I was scrolling down my FB news feed the other day, skimming updates, looking at pictures of dogs (yes, so many dogs on there!), responding to comments as I do almost every day… when I came across a post on one of the LGD groups that made me sit bolt upright in my chair.
It went something like this:
“Hi – One of my LGDs never comes inside, but he followed my Great Pyrenees in to the sunroom the other day.
Ok. So far so good.
He doesn’t let us near him usually, so I took this opportunity to put some medication on him.
Hmmm. Bit of a red flag, although not uncommon. It would be preferable, of course, to work on establishing trust and relationship so that cornering him in an unfamiliar building wouldn’t be necessary….
I had to go run an errand, so I left him in the sun room and told my husband to keep our toddlers away from him.
Wait, WHAT? I was holding out hope that this story would end well for this dog, but that hope just tanked faster than my first marriage. At this point I was peaking at the screen from behind my hands and screaming “NO!!!” at about a 1000 decibels in my head…
I got a frantic call that my child was on the way to the hospital. He’d been attacked by my LGD and needed at least a hundred stitches.
Oh no. Just OH NO.
Anyone with half an iota of sense could have seen this coming. Thankfully, many people have at least a most of that required amount. This woman apparently does not.
In all the commotion, my LGD took off. We haven’t been able to find him, but when we do, I need to know what to do with him. I know that what happened wasn’t his fault, so do I rehome him or put him down?”
Not only did this dog’s owners cause pain, trauma and disfigurement to their young trusting child, but now they are uncertain as to how to take responsibility for their actions (or inactions as it were). By this point I’m spitting mad. This dog has been let down nine ways from Sunday, and now he’s running amok out in the world, likely terrified out of his skull.
Let me just take a moment to repeat the title of this post. For the love of all that is good – DO NOT DO THIS.
Please don’t get me wrong. This dog does need to be put down, especially if it can’t be guaranteed that he won’t be locked in a strange building and/or cornered by a small defenseless child again. If it were under my control, I’d put the dog down since it is extremely hard to ensure management for such a large and volatile animal.
But let’s back up here for a moment. Way, WAY back to the beginning.
The dog in this post was set up to fail. I would bet big money that he was raised “hands off” and perhaps even out of parents whose personalities were compromised by a lack of proper handling. A lack of handling fosters an atmosphere of mistrust between humans and LGDs that can be extremely difficult to overcome. Whatever happened between then and the moment he attacked a little child, it certainly wasn’t any significant attempt to bring him around and earn his trust. His owner stated clearly in her post that he wouldn’t allow anyone to touch him. Contrary to macho western stereotypes, having a dog who won’t allow you to touch him is not ever something to be proud of. It is only a very clear indication that the dog is a ticking time bomb whose parts are equally terror and insecurity.
It is also true that wounds requiring a hundred stitches don’t result from inhibited bites. In other words, the dog who inflicts them is either afraid for his life or very, very angry. Considering the context here, I would assume the former. This is also why socialization and handling are extremely important for young LGDs. They need to learn to handle themselves in different situations and in the presence of different people. They need to learn what human social language indicates threat, and what is harmless. They especially need to learn that small and vulnerable humans are to be protected above all – something that most understand instinctively and others need help learning.
An argument could be made that this dog was simply a sketchy genetic mess, and I’m sure there are those who will make it in order to avoid changing their views on husbandry. They would only get so far with me, however, since the rest of the post expounded the virtues of this dog as a livestock guardian. An effective guardian who lives well with prey animals all of his life cannot be considered a complete genetic anomaly.
If this dog had been cared for from the start, this fateful day would have played out much differently despite the stupidity of the adult humans involved. At worst, there would have been a lot of bluff and bother resulting in a very scared and possibly superficially wounded child. At best, the dog would have had a few very uncomfortable moments until the child was removed from his presence. Undoubtedly, had the dog been optimally cared for from the beginning, he might have thoroughly enjoyed the interaction!
Ifs, ands or buts cannot change what did happen to this poor, defenseless child and this poor, terrified dog. Nothing can fix that now. Nor will you find this alarming post anywhere online, as the poster removed it when she didn’t get the condolences she was looking for. You WILL hear me say, however, that this never should have happened, that at many points along the way adult humans could have prevented the horror this child was subjected to, that the time has long since passed where we needed to take this ridiculous notion of not touching our working dogs off the table.
The hallmarks of good LGDs include inhibited, thoughtful responses to danger, affection and protection of family and friends, and self possession in the face of uncertainty. This is what makes our noble guardians, our regal protectors, so valuable and beyond compare. We MUST nurture and protect these attributes to the exclusion of all else and when we end up with a dog who does not conform, we must rehabilitate, manage or cull them.