Humans, not dogs, are problem
We should license dog owners, not ban individual breeds
By Jon Ferry, The ProvinceMarch 4, 2009 9:01 AMComments (4)
Province columnist Jon Ferry
Photograph by: Les Bazso, The Province
The more I learn about dogs, the less I realize I know. But I have to confess my first instinct, upon hearing about the vicious pit-bull attack on a man and a horse last Saturday in Mission, was to indulge my propensity for righteous indignation, phone Victoria and order it to follow Ontario's lead and ban the contentious dog breed.
After all, confrontations involving pit bulls or pit-bull-like dogs in Metro Vancouver these days appear almost as common as those involving human gangsters.
Well, not exactly as common as that . . . but you get my drift.
My second response, however, was to say, "whoa there, Jon, lower your hackles."
And instead I contacted top Vancouver dog-trainer Shannon Malmberg, who's worked with canines from what she calls "the power breeds" for more than 15 years. Malmberg, 42, of the appropriately named Zen Dog Canine Training, set me straight on a few things. First, she acknowledged that, yes, pit bulls were bred as fighting dogs, and still are in some places. Look no further than the recent dog-fighting conviction of disgraced National Football League quarterback Michael Vick.
But she also pointed out that purebred pit bulls were not especially aggressive toward humans.
"Dogs that showed reactions to humans were actually culled," she told me. "Dogs needed to be comfortable with a human coming in, breaking them off from a fight and administering to their wounds. So, a true pit is actually a very human-friendly dog." Indeed, she thinks German shepherds, of which she owns a pair, are more inclined to be hostile to people, as are several other breeds.
Malmberg also noted that, in the Mission mauling, three dogs were reported to have been involved. And in the dog world, two may be company, but three's a pack. The pack mentality takes over, whatever the breed.
Certainly, pit bulls, with their bone-crunching jaws, can cause more physical harm to humans than, say, poodles. But mastiffs and other muscular guard dogs can be equally mean machines.
Besides, if you banned pit bulls, those who use them to advertise their masculinity or protect their grow-ops would simply switch to other potentially pugnacious pooches, like the formidable Presa Canario.
The bottom line?
It's individual human owners who pose the true problem, not the specific dog breed. And instead of licensing dogs, we really should be licensing dog owners. I suggest Metro Vancouver
municipalities set up a dog-owner licence scheme, similar to one in New Zealand that allows folks who study a brief manual and pass a short test to register their dogs each year at a greatly reduced rate.
In other words, make being a responsible dog owner a paying proposition. It's a promising approach that would play to humans' strengths and help ensure that, as a matter of personal pride, they and their pack mates become far better educated about their pooches.
Of course, there should also be far stiffer penalties for flagrantly delinquent dog owners -- punishment with some real bite.