A Better Understanding of Canine Aggression
Written by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson
Dog owners are usually horrified the first time they see their beloved pet kill a helpless little furry animal. I remember the day my good friend Tina saw her Golden Retriever Abbey kill a squirrel on the quad of the University of Illinois. Even though Tina was studying for a Ph.D in animal behaviour, she was still shocked when she saw her gentle dog finish off a squirrel like an expert assassin.
It’s even more shocking when you see Lassie kill for what looks like the pure fun of it. My friend Dave, who always takes his seventy-pound half-shepherd-half-hound mix out for runs with him, was stunned when Max shot out after a groundhog one day, seized the animal by the neck, and then shook it violently until it was dead. The dog totally ignored my friend, who was racing after him shouting, “Drop it!”
Max knew perfectly well how to obey the command “Drop it” when he had a shoe in his mouth. But there was no way Max was dropping a live groundhog.
The most upsetting thing was that Max didn’t have the slightest interest in actually eating his kill. He brought the dead groundhog over to Dave, dropped it at his feet, and beamed up at his master, obviously expecting Dave to be mightily impressed. In a way, Dave was. This was the dog he trusted to play gently with his two-year-old son, and he’s just watched Max turn into a vicious predator who couldn’t be called off once the kill was underway.
After that, Dave said he started to wonder why people and dogs get along together at all. We have 60 million pet dogs in this country, all of them predators wired to kill – why aren’t there daily newspaper reports of hideous fatal dog attacks on humans, instead of the actual number, which averages out to about fifteen a year, based on the years 1997 and 1998. That’s one dog out of every four million. It’s tiny. If there were a disease that struck only one in every four million people, only seventy people in our whole country would have it. (Dogs kill people a lot less often than people kill people, that’s for sure.)