettering animal welfare.

01/24/14

How safe are dog car travel harnesses?

Last year, we heard that 100% of dog car harnesses were failing safety tests.  The Center for Pet Safety is quoted as saying,”We tested them to the child safety restraint standard and we experienced a 100-percent failure rate to protect either the consumer or the dog”.

It’s a concerning claim. Many pet owners put their dogs on a harness because they want them to be safe during an accident, and yet it seems that harnesses won’t achieve these aims. So what’s a pet owner to do?

Golden retriever puppy in back seat of car.

 

Center of Pet Safety Study

Firstly, have a look at the CPS’s study.  A complete summary of CPS’s investigation can be read on this PDF, but the research methods are best summarised by this flowchart:

Click to see PDF source.

Click to see PDF source.

So, firstly, they only tested harnesses that claimed to be tested, or claimed to offer crash protection.

Then, they did ‘quasi static testing’, which is basically they pulled on the harness attachment really hard for a sustained period to see if the harness survived or not. (Watch a video of the quasi static test.)

The following products did not pass the quasi static testing:

  • USA K-9 Outfitters; Champion.
  • In the Company of Animals; Clix.
  • Coastal; EZ-Rider.
  • Snoozer; Pet Safety Harness and Adapter.

It is only if the product passed both of those initial stages that they proceeded to crash testing.

In the same PDF, a nifty little flow chart is displayed – and ultimately it lists the harness, from left to right, as best to worst (of those tested).

Crash test harness results.

So, basically, the testing concluded that the ‘best’ harness (of those tested) was the Sleepypod Clickit Utility.

A complete analysis is available on page 10 of the results.

You can find out more about the Sleepypod Clickit harness from the Sleepypod website.

 

NRMA Insurance Test

From my research, the only other test I can find was performed by NRMA Insurance, and yielded not dissimilar results: The Sleepypod Clickit Harness was rated on the top, and the Purina Roadie Harness was second.  NRMA Insurance tested 25 harnesses, and only the above two passed. That is, 92% of harnesses failed. You can read NRMA’s brief press release: Paws and Secure Your Puppy

 

But harnesses are still better than nothing…

I would like to warn against ‘giving up’ on harnesses, because most of the harnesses do stop dogs become a projectile, and injuring people in the car. Little comfort, but please do restrain your pets.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.46.34 AM

 

My choice

Personally, I have had trouble with harnesses in the car. Any of my dogs that I have tried them on walk around and around in circles, twisting up their limbs in their harness, and looking miserable and uncomfortable.

After reading the two studies above, I am glad I made the choice to crate my dogs in the car. The crates are secured in my car with tie downs to anchor points. I am very happy with my choice, and feel that it is probably the safest option for car travel, especially in light of this study.

Our next blog post will look into ways you can advocate for better harnesses.

 

Further reading: Pet Auto Safety Blog

10/22/13

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy



Exceptional Canine: Active Dog

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy

By the Editors of Exceptional Canine for Exceptional Canine

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy

Your kids have been clamoring for a puppy for a while. Now the moment has come, and you can’t wait to introduce your kids to your new puppy.

But don’t let your eagerness and your kids’ excitement keep you from laying the proper groundwork for what should be a long and joyous relationship.

There are a number of steps you can take to make this a positive interaction.

Teach Kids to Respect Your Puppy
Like puppies, kids need boundaries. It’s up to you to establish how they’ll handle the family’s new addition. Consider these steps:

  • Lay ground rules. Remind kids to be gentle. Demonstrate by petting their forearms and heads as you would your puppy. Ask them to practice by stroking your forearm and head. Set a policy about how and when they can pick up your puppy, and think like a kid to determine any other regulations: Plenty of kids have been tempted to dress poor puppies in doll clothes, for example.
  • Ask for soft voices. Remind kids to talk in gentle, soothing voices, as they would to a baby. Your kids should never yell at your puppy, even if he makes a mistake. Explain that dogs can be startled by loud noises.
  • Establish space. Teach kids to respect your puppy’s space, especially at mealtimes. Even the best-natured puppies might bite if they feel threatened.
  • Teach patience. Remind kids to let the puppy come to them. Even the smallest child can spook a young dog if it reaches or grasps for the dog.
  • Make rough play off-limits. Tail-pulling and teasing are neither funny nor cute, and these behaviors can lead to your puppy establishing bad habits, such as jumping up. And holding a toy just out of your dog’s reach isn’t kind.

When Puppy Comes Home
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, aim for a smooth homecoming. Try these steps:

  • Keep your home quiet and normal. Now is not the time to host a sleepover with a half-dozen shrieking preteens. Until your puppy settles in, avoid loud play dates or disruptions.
  • Introduce your puppy gradually. Let your puppy experience your home one room at a time.
  • Limit puppy-kid playtime. Keep interactions short and sweet — between 15 and 30 minutes, two to three times a day. Explain that puppies need plenty of rest.
  • Supervise puppy-kid interaction. Always supervise interaction between your puppy and your kids, correcting behaviors as needed.

As you take the time to make this a positive
experience for both your kids and your puppy, remember: The lessons you teach
now will go a long way toward helping them bond for years to come.